Words: Danny Burrows
For our 150th issue we have a special guest for this page, the inimitable Mr. Steve Gruber. It was in Steve’s adopted home of Mayrhofen that this mag spent many a year and had the pleasure of not only sharing ‘secret’ lines with the man, but also a good many tipples at Scotties.
In fact it was just across the way from this bar, in the renowned boarding house of Ludwig’s, that Steve resided when he first migrated from East Austria to the Zillertal.
He’d begun riding around Vienna, building his first board out of plywood with his dad at the age of 13. By 15 Steve had left school and was working as an apprentice, burning his Schillings on snowboarding with his buddy ‘Poli’: “I was also spending all my free time in every possible snowboard shop in Vienna,” recalls Steve, “trying to see what was new and coming up next”.
It was on one such foray that he met Dieter ‘Tex’ Steinhardt who he would accompany to the 1993 Kaunertal Opening and secure a flow deal with Heavy Tools. He’d go on to earn a full sponsorship after coming second in the first junior contest he entered and a place in the team house in Kaprun; Steve shrugs off his early success with a laugh: “There weren’t that many riders at this point…”
We were always the little guys. We were probably not the best snowboarders in the world but we had a lot of fun
This was snowboarding’s golden era and with Steve notching up wins contracts soon started landing in his lap, and all for a guy who says he wasn’t really doing contests to win but more to get the chance to ride good parks and pipes with his buddies. This was also the reason why Ästhetiker, a crew – dreamt up by Steve, Dieter Steinhardt and Bernd Egger – started running its own contests; and if you have ever been to an event like the Wängl Tängl, you’ll understand that parks and parties is what they do well.
Ästhetiker came into existence as Steve and his east-Austrian buddies had a bit of an inferiority complex in the company of the “pros” from over Innsbruck way: “We were always the little guys. We were probably not the best snowboarders in the world but we had a lot of fun,” says Steve wryly. After getting bored of writing Ästhetiker on their boards they made stickers, then T-shirts, then started a fashion line, events… all of which snowballed into one of the most recognised snowboard posses in the world.
What was Steve’s greatest moment in snowboarding? He ponders for a moment then asserts that it was coming first in the qualifications for the 1999 World Championships and second overall against the likes of Daniel Franck. He had been out partying until 6am on the morning of the finals.
Then on reflection he changes his mind: “It’s cool doing contests and stuff but it is also just cool when you jump down some pillow and your friend goes, “fuck yeah that was epic!” It never gets old.”
Steve’s still loving snowboarding as much as he ever did and now divides his time between pressing boards for his old Salomon team-mate Wolle Nyvelt, shaping parks for his buddy’s company, Unique Parks, working for Ästhetiker and teaching groms a few times of the year. “I’m not rich but I’m make my runs,” says Steve in closing.