I’ve been very lucky in snowboarding. No messing around there. I’ve managed to blag my way onto trips, work on a couple of amazing snow programs, and ride and work with some of the most amazing people you could wish to meet. I’ve also had my fair share of misfortune in terms of injuries. But… if we’re being honest the majority were my fault for not keeping myself healthy or in check enough when riding.
One of the places though that has been on my bucket list for a long long time has been to visit Mt Baker and the Legendary Banked Slalom as some how thus far I haven’t made it up there. Its like one of those events that has shaped snowboarding and the wonderful culture we have within it. When I think about events like this its up there with Innsbruck Air and Style
(when it was in Bergisel Stadium), The US Open
(when it was in Stratton, Vermont) and European Open
in Laax as 4 events which have the wonderful mixture of event, flagship of snowboarding culture, an amazing rider list and arguably created what we have today. I’d add on that list non event trips which would be bucket list such as Baldface, Japan (not yet) and some epic Austrian
January conditions, but those events above, hell, 15 years ago video parts contained a lot of stuff from these events.
The Legendary Banked Slalom was started in 1985, and minus a couple of years where it was cancelled is going strong 31 events later. The list of winners is unreal. Its a whose who of your favorite rider ever.
Tom Sims, Shaun Palmer, Rob Morrow, Craig Kelly, Terje, Terje, Terje x 7, Temple Cummins, Lucas Debari, Mathieu Crepel and now Nils Mindnich after this weekend. For all the riches that can be won in snowboarding, it seems that until you have this one and its duct tape prize in your locker, you haven’t really made it.
Even being at the event this year, the rider list was insane. Old, young, legendary newcomer, all were here and the riders who didn’t make top 10 was quite something especially when you think to yourself, oh… i could do that…. Either way, its around 1 minute 15 seconds (if your fast) of banked slalom, and when you think about going flat out for that long (especially at 37 years of age) its quite a feat.
To see the hype that people had on purely turning was very refreshing after watching years of X Games and kids who learnt to jump on a trampoline who have the square root of zero ability to actually turn a snowboard it was probably the very thing I needed. Have i got jaded on contest snowboarding? Well, people like Sage, Mark, Danny Davis and Halldor (when he competed), keep me somewhat sane, but some of the robotic flips nowadays its easy to turn off too. The event though can and will mess you up if you aren’t on it 100% as the course develops a few kinks through the week which can spit you off like a rodeo bull. Watching some of them ride – Curtis Ciszek especially and Austin Sweetin at the double tap a while ago, you get pretty motivated to really get out and ripping some turns.
Without doubt, these 3 days riding Baker, were some of my most fun in North America. The resort reminds me so much of the small resorts in Austria and Switzerland, with few lifts, lots of access, amazing steep terrain and great snow. Trees, open faces on the arm, cliffs, frozen waterfalls it has it all…
Culturally its also a throw back to simpler times in snowboarding. Much like i mentioned above, for those of you who remember Laax back in the day before the rocks resort was built will know what I mean. I remember after riding in Laax the huge parking lot would have kids living in cars, BBQing on the tarmac, drinking beers, playing music, and spending time down what 20 years olds do, and just loving life. Yes the rocks resort is great now, and as someone who managed to rent team accommodation there, i loved it, but for the young kids coming into snowboarding, I fear thats been lost.
Its been absolutely destroyed, killed and buried in Colorado in resorts like Vail and Aspen where day tickets run to $150 and its just mega corporations running the operation appealing to the 1% of the 1%. Snowboarding and skiing coming from the UK where we would ski on dry slope for relatively cheap wasn’t like that when i started and its a crying shame thats what its become now in these resorts, but for the locals in Glacier, Mt Baker represents a glimmer of hope and a reminder that snowboarding is and should be for the kids who are happy to live in an RV, tent or car for weekends on end just to ride every day.
At the event, since it was a bucket list moment I also had a singular moment which stood out. Hiking the arm with Wille Louma, who 15 years ago was like a god to me, when he was in the Mack Dawg films. Now to hike 35 minutes up and ride a line with him, well, i was definitely in fan boy territory…. here he is just hitting something first time….
Going back to the riders at the event. It was a wonderful mix.
You had the legends, Terje, Temple Cummins, Josh Dirksen, Travis Rice, the drink water crew, Bryan, Austin, Steve, Curtis, the industry crew from Bend, Kyle, Carson, the locals from Glacier, half of Portland, Ami, Wille, Colleen, Keating, Jen, Eric, some Europeans in the form of Elias Elhardt made the trip, some aussies, the bellingham crew with Jake Blauvelt, Hannah Beaman, most of Canada with Spencer and Leanne Pelosi, it was such an amazing group of people, all here to race, but it seems also celebrate everything thats good with snowboarding. And there is a lot of great with snowboarding right now.
All you have to do is look at what people are riding to see that. 12 years ago, snowboards were all pretty much, directional or twin, camber with graphics which changed every year. Couple exceptions but 90% that was it. Then the last 12 years, snowboarding has exploded in terms of new innovations for riding and it I think has led to such a new interest in terrain, conditions and product its been like a breath of fresh air.
Look down in any lift line this weekend you had have seen a fish, a square looking powder shape from a brand you never heard of before, a swallow tail, a crazy board from spring break with parts cut out, crazy wide noses, tiny tails, and all of which were being used for racing, jumping and everything in between. Lib Tech must take a lot of credit but the work burton have done with the family tree series needs serious props too as that line is phenomenal, but then you also see Ride with their new shapes, the whole Salomon range, there is just so many reasons to try new shapes now and collect a quiver much like surfing.
The other thing that this event, and also a couple other videos over the last few years have made me realize is that maybe now snowboarding has grown up and embraced its heroes and idols and just because they are over 30 doesn’t mean they are useless to brands. You see what Terje still does for Burton, what Nicolas new movie does for snowboarding, what Gigi knocks out every year, Bryan Iguchi for Volcom, Barret Christy for Mervin, these are all riders who are riding but also help shape the brands and culture and its brilliant that its happening now, as it felt like a decade ago, you hit 30 and that was it. Feels like we are finally learning from the skate and snow culture in that regard.
Snowboarding needs events like this, it needs resorts like this and it needs those kids who are 20-25 years old who want to live, breathe, eat, sleep snowboard and repeat to work on these events, and spread the gospel. Thats how snowboarding grows.
The thing no one in events seems to have grasped is that kids nowadays who switch on X Games have no chance of thinking “oh yeah, i want to go do a cab quad cork 1800”, but they can think about turning their snowboard like Terje or Nils quite easily. Its like football. I watch it religiously and scream at the TV that i could do better because i know i can have a kick about and tell myself i can, but no kid on a weekend warrior program is amping to be the next Max Parrot unless he has a coach, trampoline and national team backing him. Do we need to take a step backwards to go forward with snowboarding? Probably. Ed Leigh has written about it before, but for snowboarding to do what Surfing is doing and becoming something tangible and appealing again, it needs to get to a tour, with a combination of pipe, big air, slope, banked slaloms, back country, street, where you really see what the diversity of our sport is all about. Think about the film Glue by Christian Haller, or Side Hit Euphoria by Arthur Longo and Oliver Gittler or the eternal beauty of snowboarding and you will see what I mean. There is less spinning, less flipping but a lot more fun and reliability to the average person like me.
This weekend honestly felt like similar to how a religious person must feel when they visit the Vatican and the Pope, like reinvigorating your love for a higher being, and belief that there is a belonging to which we are all drawn towards.
I also filmed one run down the arm. Yes I’m that guy, but its so fun…. why not…
Thanks for reading. Thank you Mt Baker.