2011 Legendary Banked Slalom at Mt. Baker
By Sunday afternoon, the wind had picked up again, making its way over the jagged peak of Mt. Shuskan and down onto the course of the 26th Legendary Banked Slalom at Mt. Baker. But the sun was finally out and the wind stayed mellow enough to not disrupt the festivities. Saturday, 92-mile-an-hour gusts had forced the lifts to a halt. If competitors wanted to finish their qualifying runs, they had to hike up to the top of the course, a mean feat to the legs before dropping into the natural halfpipe.
But nothing completely disrupts the LBS. Not lack of snow (though they finally got 7 inches the night before finals); not wind (the ravens were out circling again); not the passage of time. The “legendary” in the name speaks to the presence of this whole place, set deep in the mountains of Northern Washington, out of reach of time or ordinary life. It’s embodied in this shred-family tradition for which pros skirt their winter schedules to compete against locals defending their own titles—all for the glory symbolized in the duct-tape trophies. And for the fun.
It’s not hard to feel big when you’re here—though it’s not just the enormousness of the mountains that you’re in the presence of, but the past, present and future of snowboarding. But, because when you’re here, you’re a part of it all.
Baker’s Gwyn Howat said this year’s finals course may have been the best they’ve ever had: the perfect amount of the right kind of snow. The course was also split mid-track, giving riders a right and left option. And the riders, well: The Men’s Master’s category topped out at 80. Pros like Terje Haakonsen, Temple Cummins, Jamie Lynn, Josh Dirksen and Blair Habenicht found themselves bested by 17-year-old Colorado native Harry Kearney. Haakonsen won the switch race, again. And Canadian Olympic gold medalist and reigning champ Maelle Ricker won women’s pros with a broken arm. That’s how it goes at the LBS—all of it fueled by bbqed salmon, alcohol, great vibes… and the essence of the mountains.
Because that’s where it all started. Here, terrain takes precedent. It demands an element of humility, but also balls and a hardcore mentality that serves you when it’s just you and the massive arms of powder out there, some of it ready to break off in an instant.
In bounds, everyone points it and hauls ass (because typically there’s no need to watch out for other riders; the resort is a backyard mountain solely to small towns). But out of bounds, they dance, they carve, they flirt with Mother Nature, paying homage, but taking what they can. By afternoon, there’s not a contour untouched, not a steep untracked. And you wouldn’t know it if you saw them in the lodge—know that they just lost their minds in a field of pow. You can only imagine the feeling. Or get out and do it.
If you missed the Legendary Banked Slalom this year, make sure to come next year. Or the year after. It’ll still be going on, likely for another 26 years. And you’ll probably still see many of the same faces, though older and weathered from their rugged lifestyles. New heroes will hold up gold rolls of duct-tape, new legends will accept the Craig Kelly award. But the spirit will always remain, because it’s in the blowing snow, and all these folks—their hearts are surrendered to it.