22nd Annual Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom
Giant Trees, Fresh Salmon & Man Soup,
A First Timers look
22nd Annual Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom
It was always something that I have been a
bit embarrassed to admit. In the 15 years that I have been snowboarding I
had never been to Mt Baker. For those of you not aware, very, very simply
put, Mt Baker is a ski & snowboard area in Washington State that has existed
since the beginning of the sport as a crucial part of both the development
and growth of the soul of snowboarding. So when the opportunity arose to
roll up to the one and only Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom along with none
other than Baker OG turned CU Boulder Program Director Pat Abramson, John
Sang Wilbur and I immediately booked our tickets to Seattle.
Travis Rice (below) zooms through
It wasn’t until we started to drive up the
10-mile access road to Baker that I really began to fall in love with all
that is Baker. Can’t really explain it, just seems to me that the aura that
emanates throughout the town of Glacier all the way up the access road to Mt
Baker is something that has to be absorbed in person to be understood. The
moss envelops the trees and branches in a seemingly endless layer of
fuzziness. There are more shades of green than I ever knew existed all
around the packed Subaru as we climbed towards the snowy peaks ahead of us.
The walls of snow grew on either side of the windows as we pulled into the
White Salmon Parking Lot, ground zero for the Mt Baker Legendary Banked
A couple of things that I did not realize
until I was at Baker that I want to throw out there: First of all Baker is
not at a high altitude like I had thought or I guess assumed from photos I
had seen. The base sits at a mere 3500 feet above sea level. Secondly it
would take a lifetime to explore even a fraction of the terrain I gaped at
for 4 days straight. Seriously, this place has so many options everywhere
you look. Inbounds alone are countless natural jibs, drops, ¼ pipes,
step-ups, step-downs, windlips, cornices, STEEPS!, creative terrain park, BX
practice course, chutes, gaps and anything and everything else you can
As we suited up in our gear and headed up the
first of two chairs to check out the qualifiers, it quickly became apparent
that there was something very special, almost magical about riding Mt Baker.
There were no bars on the chairs to separate you from your surroundings and
the management seems to maintain a very liberal open backcountry policy. An
Avy beacon, probe, shovel and a backpack are required to access the vast
backcountry, as they should be. The chairlift grew silent as we gaped at the
variety of terrain all around us and remained in awe of the sheer size and
grandeur of Mt Shuksan surveying all the action from above.
Terje Haakonsen (below) gets camera
strapped on prior to his run.
Before we even were able to make it to the
top of the event we ran into a friend and certain crazy Baker local who
redirected us. Before I knew it and I can’t say where, we were smashing
completely untracked pillows, hitting tree jibs and gaping mini crevasses
surrounded by a surreal mix of pine needles, moss, big rocks and Giant
Trees. Safe to say we made several laps. Absolutely unreal. I couldn’t stop
smiling for the rest of the day as I picked moss shrapnel off of my jacket.
The top of the course had more of an
atmosphere of a BBQ at a buddy’s house than the top of one of the most
famous proving grounds in the world. Old friends traded hi 5’s, “knuckles”
(the new high 5) and the latest but losing momentum fast “knuckles to
explosion” (The new knuckles) as new friends were being made. There was a
fire going, pretty busy wax area, big tent to warm up, DJ Pat A taking us
back to the 80’s, a smoked salmon and cream cheese feast and even fondue all
contributing to the super happy reunion like atmosphere.
Now I don’t mean to infer at all that this
was not a competitive event. Racing at the LBS is something that was clearly
taken very seriously. Almost every person steps up to that start gate with
the intention of winning. The wax tent was cranking. I definitely saw some
layers come flying off when Terje slid out of his coat before his run. Low
rumbles of how to approach the 4th berm, who had the fastest time and
opinions of the corkscrew feature were everywhere. The weather was variable
during qualifiers and there was much lens and goggle swapping in the start
area for optimal visibility. No FIS points, no TV time for winning, no
pounding energy drinks instead of water at the finish, hardly any noticeable
media, the Baker Banked Slalom seems to exist as the anti-contest, purely
for the love of snowboarding, with a nice underbelly of serious competition
to keep things interesting.
For me, one of the best parts of the entire
event was the absence of the VIP separation/credential/secret hand
shake/bro-down fest that overpowered so many of the 15+ events we have been
to this year.
At the Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom there were no stupid pieces of
oversized plastic hanging off my pants, no meathead security people flexing
in their tight polo shirts, no cattle gate separating the cool from the not
cool enough, no damn lists, just a 2 ½” x 2 ½” lift ticket that said “22 and
a cork screw”. Everyone was also welcome at all of the after parties with
nothing but open arms and a cover charge. Perfect!
The amount of past and present top pros from
the snowboard world that were present at this event was staggering and
impossible to list. Check the start list at http://www.mtbaker.us/lbs/entry/officiallyentered.html
if you would like to see it for yourself. We hung with Bob Klein next to the
start shack watching runs while getting a little history from someone who
helped set the 3rd course ever at the Mt Baker Banked Slalom. The start gate
consisted of a little shack to get your pull on and stay dry, Amy calling
your name, Gwen getting you stoked, and even a disco ball to set the mood.
Amy and Gwen MC’d the event like pros, keeping everyone moving into the
start gate and updated on the progress on the course, smiling no matter how
cold or wet it was and clearly stoked on all the action.
The course looked burly with plenty of turns
chiseled by shovels and sidecuts into near vertical waves of snow. About ¾
of the way down the course, Mt Baker staff had created a super cool feature
that was essentially a giant corkscrew of snow. And I mean a lot of snow.
Dubbed the Hwy 547 off ramp complete with a legit highway sign purchased by
Duncan, it threw a curveball at all of the competitors while adding another
dimension to the course.
Saturday night capped off a long day of
qualifiers with the biggest Fresh Salmon Bake I have ever seen in my life.
So fresh, so much and so cheap. Competitors ate free while anyone could grab
a LOADED plate for only $7. JD Platt rolled out a sweet dog Frisbee show in
the parking lot. Are all those dogs really his? We climbed through a cave,
stuffed our faces, watched a fire show, met new friends, and had a dance off
with Pat A all before we had even left the parking lot.
We rolled back to the crib in Glacier to make
some Man Soup (5 doods + 2 girls in a hot tub = Man Soup) drink some beers
and get ready for the evening ahead. Before too long we pulled into Juanitas
in Maple Falls to check out the screening of “Let It Ride,” the film that
pays tribute to snowboard legend and Mt. Baker local Craig Kelley. The movie
was great and being able to experience it shown outside in Glacier,
Washington is something hard to describe. Hoots and hollers rolled through
the crowd as one Baker local after another made an appearance on the screen.
Baker locals are for real. They do it all and they do it all well.
Drinks flowed until last call when we made
the move to go to a barn party in Glacier complete with bonfire, DJ Pat A
spinning from the rafters, plenty of dogs, tons of cool people, an
assortment of ramps and various Chicken Fights. Two guys were absolutely
slaying the ramps throwing wall ride to floaty frontside transfer linked
with kickflip disasters. We finally rolled back around 3 for some more Man
Soup action and to get some sleep for the finals ahead.
So much fun. Thank you to Amy, Gwen, Duncan
and the rest of the Mt Baker crew & all the locals for rolling out such a
cool, down to earth, well run event with plenty of mountain hospitality. I
am already planning a return trip to get back up there and ride this season.
A huge congratulations goes out to Lucas Debari, a young Glacier local, for
winning the Pro Men’s division in front of a stacked field. Seems just about
right. ‘Til next time.