“What started as a causal weekend of snowboard racing, has blossomed into the Legendary Banked Slalom. A time when a few hundred racers, and couple thousands friends and family come together to a place that some people have called the ‘ground zero of snowboarding.’ There are as many versions of what makes the three days of the Banked Slalom so special, as there are people hoping for powder snow. While I can’t exactly put my finger on what makes something (including this event) a little bit magic, I do know it takes effort… it takes intention… and a certain kind of spontaneity….” –Gwen Howat, 2019
Stay Low, Be Powerful.
Simple words steeped in history by the longest running tradition in snowboarding. For thirty-three years, the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom (LBS) remains a beacon of authenticity for all those that stand sideways.
The LBS has weathered volatile changes within the industry, yet hasn’t wavered from its humble roots. It started in 1985 when Tom Sims wanted a snowboard-only race, and continues to embody everything that’s genuine in snowboarding.
This year, we were welcomed into the fold thanks to Pat McCarthy, who graciously invited us to stay with the 686 crew in his A-frame cabin in the remote community of Glacier Rim, just down the pass from Mt. Baker.
Within the vortex of Glacier, WA, there’s virtually no cell service, and very limited wifi. But the connection is stronger than ever.
Some cabins come equipped with regular ‘ole landlines, but communication is scaled down to face to face interaction, scrawled notes, and chance meet-ups, thus creating an environment where presence is key. No one is distracted by the constant barrage of communication we face day to day. No time is wasted idly scrolling through social feeds. Instead, everyone is right there and operating in the here and now.
For three days, the banked slalom course is the scene of heavy action from a lengthly list of notable snowboarders. Legends, locals, pros and up-and-comers are all there. It’s the proving ground for riders to brave the course and turn their way down the snaked, banked walls with one goal in mind: Golden Duck Tape.
Yes, there are the few lucky ‘winners’ of each category, who earn priceless awards such as handcrafted ducktape, a huge bag of swag, and the one-of-kind winner’s jacket.
But all those that make the pilgrimage to the tiny outpost of snowboarding’s hollowed grounds earn much more than any prize could fetch. By bringing together a smattering of different people to the same, small event, the meaning that is made differs for all, but a collective gratitude for snowboarding permeates.
As for highlights from the weekend, I’m still processing all that was gained, but one moment sticks out boldly.
Gwyn, of Mt. Baker’s renowned Howat family, has called Glacier, Washington her home for the last 50 years. She puts every ounce of her heart and soul into keeping everything about the LBS running smoothly, while also keeping it pure. She does so with a grace and elegance that can only be described or understood, when seen in person. She’s on it, and the event runs effectively because of it.
On Sunday, after three days of freezing weather and heavy boarding, the course was cleared and golden duck tape distributed during the rowdy awards show. Then rumors of a metal show started to percolate. It was to be held at Grahams’s, one of the only two bars/eateries/establishments in all of Glacier, and many of us decided to go.
Gwyn, 53, instead of calling it a night, or retiring for the evening after all of her hard work, turned up and went full throttle, sending it at show harder than anyone else. As the band screeched on, belting out screamo, a massive mosh-pit formed. The who’s who of snowboarding along with locals and unsung heroes alike, all threw themselves at each other in a series of euphoric chaos.
Perhaps it was falling into the pit and getting elbowed in the nose, but the present never felt more real.
I picked myself up just in time to witness one point of unabashed jubilance. Gwyn jumped on a chair, then thrust herself up and onto the crowd. — Completely relying on a sea of some thirty or so sweaty, crazed snowboarders to hold her up as she crowd-surfed the mosh pit.
Her moment of spontaneity was one of the most badass and liberating moments I’ve had the fortune of witnessing. It was like everything about why the LBS is legendary was embodied in this one magical moment.
Read on for more highlights from a series of winners, losers, and random folks that made the LBS exactly what it is, legendary.
I’ve competed in the LBS a bunch since I was 13, and now I’m 25…. So it’s been about 13 Banked Slaloms. A highlight was watching older ams, because my two roommates raced it, and everyone that we ride with every day raced, and they were all top 5 or 6 everyday, so I got to cheer them on. This course was everything into one. Gnarly ice ledges, into smooth, soft turns, all wrapped together. The LBS is the one, true, full snowboard festival. It brings all the right people together, for all the right reasons for three days. It’s like Christmas, for snowboarders.
I think I’ve been to LBS four times. My biggest highlight was going down switch. It was fucking terrifying. And then halfway down, it became really fun. I rode the course switch last year, but it’s always just insane. This year, the course was definitely icy, with sandpits in-between. It was kind of like war on a few of the turns. Especially on the switch runs, since they were the last few runs of the day. You had to just stand up and get through it, tooth or nail. Winning the Switch Award is kind of insane. God, a lot of history has gone into this and it’s all just so insane.
This is my eighth or ninth Banked Slalom. I came here when I like 13 for the first year, and won the juniors that year. Ever since, I’ve been in Pro, and I can barely even touch qualifying each year. So really, I just enjoy coming here and hanging out with the crew and seeing all my friends that I get to see maybe one time a year throughout the season. It’s all the core riders together, so it’s pretty special. An obviously P.Mac taking care of us and cooking us amazing dinners, and just being like the F***ing Sarg lieutenant, fucking running the show. I always look forward to being in the zone, no wifi, no fucking TV, no phones, and just playing UNO. That’s what makes it. Good shit.
I’ve been to the past five LBS’s with the 686 crew, and I haven’t gotten to ride in all of them, but this one I did. Honestly, a highlight from this trip has been seeing all the guys from 686 and spending time with them in Pat’s cabin and getting to play Uno and smoke pot and drink beers! Oh and I got to meet Sammy, which has been pretty all-time.
This is my 6th LBS and I’ve qualified twice for the Pro Men’s category. Which is cool to me, because I’m not actually a true pro snowboarder like a lot of these guys. But still being one second behind Terje, I’m pretty stoked on that. My highlight is that I had something kind of unique happen, and I got invited to film with Absinthe on a golden ticket, so my sponsors don’t have to throw down 20g’s for me to do it. LBS is definitely a good place to meet people. There’s definitely a lot of really respected riders and people that have been in the industry for a long time, so if you’re a true diehard snowboarder, this is the place to be. Even if you aren’t racing, it’s a good place to come and make it happen. My other highlight was that I got to ride Baker with some of the locals. My buddy, Mark Rainery, and some of the Lodge Boys took me out and I had one of the best days of my season.
This has been my first LBS, and a highlight has been hanging out with the 686 crew. They’ve been so welcoming. Getting to meet Pat (McCarthy)…. I mean, I’m a local regional 686 rider, that somehow got to the opportunity to be staying with all these guys. I’m just so fucking stoked!
Third LBS, favorite part is always hanging and playing games, with no fucking wifi or service.
Second LBS, and my favorite part is stepping away from the office and really stepping away from the role of the desk jockey that I really am. I haven’t answered an email since…. Yesterday. No but really, it’s just coming out and hanging with the guys, and disconnecting from everything else and having a good time. This trip really is all about having a fun and letting the good times roll.
Highlight is to survive the course and to celebrate this amazing community of snowboarders that we have. And the blanket! It’s a sick Pendleton Blanket. This is only my 3rd time coming to LBS. I got 5th last year too. But this event is awesome!
I think this probably my eighth LBS. I used to come when I was kid, like 13, 14, 15, but then I didn’t come for a while because of contests, but now it’s like, I’m never missing another one until I’m 80. Biggest highlight was seeing all the junior girls and next gen girls and just seeing the community. I mean, Juliane is 14 and beat half the pro women. The future is extremely bright and really cool to see those girls coming up behind us. To me, the LBS is the core of snowboarding. It’s what snowboarding is about and it’s really just the purest way to bring the community together. I think it’s such an important event for snowboarding. When I hear that people have never been or, haven’t experienced it, all I want to do is get them out here to experience it at least once in their lives. Because it really is the best.
Rel Friedman (Women’s Masters back-to-back Winner):
I’m super stoked. Most the girls I race against are my friends and I always end up meeting more people in the class and more people in general, and it’s pretty exiting to be with your friends and snowboarding and hyping each other up. I don’t know if it means anything, but it’s feels sweet. A highlight aside from winning was to compete in the switch race. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it, and if that was an option. Because I felt like it was mainly all dudes, but this year, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to do it, and I did it. It was scary as hell, but it was so fun, and I took second. It’s really weird and scary to drop into that course switch. I had to tell myself not pull start, because I didn’t want a too much speed. As far was what the LBS means to me, well, technically it’s a race, but it’s more of an event. It’s so much more than just racing. It’s the sum of everybody who comes out, everyone that volunteers, and everyone that makes the trek. Just being up at Glacier is incredible and magical.
(On the amount of Banked Slalom’s she’s raced in): More than a little. The northwest spirit is so strong here. A highlight honestly was surviving the course. Of all the courses I’ve done, this has been the gnarliest… The one year we changed it and did the drop down because it too flat and that was gnarly, but overall, this course was icy and very Colorado conditions. Cold, too.
33rd Annual Mt. Baker Legendary Baked Slalom Results: