Students attending the celebratory party marking the end of the school year got to see their college campus in a new light.
Lees-McRae held an end-of-semester event for students on April 15. The Bobcat Blast featured food, games, a beer garden from a local Bobcat-owned brewery, and the world premiere of Red Bull’s “Back to School Urban Snowboarding” Rail Report with Luke Winkelmann, which was filmed in February on the Lees-McRae campus. In the video, Winkelmann and fellow snowboarders Judd Henkes and Alex Caccamo slide down stair rails on their boards, landing jumps into mountains of snow.
The video shoot took place over three days in February. Appalachian Ski Mountain carted in the snow and the Lees-McRae ski and snowboard team helped the athletes build the jumps, turning the college campus into a temporary playground for some of the best snowboarders in the country.
Winkelmann is a member of the U.S. Snowboard Pro Slopestyle Team. He grew up in nearby Blowing Rock, and when Red Bull approached him about shooting a video, he recommended they film at Lees-McRae because of his family’s close ties to the area. He coordinated with Brenda Moretz Speckmann, the vice president of Appalachian Ski Mountain, who reached out to Aaron Maas, the head ski and snowboard coach at Lees-McRae, to make the video happen.
Winkelmann has winter sports in his blood. His mother, Ashley Winkelmann, was taught how to ski as a child by her father pulling her along in their driveway in Germany. Ashley, who attended the Bobcat Blast along with her husband and both sets of Luke’s grandparents, kept skiing even while pregnant with Luke, almost up until his birth. It came as no shock, then, that Winkelmann sought his own adventures from a young age.
“He never could get anywhere in a straight line,” Ashley recounted. “He always had to run or jump or somersault.”
When Winkelmann was eight years old, the snowboarding gear company Burton saw what he was doing and decided to sponsor him. In 2019, Winkelmann joined the U.S. team, and around the same time picked up Red Bull as a sponsor. He was named Rookie of the Year at the 2019 Burton U.S. Open and MVP at the first Red Bull Recharged event. In the snowboard world, he’s known for excelling both on the slope and on the rail, which is what he and the other snowboarders rode at Lees-McRae.
“Watching (Winkelmann) snowboard on the mountain is different from watching him hitting the rails in the street,” said Graham Browning, a friend of Winkelmann’s and employee of Appalachian Ski Mountain who was asked by Winkelmann to serve as the crew. “He’s like the best.”
The group scouted the stair rails around campus and chose which ones worked best, riding three different rails each day. Creating a suitable set required a lot of effort, so the ski and snowboard team, security officers, and maintenance workers agreed to help secure the area and build the jumps.
“App Ski brought in three dump trucks of snow,” Browning said. “I didn’t realize how much work it would be to build everything. Sometimes the snow would freeze overnight and the next day it would be too hard to move.”
Caccamo, who has been friends with Winkelmann for several years, was contacted by Winkelmann’s agent about appearing in the video. The next day, negative COVID-19 test in hand, he was on a plane from his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
“I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve snowboarded with brought snow,” Caccamo said. “Bringing in snow like that too makes it so much harder, makes everything bigger and scarier, so that was quite interesting.”
He continued, “We had a lot of freedom. It was fun being able to mold the spot into whatever you want and look at it four different ways with four different people.”
Lees-McRae students were advised to avoid the filming area, but as the snowboarders were riding right next to the residence halls, some students had a chance to watch the action live.
“One of the best nights we had was the first day,” Caccamo said. “There was a group of kids in their dorm rooms above us. They were playing music and cheering us on the whole night. We ended up spending four hours at that rail with all the kids yelling for us and playing all the music we wanted. It was cool to be involved with the students and give them a chance to see something they might never see again.”
As the location of the premiere, the Bobcat Blast was co-sponsored by Red Bull, and representatives from the energy drink company and Appalachian Ski Mountain were in attendance, along with Winkelmann’s family. Lees-McRae plans to make the party a recurring event to celebrate the end of each academic year.
Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVl0kKmF7f0