Home Field Advantage

The snow is in your favor when you play where you work.

On a snowy March weekend in 2010, Justin Bobb (aka, J Bobb) validated his rookie year on Taos ski patrol—without meaning to—because of his snowboard. Swapping his red coat and two sticks for a bib number and a snowboard on one of his days off, he entered the Salomon Freeride Extreme Championships at Taos Ski Valley and hucked a few airs during the four-star big mountain competition. He returned to work the next day, clutching a first place trophy from his weekend escapades, nudging out leading athletes from around the world that vied for the coveted podium win.

But it was the swagger, not the swag, that was more valuable to J Bobb.

“Some patrollers didn’t even know I snowboarded,” he recalled of the aftermath. “Winning the Freeride Extreme Championships [now called Taos Freeride Championships] really worked out to my advantage. They were more trusting to let me snowboard patrol on the job.”

He went on to claim second place in 2012 and gripped another first place victory in 2013, continuing to moonlight as an international snowboard champion while carting injured skiers off the mountain during the day.

However J Bobb has explored the mountain, he’s seen it from many perspectives. And it’s perhaps this home mountain advantage that helped him zero in on picking his winning lines. So we grilled J Bobb on what he has discovered at Taos as both an athlete and a patroller and how the two have mutually benefited each other.

TSV: You’ve been riding at Taos for years. What do you enjoy most about the terrain?

I’ve explored this place in depth, and there are still spots I haven’t been to. It’s endless. So many different areas to go explore. What makes riding here so fun is that a lot of these runs were cut a long time ago, when they didn’t have the grading equipment or techniques they use today to make trail pitches consistent. It’s just snow on top of the lay of the land. It’s very European in that sense, cruising through narrow groomers, keeping it in check, less room to make mistakes. The terrain isn’t very predictable.

How does that topography lend itself to the Freeride World Qualifier at TSV?

You have really good options and vantage points when you ride the Ridge. You can scope lines from the chairlift and see most of what you want to ride, which is helpful before you get to where you’re going. Once you’re there, you can access all different types of terrain: steep, rocky, technical, or Canadian-style pillow lines that you can go nuts on. There’s plenty of room to find your challenges.

As if everyone had their own interpretation of the mountain?

Yeah. For every run off West Basin, you can watch 20 people ride it differently. Hit a cliff, straight line through a chute, link stuff up on the sides. There are so many different options that either complement your riding style or challenge it.

Is it the people or the place that contribute to the energy during the Qualifier?

The competition itself is secondary to the camaraderie at Taos. When the athletes show up here, it’s not what they expected. Like, what could possibly be in the New Mexican desert? What’s going on with this place? But then they get on the hill. The terrain, the snow, the diversity of New Mexico… It’s an incredible mountain and better than they could have imagined.

The trophies from the Qualifier are one-of-a-kind and aren’t just for display. What’s so special about them?

They hand out these glass vessels—like a kettle, almost—called pourons and fill them with martinis. People on the podium will be pouring cocktails in their mouths, and it’s dribbling down their chins. It’s always more than what one person can drink, so they’re running around sharing it with other people. People think Taos is weird, and the trophies make it even weirder.

What’s the general reaction when someone wins a pouron?

A lot of people get them and still don’t know what they are. But whether you know what they are or not, they are one of the coolest awards ever. Taos has made a big effort to keep the pouron tradition and history alive and transfer those stories onto younger generations.

From your perspective as an athlete, what’s the secret to uncovering the good spots and features at Taos?

The secrets of Taos are rooted in every person’s relationship to the mountain. They’re secrets you can’t really explain to anyone—like knowing where they are or why they are. With my background in geology, I approach the terrain secrets from that perspective. I explore why the mountain is shaped the way it is and predict what will happen if I end up somewhere, like a drainage or some other feature.

And from your perspective as a patroller, what’s the secret behind the vibe at Taos?

When people show up and see all the potential, it’s humbling. There’s no room for boasting. No one comes here to prove anything. People who are here want to be here. They don’t use it as a stepping-stone to then take their riding somewhere else. They come because their riding takes them here.