words: Austin Smith
photos: Buster Tronolone
It’s safe to say everyone has seen photos of this year’s Dirksen Derby. The tight banked slalom weaving through the forest of Mt. Bachelor. The podium with Nils Mindnich and Nelly Steinhoff taking top honors. The Parrilla chowder. Max Warbington’s Brain Bowl Session. Rain, snow and sunshine—it was an action packed weekend. Rather than a recap of what you already saw, I’ll share the highlight of the event that was less documented.
In typical fashion, Jake Price was the last and final racer on Sunday. He says the course is the fastest at the end of the day; to his credit, he won his category, so there may be some truth to it. But after Jake took his run is when the magic happened. Pat Malendoski arrived at the top of the course. If not familiar with Pat, you are likely familiar with his work. He spent a few decades building the best halfpipes and slopestyle courses for snowboarding contests around the world, including the 2002 Olympic halfpipe, but he prefers to reminisce on the Honda Session events at Vail, US Opens, and the Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge at Bachelor. He says those builds allowed for more creativity and freedom than the Olympics. And even though Pat was the first person to build the 22-foot halfpipe, he still prefers the original Pipe Dragon that was used for the 12-foot pipes back in the 90s.
However, just about seven years ago, Pat was diagnosed with brain cancer and has been on a wild journey ever since, involving surgeries, cancer treatments, and medication. Anyone that was friends with Pat prior to cancer will attest that he is still the same ol’ Pat today. Same humor, same compassion for others, and still doesn’t like talking about himself, which is his major complaint about his cancer process—there is so much focus on him: how he’s doing, the future, the past, doctor appointments, care givers, etc. So this is why he will really hate that I’m focusing Dirksen Derby 14 on him.
But first, we have to remember what started this event fourteen years ago. Tyler Eklund, a Mt. Bachelor local was competing at the USASA Nationals and had a crash that resulted in being paralyzed. Josh started the Dirksen Derby the following year to raise money for Tyler and create an event that he could compete in with a sit ski division. The sit ski division is easily the most impressive category of the Dirksen Derby. I say that from experience. In 2008 at the second Dirksen Derby, I was the sole sit ski competitor. At the time I was recovering from a knee surgery, but I still wanted to participate and through that experience, I learned how incredibly talented, strong, and coordinated the sit skiers are.
However, Pat was reluctant to sit ski; he wants to snowboard. But last weekend, when he arrived at the top of the Dirksen Derby course with the assistance of Oregon Adaptive Sports, I could tell he had a change of heart. He was smiling like a kid in a candy store and seemed surprised by how much fun he was having. He rallied through the course with his son Dillon following behind. Jake Price was at the bottom and filmed him coming across the finish line, capturing the highlight of the weekend—pure joy and excitement. Pat still plans on snowboarding this season, but now he is eagerly looking forward to winter working with Oregon Adaptive Sports.
If the Dirksen Derby had a title, like how the LBS is the longest-running event in snowboarding, it would be that the Derby is the most inclusive event in snowboarding. It was built around supporting Tyler and sit skiing, and expanded this year with a new adaptive category that Devon Raney won, as well as a non-binary category that Dev Gupta won. Dirksen, himself, is looking forward to the future growth of these divisions. And if I know Dirksen, he has already started planning Dirksen Derby 15. See you all next year.