Ski Utah's new Last Chair will take you inside Utah's resorts for the story behind the Greatest Snow on Earth®. In a weekly series of audio features, host Tom Kelly will bring you behind the scenes with resort leaders, athletes and fascinating figures who are the stories inside Utah skiing and snowboarding. Whether you're a passionate local snow rider, or a guest to the Utah mountain landscape, you'll learn about mountain life through the stories of the men and women who shape the Ski Utah experience. Each Last Chair episode is 30-40 minutes, with insightful questions and fun anecdotal facts. As a career communicator, Kelly weaves stories with ease bringing listeners inside the mountain tales of Utah skiing and snowboarding.
SE5:EP4 - James Coleman: The Freedom to Ski
SE5:EP3 - Chris 'Gunny' Gunnarson: Building on Progression
Head to any Woodward Mountain Center and you’ll immediately be drawn to the kids in the Jib Park and Peace Park pushing themselves to new heights. Since Woodward’s humble beginning over 50 years ago as a gymnastics camp in Pennsylvania, progression has been central to its mission. Today, Woodward centers span the globe including Utah’s Woodward Park City. In this episode of Last Chair, we catch up with a legend in action sports, Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson. Now the president of Woodward globally, Gunny’s three decades in action sports has paralleled the dramatic growth from surf to skateboard to snowboard to ski.
Beginning at Snow Summit and Big Bear in southern California, Gunnarson quickly became a leader in the sport from building snow terrain for the X-Games beginning in year one, to crafting private training venues that sent athletes like Shaun White on to olympic gold. Along the way, he built a reputation as a leader in progression with his company Snow Park Technologies and a capable partner with resorts, ultimately helping the world’s greatest athletes achieve pinnacles of success in their career.
And while his career has been marked by relationships with the greatest athletes, Gunnarson is quick to point out that what’s central to his own mission is to bring that experience to enthusiasts of all ages and ability levels. Today, he leads Woodward on a global journey to provide fun and progression for all.
As a boy growing up in SoCal in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he was immersed in the cultural revolution of action sports. His life was centered around skateboarding and a little surfing. But when he discovered snowboarding at 13, he used every angle to get up to the mountains and ride on snow.
Here’s teaser of Gunny’s Last Chair interview, which takes you back into the origin years of the culture of snowboarding and tracks you through the impact Woodward is making with people of all ages.
Let’s go back to the beginning – YOUR beginning!
Oh man, how I got involved in sport. I mean, I think I was around five when I got on a surfboard. I know I was seven when I got on a skateboard and I had a bike like every other kid in the neighborhood. And I heard about snowboarding when I was 13. In fact, for my 13th birthday, my dad took us up. I lived in San Diego, so I grew up in the southern California hotbed of board sports. And it was funny. My mom and dad were like, oh, snowboarding? You know, we used to ski before you were born and I didn't even know what skiing was, really. And so we get up to the local mountain and they were like, ‘no snowboarding allowed.’ We had rented some boards from the local surf shop. I rented a Chuck Barfoot board and they were like, ‘no snowboards allowed.’ My dad got so angry and he's like, ‘I used to ski here all the time. What do you mean no snowboards allowed?’ And so we ended up just … we had rented a cabin with a couple of my buddies for my 13th birthday to go snowboarding, trying to figure it out, you know, falling a lot just on this back hill. And I knew right then and there, like, I have got to figure out a way to do this for the rest of my life. And somehow I lucked out.
So you must have had some good skateboarding roots in SoCal?
Well, it was kind of all I knew. And, you know, sort of in my high school teen years, I was living up in the outskirts of LA, so I was skating swimming pools. There was a big earthquake in Northridge, and there were lots of empty swimming pools. We had maps of pools from condemned buildings and houses. And so we'd show up with buckets, mops, and we would skate all these different pools. I think we skated Tom Petty's pool at one point. It was like a condemned house that he'd owned or something like that. But that was my whole life and culture was skating and a little bit of surfing, but mostly skateboarding and trying to find as many pathways to get up to the mountains as possible.
Were your business wheels turning yet in your
SE5:EP2 - Alex Schlopy: Rollercoaster Ride of X Games Champion
Thinking back on it today, X Games champion Alex Schlopy still shakes his head. A homegrown product of Park City, Utah, in a month-long span in 2011 he won an X Games title in Aspen, became a world champion on his home hill at Park City Mountain and soared to Dew Tour gold in Snowbasin. In a roller coaster decade that saw the highest of highs and lowest of lows, today Schlopy is the happiest he’s ever been – an athlete ambassador for Ski Utah and looking forward to his first runs off Jupiter in the season ahead.
Schlopy was born to athletic parents. His mother, Holly Flanders, was a U.S. Ski Team downhill star. His father, Todd Schlopy, played in the National Football League. His uncle, Erik Schlopy, was a Hall of Fame U.S. Alpine Ski Team star.
In the mid to late ‘00s, Utah was the epicenter of the burgeoning new sport of freeskiing. Schlopy caught the buzz from his buddy Joss Christensen. They idolized stars like Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont. At just 17, Schlopy went to the Dumont Cup in Maine, outlasting over 100 amateurs just like him who wanted a shot into the event. He got it, launching a switch right double cork 1440, and soon found himself on the podium with his buddy Joss and future legend Tom Wallisch.
The next season he cranked out win after win and found himself on top of the world in a new sport that was to make its Olympic debut in 2014. Then it all came crashing down.
This interview is deep and emotional, coming full circle to the joy of skiing. Here’s a teaser:
You're still having fun skiing?
Oh, yeah. More fun than ever.
Going back to your youth, what role did gymnastics play in your skiing success?
Gymnastics has helped me throughout my whole entire life. And I think for any kid out there, having a baseline in gymnastics is huge. Just knowing how to use your body, learning how to flip and do all those things safely.
What triggered your interest in freeskiing?
When I transitioned into middle school, I met Joss Christensen and we started hanging out just as friends. He started showing me all these freeski movies with, you know, Tanner Hall, Jon Olsson, Simon Dumont. And I was like, what is this? I saw ski racing. I've seen moguls and aerials and I loved all that stuff, but this was the one that really clicked. It was artistic expression on skis. And I thought that was really cool.
What role does Park City, Utah play in winter sport?
I mean, this is the Mecca for that in my eyes. There's just so many kids out here learning how to do whatever winter sport they want and then having the facilities and the programs to push it as far as they want. And it's just a beautiful community.
After the stunning 2011 season, what path did your career take?
After winning those three events, X Games, World Championships, Dew Tour and then kind of stepping into that pro realm, big contracts started to come up and I kind of lost my drive to win. And I think that was my biggest problem. I hadn't really built the best work ethic. I had used a lot of natural talent my whole life, you know, and having overcome some of those injuries that really helped out. I didn't have to work as hard to get back, but it came to bite me after I did win, because I started to coast and I started partaking more in the party side of the sport. I was still doing okay. You know, I was able to stay top five, top ten, but I wasn't winning. And what it took for me to refocus was the announcement that the sport that we were getting into the Olympics for Sochi and I had a lot of ground to make up.
In 2014, you missed that last spot on the Olympic team to your buddy Joss Christensen, who went on to win gold.
It was a really beautiful yet bittersweet experience because Joss is one of the best people I've ever met in my life. He's incredible. I thought he was the best skier. He just couldn't put it down when it counted until that point. And he went and did it. So it was really cool. But behind the scenes, I was starting to struggle after tha
SE5:EP1 - Sophie Goldschmidt: America's Best in Utah
It was a typical day at the USANA Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah as Olympic and Paralympic athletes were sweating it out on the training center floor, preparing for their winter competition seasons ahead. Sophie Goldschmidt, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, talked to Last Chair from a meeting room looking out at some of the greatest ski and snowboard athletes in America.
The U.S. Ski Team moved to Park City in 1974, initially setting up shop in the old Silver King mine buildings at the base of what is now the Bonanza six-pack at Park City Mountain. Today, the team is based at the USANA Center of Excellence with elite skiers and riders from across America making their training home in Utah. The centerpiece training center is just a short distance from sport training facilities including Soldier Hollow, the Utah Olympic Park and a host of ski resorts.
Goldschmidt came to the team in 2021, just prior to the Beijing 2022 Olympics. A modern sport leader, she honed her management skills working for global retailer adidas, helping grow the NBC in Europe and Africa and running the World Surf League.
Today, oversees one of the largest and most complex of the 50+ Olympic organizations in America with programs touching on XX different ski and snowboard sports programs – and now also included Paralympic sport.
Last Chair covered myriad topics with Goldschmidt from her global experience to funding a team with no government support and, of course, the stars of skiing and snowboarding.
SE4:EP13 - Big Snow: Jim Steenburgh & Chase Thomason
The 2022-23 ski season was the biggest on record in Utah! So, just how big was the snowfall? And what’s the science behind it all? Last Chair got together with Professor Powder himself, Jim Steenburgh, along with KUTV2 meteorologist Chase Thomason to review the records and share their own stories of skiing and riding Utah’s Greatest Snow on Earth.
SE4:EP12 - Sandy Flint: Stio on Sustainability
Over the past few years you’ve probably noticed the brand Stio on the slopes. Born in the Mountain West, the company has become known for its extensive colors and a serious focus on technical materials that are sustainable. Last Chair did a visit with Stio Senior Materials Manager Sandy Flint to learn more about its products, which are both revolutionizing outdoor clothing performance and utilizing technology which is more friendly to the environment we all love so much.
Stio was founded in 2011 by Mountain West native Stephen Sullivan, who had previously started the Cloudveil brand. Stio quickly became known for its focus on core technical apparel, fun colorways and direct-to-consumer sales. Today, the company has its own Stio Mountain Studios at major resorts across the west, including Utah on Park City’s historic Main Street.
Flint grew up in the Northeast, skiing around New England and taking family trips out west. “It was the mountains I loved – being able to hike, raft and ski.” He went to college in Colorado, then moved to Utah, teaching skiing at Solitude. With a degree in engineering and a background in art, he found his way into a graduate program studying fiber science and apparel design at Cornell. The combination of those technical skills with his passion for art landed him at Stio.
What you quickly learn in talking to Flint is his passion for sustainability, and knowledge of how to find that pathway. Most of all, you learn that he’s not alone, working at a company focused on the future. Today, preferred materials comprise 48% of Stio's collection and the brand has a goal to meet 75% by 2025.
We also learn that sustainability is about more than just raw materials. It’s an accounting of everything the company does from travel to manufacturing to shipping to recycling. Everyone in the company is accountable!
In this episode of Last Chair, Flint dives deep into the science and history of membranes and other materials. One of the most notable transitions is the evolution from the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)-based Gore-Tex of the past to environmentally-friendly ePE membrane that is per- and poly-fluorinated chemical (PFC) free.
Definitely an interesting show about the Great Salt Lake. Good interview & guest.
great insight into a man with a passion for the sport
Tom does such a great job interviewing people and knows how to get the best out of those he he is chatting with... I learned so much about John Cumming as a complete human being, and was so impressed with his passion for nature, the sport, and his deep feelings of stewardship as an employer.. my family has gained much joy from John’s efforts, our 40 years in park City have been great because of his works... may John continue to maintain that work / life balance and thanks Tom for another inspiring podcast