Out of the Park: Mt. Baker & The Legendary Banked Slalom

You've gotta go to Baker, and when you do you might as well go during the Legendary Banked Slalom, It's like the Kentucky Derby of snowboarding.

Snowboarding road trips are the best, second maybe to a surf trip in Indonesia, and Mt. Baker is a sick road trip. You can do it as day trip or make it a weekend. The drive from anywhere in the Lower Mainland is about two hours. The terrain is mega and Mt. Baker gets pummeled by storms coming off the Pacific. They usually hold the world record each season, globally, for the resort with the most snowfall (in 1998/99 they received almost 100 feet of snow!) There are no high speed quads, so the snow doesn't get tracked out as fast. There usually aren't any lift lines either. And there is no scene, the parking lot is loaded with Subaru's, and Toyota 4 Runners decal-ed with every rad snow brand you can think of. Everyone is really chill, Baker has the best vibe.  

Things you should know:

  • Lift tickets are $50 and they take Canadian dollars at par for tickets and in the cafeteria.
  • Eat in the lodge, the food is affordable and really good. Try the chilli in a bread bowl.
  • There is awesome slackcountry, so bring a transceiver, probe, shovel and pack - if you don't own these, you can rent them.
  • Access to the slackcountry terrain is through ski patrol manned gates - no gear, no access.
  • Ski patrol will check that your transceivers are working - you can also get info about current avalanche risk at access gates.
  • Mt. Baker is in the USA so you have to cross a boarder to get there and will need appropriate documents - passport or one of those new fancy DL's. *also don't be stupid, leave the contraband at home.
  • Gas is cheap in the US, so buy some gas while you are down there.

I did the road trip last weekend for the Legendary Banked Slalom. In its 28th edition the LBS is one of the longest running snowboarding events in the world. It's like the Kentucky Derby of snowboarding. The course is a grueling minute and a half (if you are fast) set down a gully run with deep berms. Most people come out the bottom gripping their chests, gasping for air like a fish in the bottom of a boat. No wonder the words scratched into the wood above the starting gate read, 'Say your prayers'.

Say Your Prayers. Photo: Tim Zimmerman. Click photo to see ESPN's gallery from event.

Say Your Prayers. Photo: Tim Zimmerman. Click photo to see ESPN's gallery from event.

The field is made up of invited pros, sponsor spots, and lottery draw winners. I've put my name in the lottery the last couple of seasons in the fall and haven't made it in yet. When I say 'invited pro's', what I really mean is every one of the best snowboarders on the planet from the last 30 years in snowboarding! Walking around the start gate you might run into Jamie Lynn, Scotty Wittlake, Terje Haakonsen, Nicholas Muller, DCP, Curtis Cisek, Scott Stevens, Chris Rasman, and Kevin Sansalone. I even saw Grouse Park blogger Caley Vanular dropping in. It's hard not to 'fan out' when you see Jamie Lynn and Terje, shredders that I have been looking up to for 20 years - I watched Project 6 on VHS until it wouldn't play anymore. I managed to keep my cool on Saturday afternoon when I sat down to eat my baked salmon and realized I was sitting next to the man T RICE! I don't have a photo to prove this but you can ask Sansalone. 

The rider list for the contest and the course are just part of what make the event so rad. On the Saturday after qualifying they held a Handplant Jam and the Baked Salmon BBQ at the Banked Slalom. The event has stayed true for 28 years. Never selling out to big corporate sponsors. The bib #'s are attached to the riders leg's using Duct Tape, the trophies still have a big roll of Duct Tape on top, and there is no cash purse, but the biggest snowboarders in the world still come every year. It's real. Some of the prizes include blankets made by the local first nations peoples. Respect. For results check out Transworld Snowboarding's recap of the finals.