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Good Sport

Cara J. Hayden

Ryan Sabol (Tom Altany photo)


Snow Business

At the top of a slope, senior Ryan Sabol balances on his snowboard, tips it upwards, and launches. He jets sideways down the hill’s first tier, then slides onto a rectangular box called a rail. He swivels his board and jibs forward, red hair flapping from his helmet like a daredevil’s cape. Then he jumps off, snow spraying as he lands. He glides to another two-humped rail called a dragon. Energized by the blaring music and crowd of 200 spectators, Sabol pulls off a “270,” spinning three-quarters of a circle around while skimming along the dragon’s bumpy spine. It’s a jittering roller-coaster-style ride that ends in a sliding stop near the DJ’s tent.

“Give it up for Sabol, a Pittsburgh legend!” the emcee bellows.

The heavy bass thumping from the Cathedral of Learning lures curious students from around campus. It sounds like a hip-hop concert in progress, but as students arrive, they’re more than a little surprised: A strip of snow snakes down the hill of the Cathedral lawn, and a crew of snowboarders is “throwing down,” slang for their brand of stunts. The strangest part is, the season’s first snowfall hasn’t yet happened.

Sabol’s showy display is part of the second annual Rail Jam, a snowboarding-awareness event hosted by the Pittsburgh Intercollegiate Snowboard Team, a Pitt student club for both recreational and competitive riders. The team is kicking off the season with this on-campus event, a large undertaking in the balmy November weather. To provide the necessary snow, club members rented a U-Haul and filled it with ice chips from a local ice rink, then spent several hours shoveling the white stuff onto the lawn.

Mostly, though, Sabol “boards” on the real thing. A business major at Pitt’s Greensburg campus, he placed eighth overall in the 2005 USA Snowboarding Association’s national competition. He and others in Pitt’s club, which has more than 160 members, travel to major ski resorts during the season, even internationally. This year’s itinerary includes trips to Vermont, Colorado, Maine, and Quebec.

Usually, there’s only whooshing wind when Sabol snowboards down mountains, searching for humps to catch some air. Sometimes, friends and passing skiers witness his mountainside tricks. But tonight—a few degrees of temperature and latitude away from the powdery slopes he dreams of all year—Sabol’s attracting quite a crowd. T-shirt fluttering, he flies downward on another run, a flurry of homemade snow in his wake.

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