Josh Dirksen is a master of the turn. However, it wasn’t until after an illustrious career at the forefront of freestyle progression during the glory days of the Robot Food era, that he really became known for his dominance in edge control. But as Josh grew older his focus changed, and in 2007 he launched the inaugural Dirksen Derby with the goal of giving back to snowboarding and promoting a focus on the turn. That same year, Oregon up-and-comer Tyler Eklund was severely paralyzed in a snowboarding crash.
In response to the crash, Josh turned the inaugural race into a fundraiser on Tyler’s behalf. Ever since the race has become known as not only a world-class snowboard race, but one with a focus that puts fundraising and giving back to the community at its forefront. After a gap year in 2016, Josh brought the Dirksen Derby back to Mt. Bachelor in 2017 for its 10th iteration.
All Photography by Owen Ringwall
I was distinctly aware of the symphony of sounds that rang through the air of the Mt. Bachelor parking lot as I walked towards the registration tent for the famed Dirksen Derby. This was to be my first time at the race and I could not help but acutely observe my surroundings. The sound of boots squeaking on snow mixed with the raspy bark of scrapers sliding against cold boards. Boisterous greetings from friends echoed through the lot and added to the chorus of nervous mutterings from racers old and new. Listening to the buzz I found myself overcome with the contagious energy that surrounds most competitions.
I wasn’t racing, yet I too felt the familiar anxiety wash over me. I passed through various groups of riders and as they stretched I overheard them trade tips and talk strategy. “Take green-five high and hold as much speed as possible into six,” confidently spoke one racer. “Red is going to be the kingmaker this year, make sure to approach that first set confidently and carefully,” confirmed another.
Their sentiments reminded me that it is often easy to overlook the many strategies that are required to do well in a banked slalom race – especially the Dirksen Derby. It goes without saying that all races and courses are unique to themselves; however, the Derby in particular, stands alone. The primary reason for this is that the very foundation of the famed event rests on its tradition of two distinctly different courses, the red and the green.
This year’s green course, the faster of the two, was to be many riders’ safety run. The course featured an immediate series of deep berms that opened up into a section of wide turns and fast straightaways, and ultimately pitched riders into one last banked turn and across the finish line. Riders who could hold on through the shallow berms between the straightaways were rewarded handsomely with fast times, while others found that taking too much speed into them was a recipe for blowouts and missed gates – a bitter price to pay right before the finish line.
The red course on the other hand, overwhelmingly redefined what many considered to be a technical course. After a brief straight stretch from the starting gate, riders were tossed into a series of surprisingly steep and tight turns that quickly became the most hazardous strip on hill. Those who couldn’t stay on their feet would find themselves off the snow and suspended in a series of nets – a reality far more common than one would imagine. Those who kept both feet on the snow through this first section, however, would likely score well. The remainder of the run opened up into a series of wide banks that riders could pump through with ease to gain speed before one last series of tight turns and a straight stretch into the finish line.
Riders racing in qualifiers on Saturday were asked to select the course that they would take their qualifying run on. Those who scored in the top 50% of their field on that particular course would advance to Sunday’s finals, where they would be given a single attempt on each. Thus, a rider’s strategy in course selection on Saturday quickly proved to many to be the difference between advancing to finals or not. The “elite” pro division would not get a shot at either course Saturday, and would instead be pitted against each other with one run on each the following day.
However, I soon came to understand that while the race remains the main event of the Dirksen Derby weekend, most when asked, will report that it is only a small part of the greater experience. Instead, the weekend is a celebration of snowboard culture and creativity while also acting as a platform for community fundraising. Events like Friday’s, Film and Foto Fest, feature slideshows and short edits from today’s top photographers and cinematographers, while simultaneously raising money for Protect Our Winters. On Saturday, the celebration continues with the Broken Board Art Auction and Fundraiser. In which artists compete with art installations built from old boards of all varieties while raising money for Oregon Adaptive Sports and Tyler Eklund. On Sunday, the winners from each night are awarded the same trophies and prizes as the racers, a gesture that only further confirms the importance of the many facets of Derby weekend.
It was this overwhelming sense of community that resonated with me most as I stood on a crowded balcony to watch the award ceremony on Sunday evening. The weekend as a whole had been a blur of fast times both on and off the hill, yet I could not help but feel a deep sense of satisfaction. Standing in the blistering hot lodge packed to the brim with people of all ages and origins, I was overcome with a deep appreciation for the family that is the snowboarding world, and a new understanding of the many people that call the Dirksen Derby a family reunion. I know now that as long as I am able to, the Derby will become an annual tradition for myself as it has for many before me.
1- Phil Jacques
2- Harry Kearney
3- Jared Elston
1- Marie-France Roy
2- Danielle Steinhoff
3- Isabella Gomez
1- Ravi Drugan
2- Hiromi Tatumi
3- Gabe Rousseau
See the full results, here.
Continue below for more photos and information on how you too can experience next year’s Derby.
Learn more about the Dirksen Derby, here.
See also: The 31st Legendary Banked Slalom: A snowboarding tradition