Pat Fava and Egan Wint win Red Bull Heavy Metal Detroit
A big day in downtown Detroit provides a look at the heart of Michigan snowboarding.
For years, Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit has been a place that snowboarders pilgrimage to in the colder months, drawn by cement ledges and creeper rails. Tricks from the plaza have dotted video parts consistently for the past fifteen years, embedding the statue-filled park into snowboarding’s ever-growing story.
But the scene in Hart Plaza has never been like this. Normally, film crews move quickly and quietly through metro areas, shoveling snow to set up spots in hopes that authorities don’t catch on to their machinations. The process is rigorously DIY; when Scott Blum famously handplanted the top of Hart Plaza’s 40-foot wall in 2015, snow was packed onto a bike rack and a trashcan to create the transition that would enable him to reach coping. Details like that—the challenges of making it all happen—reinforce the mythology of this concrete mecca in downtown Detroit.
So, arriving at Hart Plaza on Saturday, February 11th to see crowds of people packed on the stairs, lining the tops of overlooks, and covering every inch of available viewing space in anticipation of what was about to go down was something special. Michigan had turned out for Red Bull Heavy Metal. And they were about to get a show.
In 2022, after over a decade of hibernation, Red Bull Heavy Metal triumphantly returned, bringing a few dozen of snowboarding’s most talented street riders to a legendary city spot in Duluth, Minnesota. Red Bull team rider Benny Milam was the host of the contest, and he also went on to win the whole thing, a testament to his easy style and technical prowess. Now in its second year since its return, snowboarding’s favorite city contest had landed in Motor City, and Benny had passed the torch to new teammate and rising rider from the Mitten, Grace Warner.
For months leading up to the event, Grace had been working with Red Bull on the three-zone set up. Joe Sexton was brought in as competition director to oversee details and the park crew at Grace’s home mountain, Pine Knob, would supply the snow and take care of the handwork (speaking of, all of the run-ins, transitions, take-offs, and landings were immaculately sculpted). On Saturday, it all came together with over forty of snowboarding’s finest ready to add their mark to Hart Plaza.
Red Bull Heavy Metal Detroit was divided into three distinct zones. Zone 1 went down on the 40-foot wall. Zone 2 was a double kink with creepers and transfer options. Zone 3 was a 50-foot down rail in the Hart amphitheater, a huge arena with two-story viewing framed by the downtown skyline. Excelling in this year’s Red Bull Heavy Metal necessitated a well-rounded arsenal of tricks. Of course, the assembled riders were overflowing with skill; the contest roster was stacked with both established pros and up-and-comers. Benny and Grace were joined by Luke Winkelmann, Pat Fava, Denver Orr, Maggie Leon, Brantley Mullins, Zeb Powell, Ryan Paul, Sam Klein, Casey Pflipsen, Alexis Hernandez-Roland, Lauren Derminio, Iris Pham, Sam Anderson, Egan Wint, Jesse Augustinus, Mike Liddle, Emily O’Connor, Jaylen Hansen, and more. And of course, the Michigan representation was high: Derek Lemke, Drake Warner, Aiden Hascall, Ava Peterson, Gibby Corcoran, Chase Blakely, and Brent Behm were on hand to make sure snowboarding paid attention to the groundswell of talent in the Great Lake State.
Mother Nature put on a show on contest day, too, lighting up the sky with sun that drenched Hart Plaza and reflected off the skyscrapers that surround the park. The temperature rose to nearly 40-degrees and the snow was perfectly groomed, thanks to the Pine Knob Park crew. Everything was perfect. At 2pm, The Bomb Hole hosts Chris Grenier and Ethan “E-Stone” Fortier got on the mic and kicked things off. At Zone 1, spectators crowded onto the stairs and waited breathlessly, eyes trained on Denver Orr who was strapped in at the top of the drop-in for the wall. A nod from Chris, and Denver dropped in. The crowd erupted as he made no-speed-checks toward the wall, went upside down, and rode away clean. Red Bull Heavy Metal Detroit was on.
Immediately, the snowboarding was full throttle. Maggie Leon and Egan Wint were planting hands against the wall. Zeb stalled at the top. Pat Fava was attacking the transition from all angles. Irie Jefferson impressed the crowd with energetic-yet-effortless style. Benny Milam and Ryan Paul decided to drop in from the top of the wall. It was fast and relentless. The judges, Scott Blum, Jess Kimura, and Seth Huot (who won Red Bull Heavy Metal Niagara Falls in 2002), scribbled notes furiously.
After 45 minutes everyone migrated to Zone 2, where a perfect down-flat-down had been set up, nestled between a set of creeper rails and a down ledge. This zone was prime proving grounds for the highly technical and the riders went off. The takeaways from Zone 2? Luke Winkelmann is a madman with impeccable style. Denver Orr is too smooth and too good. Egan Wint’s all-terrain abilities shined as she tackled the creeper and the down ledge with ease. Maggie Leon is a force. Pat Fava was on one, loose and explosive, as always. Zeb Powell defies the laws of physics (no news there). Grace Warner is incredibly proper and only on the rise. At only 16 years old, Jaylen Hanson is one to watch. And don’t sleep on Derek Lemke and Brent Behm, who underlined the session with tricks that made the crowd go crazy.
By the time everyone moved over to Zone 3, the sun was getting lower in the sky and the skyscrapers shone with golden light. The crowd filled the amphitheater as the riders took advantage of the last arena to hopefully add a trick to Hart’s heritage. This zone was pure controlled chaos: quick drops, big tricks, and consequential concrete steps if you came off early. Spectators leaned in, just a few feet away from the rail, buffered by low fencing and photographers and filmers who pivoted every few seconds to stay out of the way of the riders. Ryan Paul, Jaylen Hanson, Luke Winkelmann, Drake Warner, Pat Fava, Denver Orr, Iris Pham, and Aiden Hascall, among others, impressed in this section and got marks from the judges. Every time a local dropped, the crowd went extra wild and everyone who had come to town for Red Bull Heavy Metal, was taking note.
As the sun set and the riding wrapped, the winners were crowned. On the women’s side, Egan Wint had dominated through every zone, and she took her first Red Bull Heavy Metal crown. Jaylen Hanson and Maggie Leon joined Egan on the podium in second and third, respectively. On the men’s side, Pat Fava rose above the rest to win first place. Ryan Paul came in second and Luke Winkelmann took third. Custom-made trophies were handed out and the celebrating began.
At its core, Red Bull Heavy Metal pays homage to some of snowboarding’s most celebrated city locations and the riders that make these spots what they are. But Red Bull Heavy Metal Detroit went even further, illuminating not only Hart Plaza’s significance, but that of Michigan, as a whole, too.
Michigan doesn’t get enough love for the snowboarding scene that calls its hills home. It’s a community built on steadfast grit: the resorts may not be the biggest, but they’ve got inventive terrain parks and fast laps. The standard deep freezes and hard snow don’t deter Michigan boarders—instead they breed a proclivity for inventiveness and a relentless work ethic. While the state has raised pros like Danny Davis, Kyle Mack, Marie Hucal, and Jackie Lammert, Red Bull Heavy Metal let the snowboarding world know that there’s a new legion of riders there on the come up. Grace Warner is the tip of the spear of this new generation, and through Red Bull Heavy Metal she brought her friends up with her to really show what her state, and its snowboarding, are all about.