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22nd Annual Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom

Giant Trees, Fresh Salmon & Man Soup, A First Timers look
at the 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 the slalom

Travis RiceIt 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 Slalom.

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 imagine.

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.

Terje HaakonsenBefore 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 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.


"Let's Ride!"






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