The Legendary Banked Slalom at Mt. Baker is unlike any other event in snowboarding – and there is a lot more to that distinction than just it’s name.
I first arrived in Glacier, on the Wednesday before the 31st LBS and was greeted by a small, storm-torn town. Trees were littered across the road and lay splintered throughout the woods as if someone had upended a box of toothpicks. The 30-minute windy ascent up the road from Glacier to the resort had been closed since the previous Sunday, and much of Glacier had been without power since long before our arrival.
In fact, my host, Ian only had power return to his apartment earlier that day, and it wasn’t twenty minutes after settling in that it again flickered before shutting off. Our group was immediately forced to be resourceful and we began to scavenge the house by cellphone light for anything and everything flammable, ultimately going as far as to tear the paper from my set of disposable cameras to be used as kindling. Once a fire and series of candles had been lit, we again resolved to conversation and cards. It was from this introduction that I learned the small town of Glacier isn’t your typical mountain town. Forget about cell service, if you need to talk to someone, your best, and only, bet is to find him or her at one of the two watering holes in town.
Friday morning we awoke to news that the road was clear and the resort was set to open for the first day of the race. We eagerly rushed up the road only to be greeted by whiteout conditions. Snow that had been thickened into crud from warm temperatures and rain was rapidly buried and the racecourse was constantly shifting and changing with each racer that passed, and each inch of snow that fell.
One of the first things a newcomer will recognize at their first LBS, is the overwhelming energy and sense of community. Not only is the race one of the largest gatherings within snowboarding – drawing hundreds of competitors and spectators from around the world each year – but it is also one of the most authentic and welcoming. First time racers will often find themselves placed before or after event icons like Terje Hakonsen or Temple Cummins, a blend that subsequently results in a resounding sense of commonality throughout the weekend. At the LBS, everyone is in it together; every racer’s turn shapes the course for the following rider, and no racer – regardless of tenured career – is placed above another.
Furthermore, the race itself is built from, and ingrained, with tradition. So much so, that the salmon bake and enormous batches of paella seem as integral of an element to the race as Mt. Baker Operations Manager Gwn Howat, the start gate, or the banks themselves. When the weather finally cleared on Sunday for finals, racers fervently scraped and tuned their boards, all vying for the prized trophy, which ironically is modeled after a modest roll of duct tape. The competition itself seems to have been only a secondary component to the gathering, results are cheered for with enthusiasm and a sense of camaraderie is tangible.
My Legendary Banked Slalom race experience began in the airport and only heightened every moment that drew me closer to the ever-isolated Mt. Baker. The RVs, campers, jerry-rigged vehicles, and tents that pack the Mt. Baker parking lot resonated with me as symbolic of the race’s role within snowboarding. Each racer had willfully sacrificed basic amenities for a closer proximity to the lift, and the chance to be part of the surrounding community. The energy that surrounds the event permeated through damp jackets and soggy toes, and warmed each and every participant. Leaving Mt. Baker I reflected on my experience and realized that if there was one thing about the Legendary Banked Slalom that will always be true, it is that weather – no matter how wet – will never dampen the spirit of the race.