Rapper Travis Scott, Olympian Shaun White turn The Gateway into a snowboarding showcase during All-Star Weekend

The thousands of fans didn’t need to know anything about the sport to appreciate the flips, spins and slides they saw on the scaffolding at Olympic Plaza.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snowboarder Dusty Hendrickson, of Big Bear, California, shows tricks on handrails at the GRIT Rail Jam at The Gateway’s Olympic Plaza on February 18, 2023 as part of the NBA All-Star Weekend.

Sure, Mac McClung jumped over two people, kissed the ball off the glass, then dropped it in the basket en route to winning the NBA’s slam dunk contest Saturday night at Vivint Arena. But could he throw a jam while sliding down a rail on a snowboard?

A few hours earlier, Nate Haust could and did during the Grit Rail Jam, held just down the street at The Gateway. An NBA All-Star weekend event designed to bring together two of Utah’s greatest sports passions — basketball and snow sports — the free pro-snowboard competition drew more than 10,000 fans to the outdoor mall’s Olympic Plaza.

Some knew enough about park snowboarding to keep commenting on the event. Others wouldn’t even know how to buckle up. On the other hand, the same could be said about the differences in the basketball skills of the crowd.

Irvin Butterbarrel, a Minnesota to Utah new transplant who could name every trick, was singled out as “the basketball guy” by his group of about 10 friends watching from the upper level. It was a title he quickly contested.

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“I know you can take two steps,” said Butterchurn, 18, “and that’s about it.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pro snowboarder Nate Haust flies over presenter Josh Nilsen on Saturday. Thousands of Huckfest enthusiasts watched pro snowboarders throw down tricks on handrails at the GRIT Rail Jam at The Gateway’s Olympic Plaza on February 18, 2023 as part of NBA All-Star Weekend.

Wherever fans fell on the spectrum of snowboarding familiarity, they seemed to appreciate the displays of balance, leaps and bravery put on by the 20 riders on the manufactured course. It included a two-story high mound built on scaffolding covered in snow and dotted with crates, stairs, and thick railings for sliding.

Salt Lake City snowboarder Jill Perkins consulted with event organizer and snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones to design the setup. As is usual with scaffolding courses, she said it was “a death trap” the way it was originally built. However, after some security changes, Saturday’s final design must have suited her much better, as she walked away with the women’s title and a $10,000 check. Minnesota’s Jaylen Hanson finished second for $5,000, and another Salt Lake City rider, Kaleah Opal, finished third after hitting her head midway through the final and sitting out the last half.

Haust won the men’s event ahead of Salt Lake City’s Pat Fava and Dusty Hendrickson of Big Bear, California. He said the roar and energy of the crowd carried him to victory.

“The audience is wild right now. Everyone’s going crazy,” said Haust, 30. “And obviously it’s a big weekend and there’s a lot of positive energy and that’s one thing that cheers me up and helps me ride better I think.”

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Haust’s backside 450 and backflips and Perkins’ railslide with a knock off from the grit backboard sent the crowd into a frenzy. Those roars were only amplified by a surprise appearance from Olympic and X-Games medalist Shaun White, as well as Jones and rapper Travis Scott, a snowboarder who helped sponsor the event.

Scott was the lead actor for a group of high school friends from West Haven and Farr West, who arrived early enough to secure a spot at the fence just below the jump. They planned to spend the rest of the evening exploring the various pop-up stores in the area while keeping an eye out for NBA stars.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jill Perkins of Salt Lake City flies high on Saturday. Thousands of Huckfest enthusiasts watched pro snowboarders throw down tricks on handrails at the GRIT Rail Jam at The Gateway’s Olympic Plaza on February 18, 2023 as part of NBA All-Star Weekend.

They said they found nothing unusual about juxtaposing a snowboard event with the NBA All-Star Weekend.

“I think it goes well with Utah,” said Hunter Smith, 18. “Because this is Utah, I think it’s perfect.”

While the Main Rail Jam itself seemed a bit out of place among basketball-centric events, its encore wasn’t. After the finals, riders were invited to compete in a slam dunk competition on snowboards.

Salt Lake’s Egan Wint won the women’s title with sheer vigor and determination. Haust, on the other hand, made one stylish and impressive slam after another to win the men’s event. This despite grudgingly admitting he doesn’t play basketball or follow a play of basketball.

Nevertheless, he and possibly the organizers hope that this event will inspire mutual admiration and interest.

“I think that’s going to be really good for the industry,” Haust said. “I would imagine a lot of these basketball fans don’t know much about snowboarding since I don’t pay much attention to basketball. So I think this is a great opportunity to get in front of a lot of people and hopefully it can get more people up the hill.”

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