Local News
March 12, 2015

Remembering Gordon Robbins, aka “Grandpa Shred”

Remembering Gordon Robbins, aka “Grandpa Shred”

Courtesy of Okemo archives

Obituary

By Karen D. Lorentz

There will be a celebration of the life of Gordon Robbins at Okemo Mountain Resort on March 13 at 7 p.m. in the main base lodge. Robbins died suddenly on Feb. 27 at the age of 73.

Born and raised in New York, Robbins was an accomplished sculptor and an avid sailor, hockey player, and windsurfer who coached two windsurfers for the 1988 Olympics. His wife had gotten him involved with skiing, but when he discovered snowboarding in 1987, he found it “more intriguing,” and soon began a 25-year career in sharing his passion for riding with students and other instructors.

Robbins joined Okemo Mountain as an instructor for the 1990-91 season as one of the area’s first two full-time snowboard instructors.

I met Robbins circa 1991 when he was teaching other instructors how to snowboard. As I tagged along, I was impressed by his skill on a snowboard, his ability to teach (he was a great communicator), and his pure grace—which I still recall as elegant surfing on snow.

In later interviews, Robbins shared how Okemo came to early snowboard success. Referring to (then) ski school director Marty Harrison, he explained how she “had put ski school supervisor Peter Scala in charge of finding expert instructors to teach snowboarding. So because we had top instructors teaching the sport, we never had an ‘us-versus-them’ problem,” he said, referring to the early mixed feelings about riding.

He noted the professional approach, which was key to getting adults into snowboarding.

“[Harrison] told us that there probably wouldn’t be enough lessons at first to make a living from it and encouraged us to teach skiing as well. What worked so well was that we might have parents in our [ski] classes whose kids wanted to try the new ‘cool’ sport, and because we could cross over to snowboard instructing, we could say to them, ‘I can give your kids a lesson.’

“Because the parents skied with us, they trusted us with their kids. And soon we were teaching the parents, too.”

This also contributed to a smoother transition of skiers and snowboarders peaceably sharing the slopes when riding was still new, Robbins commented.

Another proud memory for Robbins occurred when he was the Okemo snowboard director. As vice president of the International Snowboarding Federation at that time, he got a call in February 1996 reporting that Mont Sainte Anne had cancelled a major snowboard World Cup event and a host mountain was needed. He convinced Tim and Diane Mueller, Okemo’s owners, to host the event. The result was that on March 8, 9, and 11, 1996, Okemo hosted a World Cup halfpipe competition, a dual slalom on Bull Run, and a GS (giant slalom) on Wardance.

“It was one of the finest World Cup GS races run that season, and the course even had a jump in the middle. It went off amazingly well, and the Europeans said the only other race department as competent as Okemo’s was the Club des Sports at Val d’Isère [France],” Robbins related with pride.

A founder of the U.S.A. Snowboarding Association, Robbins served as its president twice. He also served as chairman of the Snowboard Committee (1993-98) for PSIA-E/AASI, and as technical director of the United States Open of Snowboarding. He supported adaptive riding and was most recently a supervisor in the Okemo Ski + Ride School, where he was still working.

Dan Bergeron, formerly Ski + Ride School Director at Okemo  and currently Adult Snow Sports School Manager at Killington/Pico, knew Robbins well. “Gordon embraced snowboarding with an unmatched passion and energy that inspired many new riders, both young and old. He was a true pioneer of the sport,” Bergeron said.

Former ski school director Marty Harrison summed up Robbins’ contribution to Okemo’s very successful introduction of snowboarding to its patrons as well as to the world of snowboarding instruction, when she wrote: “In those days when snowboarders were primarily young guys, Gordon was a white-haired dynamo who set a different tone for the staff than existed at other areas. Along with being more mature, he was a very good coach and clinician, so our staff had better training than most. When Rob Bevier joined the staff a few years later, the two of them developed a snowboard staff that was the envy of the industry. Both became examiners with the snowboard section of PSIA and contributed nationally to snowboard instruction and coaching.”

Robbins made a difference in snowboard instruction and will long be remembered by his many colleagues, friends, and students.

He is survived by his wife Claude Ohnenwald Robbins, an artist whom he met while studying architecture and art in Paris and married in 1965.

Donations in Robbins’ honor may be made to the USASA Foundation.

Obituary

Remembering Gordon Robbins, aka “Grandpa Shred”

By Karen D. Lorentz

There will be a celebration of the life of Gordon Robbins at Okemo Mountain Resort on March 13 at 7 p.m. in the main base lodge. Robbins died suddenly on Feb. 27 at the age of 73.

Born and raised in New York, Robbins was an accomplished sculptor and an avid sailor, hockey player, and windsurfer who coached two windsurfers for the 1988 Olympics. His wife had gotten him involved with skiing, but when he discovered snowboarding in 1987, he found it “more intriguing,” and soon began a 25-year career in sharing his passion for riding with students and other instructors.

Robbins joined Okemo Mountain as an instructor for the 1990-91 season as one of the area’s first two full-time snowboard instructors.

I met Robbins circa 1991 when he was teaching other instructors how to snowboard. As I tagged along, I was impressed by his skill on a snowboard, his ability to teach (he was a great communicator), and his pure grace—which I still recall as elegant surfing on snow.

In later interviews, Robbins shared how Okemo came to early snowboard success. Referring to (then) ski school director Marty Harrison, he explained how she “had put ski school supervisor Peter Scala in charge of finding expert instructors to teach snowboarding. So because we had top instructors teaching the sport, we never had an ‘us-versus-them’ problem,” he said, referring to the early mixed feelings about riding.

He noted the professional approach, which was key to getting adults into snowboarding.

“[Harrison] told us that there probably wouldn’t be enough lessons at first to make a living from it and encouraged us to teach skiing as well. What worked so well was that we might have parents in our [ski] classes whose kids wanted to try the new ‘cool’ sport, and because we could cross over to snowboard instructing, we could say to them, ‘I can give your kids a lesson.’

“Because the parents skied with us, they trusted us with their kids. And soon we were teaching the parents, too.”

This also contributed to a smoother transition of skiers and snowboarders peaceably sharing the slopes when riding was still new, Robbins commented.

Another proud memory for Robbins occurred when he was the Okemo snowboard director. As vice president of the International Snowboarding Federation at that time, he got a call in February 1996 reporting that Mont Sainte Anne had cancelled a major snowboard World Cup event and a host mountain was needed. He convinced Tim and Diane Mueller, Okemo’s owners, to host the event. The result was that on March 8, 9, and 11, 1996, Okemo hosted a World Cup halfpipe competition, a dual slalom on Bull Run, and a GS (giant slalom) on Wardance.

“It was one of the finest World Cup GS races run that season, and the course even had a jump in the middle. It went off amazingly well, and the Europeans said the only other race department as competent as Okemo’s was the Club des Sports at Val d’Isère [France],” Robbins related with pride.

A founder of the U.S.A. Snowboarding Association, Robbins served as its president twice. He also served as chairman of the Snowboard Committee (1993-98) for PSIA-E/AASI, and as technical director of the United States Open of Snowboarding. He supported adaptive riding and was most recently a supervisor in the Okemo Ski + Ride School, where he was still working.

Dan Bergeron, formerly Ski + Ride School Director at Okemo  and currently Adult Snow Sports School Manager at Killington/Pico, knew Robbins well. “Gordon embraced snowboarding with an unmatched passion and energy that inspired many new riders, both young and old. He was a true pioneer of the sport,” Bergeron said.

Former ski school director Marty Harrison summed up Robbins’ contribution to Okemo’s very successful introduction of snowboarding to its patrons as well as to the world of snowboarding instruction, when she wrote: “In those days when snowboarders were primarily young guys, Gordon was a white-haired dynamo who set a different tone for the staff than existed at other areas. Along with being more mature, he was a very good coach and clinician, so our staff had better training than most. When Rob Bevier joined the staff a few years later, the two of them developed a snowboard staff that was the envy of the industry. Both became examiners with the snowboard section of PSIA and contributed nationally to snowboard instruction and coaching.”

Robbins made a difference in snowboard instruction and will long be remembered by his many colleagues, friends, and students.

He is survived by his wife Claude Ohnenwald Robbins, an artist whom he met while studying architecture and art in Paris and married in 1965.

Donations in Robbins’ honor may be made to the USASA Foundation.

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