The consummate snowboard bum
How do you measure someone’s legacy in the snowboard world? Tricks invented? First descents or podiums claimed? Or is it something outside of clichéd superlatives? If we’re talking about someone who didn’t chase the pro rider dream or a career in the industry, it’s nothing more than commitment and dedication to snowboarding, pure and simple. And by that definition, a Vermont character stands out as an icon—a guy I knew by nickname only, since I learned to ride at Sugarbush three decades ago: “Wolfie.”
From that first season in 1991, Wolfie was one of the crusty locals we looked up to as obnoxious teenagers, and his status as a Sugarbush fixture has since cemented into the stuff of legend. After graduating high school in 1996, I spent the next 12 years in the Pacific Northwest and then Brooklyn. When I returned to Vermont in 2010, I saw Wolfie out there still. His stocky build and tight turning style was easy to discern under the chairlift—farming trailside powder or ducking into a secret woods line.
I ran into him in the liftline a few years back, waiting to load up with my then11-year-old stepson Galen. Typical Wolfie, his face was covered in a short stubbly beard and split ear to ear with a grin. We laughed at the math; I was Galen’s age when I learned to ride and heard about Wolfie. The statistics were clear; he’d been riding years before I even learned and was riding more than me thirty years later. And I still had no idea what his real name was. Who the hell was Wolfie?
Richard Grozengier decided his given name sounded “dull” and thus nicknamed himself Wolfie in homage to his German heritage. Born in a blizzard in Snow Village, Ohio, Woflie was the son of a well-off family, and the end of his grade school days came with an expectation of college and a proper career. Wolfie ended up in Boston, where he found himself deep into the punk scene, in lieu of higher education. Then a trip to visit a friend in Vermont changed his life.
“I skied my first day, and that was it,” remembers Wolfie. “The mountains, the people… I knew this was where I wanted to be.” Things happened fast: he got a job, a pass, and a place to live. “I went back to Boston, got my stuff, and moved up.” That was 1980, the year Wolfie became a ski bum.
Eight years later, he heard about snowboarding and learned to ride at Mad River Glenn, before the resort became one of the longest standing ski-only holdouts. But it wasn’t until he spotted the Vermont Slope Posse—Sugarbush’s original crew of soon-to-be pros including Jeff Brushie and Noah Brandon— connecting actual turns that things clicked.
“My buddy loaned me a Sims Switchblade,” says Wolfie. “I learned to make some decent turns. I was so hooked. It was the feeling I had been searching for—carving bending, floating. I stopped skiing and became a snow surfer.” Wolfie joined the first crew of Sugarbush snowboard instructors, alongside former pros Seth Neary and Seth Miller. He’d already found the rhythm of a local, taking a job as a tile setter in the summer, not working in the winter to free up time to ride. Snowboarding became his thing, and he never looked back.
“It’s a lame tagline, but he is the consummate snowboard bum,” explains Dan Sullivan, a fellow Sugarbush instructor alumni that went on to work for Original Sin and Rome Snowboards. “I know with 100% certainty that if there’s powder at Sugarbush, Wolfie is there riding. I’ll see his textbook tight tracks on the goofy side of the trail, and I’ll wait in line to join him. And then the adventure begins with endless stashes of powder, and no doubt I’ll be shown new terrain—even though I’ve ridden the mountain for close to 30 years.”
In 1992, Wolfie was introduced to John “JG” Gernt, Burton’s now-legendary board shaper, opening a new chapter providing feedback on new prototype models. “The first deck was a Twin 153 blacktop with a martini base. That was the start of me testing for Burton,” says Wolfie. “My dreams were coming true! One lucky fuckin’ dude for sure.”
It was also the start of a detailed log he’s kept—of boards, conditions, and days he’s ridden. First scratched out on paper, and now on a website, Wolfie has averaged over 100 days a season since the 1980s, and his rumpled Burton test sheets show plenty of trips out west, from Utah to deep British Columbia. Yet he kept coming back to Vermont, to the Mad River Valley and Sugarbush. Year after year, he’s remained committed, organizing his life around everything the mountain has to offer. He could have taken a job in the industry, but his priorities are simple and clear.
“He earns just enough money in the local economy,” explains Sullivan. “He lives in the town, with the opportunity to be accessible anytime. He’s his own boss, so he never misses a powder a day.”
Four years ago, Wolfie was diagnosed with Lyme, a devastating disease that creates chronic fatigue, among other rugged symptoms. He could barely put his socks on, let alone ride hard or lay tile. The money he’d saved up to build his own house was all spent by the time he started to recover. Wolfie says if someone had offered him a job elsewhere with the right price he might have left it all behind. But he stayed true to his dreams, and now he’s back on the mountains, instructing again, stoked to explain the basics, or bring more adventurous riders on a trip they’ll likely be recounting for seasons to come.
“If I died tomorrow, I’d be going out a winner,” says Wolfie. “What keeps me going is the feeling I get when I strap in and glide away, that sense of freedom. It’s up to you how you slide, express yourself and your personal style. It’s like I tell my students: every move you make affects your riding. It starts with your eyes and goes right to your toes—when you’re riding it’s all connected, so just let it flow.”