Finding the 4bi9 House

I'm walking down a sidewalk in the heat of the day, lost, still wearing my clothes from last night. The evening had kicked off at the 4bi9 crib, but I got separated from the crew at a U. Street party. Technically, the festivities had been at U. Ave., which is the root of my confusion since the 4bi9 house is really on U. Street—the place I was told we were walking to is actually where we came from. I guess the terms 'Street' and 'Ave' are interchangeable in Utah.

I'm about to give up the search when I see someone wearing a ski mask and goggles running across a lawn down the way. Ski gear mid-morning in August throws me off, and I take a second to remind myself that there's no crime in this part of SLC. If he's not the perpetrator of a robbery... this character must have some connection to 4bi9. I get closer. I see that the guy with the goggs is running around with a garden hose. He is being chased by another kid in a bandana and hoodie who seems to be wielding... a blowtorch? Yes, that's a blowtorch.

The two stop suddenly. The one with the blowtorch goes back to the steps of the house and I identify him as Wyble. He's directing the flame to the railroad-tie stairs as the other, Dave Euler, stands by with the hose.

"OOOOOOW," Wyble yells. He stumbles backwards into the lawn, which is more of a mud puddle now thanks to the running hose. "The @$#%&! stung me!"

At this point, several things clarify: Wyble's "blowtorch" is actually an aerosol can-lighter combo and they're using it flame thrower-style on a wasps' nest in the stairs. The purpose of the hose remains unclear. They tell me that they've been at it since Goblin got stung two hours ago. I laugh. I am no longer lost. Then a wasp buzzes into my ear; I dash through the mayhem into the house.

The 4bi9 spot is a novelty in Salt Lake; a house filled with good skiers pursuing an education is rare in any corner of the world. But this is the first time that a youthful ski scene has popped up here. There has always been the TechNine contingent in snowboarding, but most of the skiers who live in SLC are somewhat older (ie. patchouli-loving hempsters) with bumper stickers that read "Free the heel, free the mind" or "Keep Tahoe Blue!" These types heckle you about sagging your pants in the liftline at Alta. And they think they run the show because they "farm snow" on pow days. (Sidenote: Alta and Snowbird are also home to some of the best skiers in the world, but the good ones huck big and keep their yaps shut). Anyway, the 4bi9ers are neither telemarking hippies nor snowboarders with gang signs and gold ropes. This is probably also why they are taking Salt Lake over.

Most of the skiers who live in SLC are somewhat older (ie. patchouli-loving hempsters) with bumper stickers that read "Free the heel, free the mind" or "Keep Tahoe Blue!" These types heckle you about sagging your pants in the liftline at Alta. And they think they run the show because they 'farm snow' on pow days.

4bi9 started in the winter of 2006/07 when Steve Stepp and Tom Wallisch moved in from Pennsylvania: University of Utah freshmen. These two linked up with Tim Maney, Andrew Napier and AJ Dakoulas, three Vermonters who had also made the pilgrimage to the Mormon Mecca. The crew started making edits—er, ski video shorts—as soon as the snow fell, enlisting some of the best talent that Park City and SLC had to offer.

The rest is history. 4bi9 has now pumped out three feature films, "Look It Up," "Slamina," and "So Far, So Hood," which premiered in September. AJ Dakoulus is usually credited with masterminding the company, but Hennie VJ has taken on his share of the filming, and Napier is still involved in editing and production. But AJ is the only one of these three who lives in the house... which he shares with Steve Stepp, Tim (Zilla) Maney, Ryan Wyble, Rich Fahey, Dave Euler and, last but not least, Wallisch.

In truth, 4bi9 can hardly be mentioned without giving credit to Wallisch. It was Tom's burgeoning popularity that put 4bi9 on the map, and vice versa. When Wallisch started learning 10 new tricks a day at Park City that first winter, the edits AJ and Napier were cutting helped morph him from Amish County soul-shredder to bonafide Internet phenom.

Rory Silva actually did call him "The Internet Sensation" for a while because Rory found it so remarkable that skiers used the Internet at all (and I'm not sure that he ever learned Tom's actual name). We shortened the nickname to "The IS" in the summer of '08, but it died after a few months because it wasn't very funny. Fortunately, things like "The Pretzel Man," "Tad Wallnuts," and of course "Tomwallisch"—the monosyllable—stuck around.

At Windell's Camp this past summer I would hear kids ask where "Tomwallisch" was with a breathless gasp... as though he might manifest before their eyes like Candyman. Wallisch himself was actually asked this question (twice!). Nowadays Tom is about as famous as you can be in a small sport like freeskiing. And just as the 4bi9 crew helped give rise to Tomwallisch so too has Tomwallisch stuck by his troop.

An ever-expanding crew, all the 4bi9 kids are on the come-up. Even Henrik Harlaut films with them. As the international headquarters, the 4bi9 house sees influxes of all types of randoms and 4bi-affiliates who are liable to roll through at any time of day. When I showed up last night, there were already the makings of a party, but as Wyble put it:

"Our neighbors pretty much hate us, so we can't have more than a few people over at a time. The other night the cops showed up when there were literally six of us sitting in the living room." The neighbors, I'm guessing, didn't take kindly then to the 4th of July bash that filled the house wall-to-wall with imbibing patriots and skiers alike. Even MTV came through with a camera crew to document the debauchery that results from giving college kids cause for celebration.

And when fireworks entered the mix, the ruckus poured into the street, where the rockets' red glare quickly caught the attention of the S.L.P.D. Jakes rolled up nine squad cars deep and there hasn't been a block party since. It's no matter though: the 4Bi9 house will be a hub in SLC until it gets condemned... and till then you can check up the goings-on at 4biLife.com or watch Tommy Wall's episode of the Alli Show on MTV.

Meanwhile, one house is not big enough to house the whole 4bi-fam, not even close. For this reason there is another pad across town. It's a low-key crib (comparatively speaking) where Brady Perron and Witt Foster have posted up, in Cottonwood Heights. This is also the spot where I have chosen to crash for my three day stay in the Lake (it's luxury compared to the U Street couch during weekend/peak visitation). Brady and his homies are nice enough to let me store my snowmobile there for the fall, and I enjoy sitting by the pool down the street and listening to Illmatic on vinyl in their basement.

But now that I've found my way back to one house I need a ride to the bottom of Big Cottonwood Canyon where the other one is. Bartering with the wasp death squad on the porch yields no certain prospects, so I ask Timzilla if he'll take me over to Brady's for the price of a Quizno's sub. He obliges and soon we're rolling in his beat up Chevy through streets clogged with shiny BMW's. We talk about Vermont, and the gray and Bondo-colored body of his truck creaks as he weaves in and out of traffic. The next day, I'm in Colorado en route to the Green Mountain State but already SLC is already beckoning me back. There is stuff to do here now beyond skiing powder and eating great Mexican because a few likeminded skiers and cool cats go a long way, even in a big city.