published Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Slip slidin’ away: Snowboarders show their stuff at Rail Jam in downtown Chattanooga

Andrew Aguila flies through the air during the second annual Rail Jam at the Waterside Mellow Mushroom on Saturday.
Andrew Aguila flies through the air during the second annual Rail Jam at the Waterside Mellow Mushroom on Saturday.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

A chance to hit the powder in a city parking lot is what drew Jesse Manoni to Mellow Mushroom’s Waterside store Saturday.

“Just the sensation of riding a board in downtown Chattanooga is 100 percent why I came,” said Manoni, 37, who moved to Chattanooga three years ago.

Manoni was one of around 60 competitors in three categories — youth, women and men — at the second annual Chattanooga Rail Jam snowboard competition, sponsored by Mellow Mushroom and Dodge City Ski.

Other than a practice run earlier in the week in North Carolina, Manoni, who has been shredding snow regularly since the 1989-90 season, hasn’t been boarding since he left Utah three years ago.

He wasn’t competing for the prizes, which included a snowboard and prize packs from the sponsors, just the fun.

“I’m new to the town, but I love it,” Manoni said. “I just want to do what I’ve done for 20-plus years in my new town that I love. I just want to combine the two, because there’s no ski resorts here, and this is the best way to do it.”

Last year’s event was attended by more than 1,000 people, and this year the organizers hoped to attract 1,500 to 2,000, said Boomer Oyler of The Becket Agency of Charleston, S.C., one of the event’s organizers. The Becket Agency is a public relations firm that handles marketing for Mellow Mushroom Waterside.

Admission was free, Oyler said, but organizers were encouraging guests to make $5 donations to Tennessee Riverkeeper. That’s an environmental watchdog group for the Tennessee River and its tributaries that works to ensure Tennesseans have clean water for drinking and recreation. Last year the event raised around $1,000 for the organization, he said.

“I would hope to be able to donate more than $1,000, but it could be several; it just depends on how big the turnout is,” Oyler said Saturday afternoon before the competition began.

The recent cold snap was helping to keep the 6 tons of snow provided by Atlanta-based Snow Kings from melting too fast, Oyler said.

“The weather affected us greatly last year because it was around 60 degrees when we kicked off the event,” Oyler said. “So the snow was melting pretty quickly. This year the weather’s perfect for this event. Nice and cold, [it will] keep the snow lasting for us all night.”

And Manoni, who has been around ski resorts for much of his life, seemed satisfied with the quality of the provided powder.

“This is actually good man-made snow,” Manoni said. “What’s really hard is when they blow it and it freezes into like a mirror and it’s icy. This is great; you can turn in it. It’s not much different [from natural snow].”

It wasn’t only the snowboarding competitors who found the parking lot winter wonderland enticing.

Rick and Toni Cochrane said they enjoy anything to do with Chattanooga and being outdoors. And the snow created an added attraction.

“Anytime you can watch kids acting up in snow, it’s fun,” said Toni Cochrane.

Both the Cochranes agreed that they’d like to see the course expanded a little bit, to give the competitors a longer run.

“It’s nice to see some of them bust their butts,” said Rick Cochrane, laughing. “Because I would. I’d get down to the bottom of the ramp and bust my face.”

Contact Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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