Smartwool is a proud sponsor of the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom--and for good reason. The soul of snowboarding lies at Mt. Baker Ski Area. Every February, we make the trek to Mt. Baker with our snowboard athletes to experience everything that is the Legendary Banked Slalom. This year, Smartwool athletes Austin Smith, Bryan Fox, Curtis Ciszek, and Blair Habenicht vied for podium bragging rights.
Mt. Baker Ski Area lies northwest of Seattle, tucked away outside of the sleepy town of Glacier, Washington in the North Cascade mountains. It’s the last stop on a dead-end road to the Snoqualmie National Forest. The drive journeys through a quintessential northwest forest that suggests one is far from snow-covered mountains and chair lifts. As you climb the conifers along a winding road with no cell service, suddenly Mt. Shuksan appears -- as long as the clouds and fog aren’t hiding it -- and the forest turns from lush green to snow white. It’s as if someone drew a line where the snow starts and the moss ends. Don’t let the drive deceive you though, an average snow year at Mt. Baker consists of 600+ inches.
Mt. Baker has deep roots in the history and culture of snowboarding. The resort established itself solidly in the minds of snowboarders early on, by being one of the first welcoming snowboarders, rather than banning them. Since Mt. Baker opened its doors, it has become a home for many who are now legends in the industry. Riders were drawn to the outstanding terrain Mt. Baker offered, eventually making it their permanent home base.
They don’t call the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom legendary for nothing. The Legendary Banked Slalom, LBS for short, is the longest running event in snowboard history. Since 1985, the family-run resort has been host to the event. Now in its 32nd year, the event is as popular as ever.
Riding in the Legendary Banked Slalom is more than just a contest. It’s a reunion with your oldest friends, an opportunity to make new friends, and a chance to meet a lot of the people who were around for the birth of snowboarding and are responsible for its progression. Over the course of 3 days, industry people, families, legends in the sport, professional athletes, up-and-coming athletes and rookies come together for some friendly competition and a chance at the coveted golden duct tape trophy.
Competing for duct tape? Sure, it might sound odd at first, but the duct tape symbolizes the relaxed and friendly competitive nature of the event. Riders also use duct tape to attach their race number to their dominate leg during the event. There is no prize money, just duct tape, blankets and a Legendary Banked Slalom logoed jacket for the top finishers in each category.
Smartwool Athlete Manager Alex Pashley is on his 10th Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom. “From an industry standpoint, it’s right up there with attending some of the biggest events in snowboarding,” says Alex. “Most snowboarders will be paying just as much attention to the coverage of LBS as they will other major snowboarding events.”
Over its 32 years, the event has skyrocketed in popularity. The only way to snag a spot as a non-athlete or sponsor is to put your name in a lottery and cross your fingers. The lottery is not guaranteed though. There are snowboarders who have been waiting more than a decade for a chance to compete.
This year’s LBS brought intervals of snow, rain, and sunshine to Mt. Baker, keeping everyone on their toes. Day one kicked off the official start with an 8 a.m. check in, a riders meeting, and first round qualifiers. Only the top 25% of riders with the fastest times move into finals, and those who don’t make the cut on Friday have a second shot at making it to finals on Saturday. Last year, Curtis Ciszek was a podium finisher and once again qualified early on Friday for finals. “It’s a little nerve-racking,” says Curtis, who is coming off two black eyes from a banked slalom event earlier this year. “But all you can do is stay low and be powerful.”
The fun happens both on and off the hill. In addition to the race, there are plenty of activities to look forward to: a food tent located at the top of the course with bowls of fondue and plates of paella, and the Saturday night Salmon Bake hosted at the White Salmon lodge off of Chair 5. Everyone takes the opportunity to relax, catch up with friends, and share stories from the past.
The Legendary Banked Slalom is much more than just a race. It’s an annual gathering for all generations of snowboarders to connect and celebrate in the area that captures the spirit of snowboarding. If you haven’t had a chance to attend the Legendary Banked Slalom, we highly recommend you do. It’s an event that’s hard to put into words, but we guarantee once you go, you’ll want to return year after year.
Congratulations to Blair Habenicht who took Top 10 in Men’s Pro division and Alex Pashley who took Top 5 in Men’s Masters division. And congratulations to all of our athletes who competed in this year’s Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom--Bryan Fox, Austin Smith, and Curtis Ciszek!