My Experience at the Legendary Banked Slalom.
Sitting on a snow dusted chairlift as it rose up the blanketed hills of Mt. Baker Ski Area, I sighed a deep breath of relief combined with anxiety. The moment I’ve been thinking about for months had arrived. Today, I would be competing in the Legendary Banked Slalom with some of the best snowboarders in the world. First off, I’m no professional snowboarder. Actually, I’m far from it. Why did this happen? How could they let a guy who spends most of his time running a Natural Food Company and chasing his 6 year old down “Green” runs be with true snowboard legends? Surely, I’d be called out. Told to go home or worse… be a laughing stock.
I glanced over at the women next to me wearing the duct taped racing bib on her calf and smiled. Her faced sun kissed and snowboard well worn, she shared her story of driving from Colorado to compete. She was obviously one of the legends and yet, she welcomed me. I told her that we were a sponsor and would be serving our Homestyle Granola and Breakfast Cookies to the crowd for the next three days. She was thrilled and wished me luck. I hadn’t been told to take off my racing bib yet… this was cool.
Once arrived at the top of the course, I circled around to the “Racer VIP” area which was abuzz with participants. The smell of fresh wax, paella and hot tea circled the makeshift tent and I strolled over to scout several riders taking their test run. I struck up a conversation with a guy from Sandpoint, Idaho whom qualified for the LBS for the first time. He was a couple years older than me and from what I gathered, one heck of the rider. After a few minutes, I confessed to him, “you know…um… I’m only in this race because I’m a sponsor… there’s no way I’d be able to qualify from my riding.” The next moment changed my weekend.
“Doesn’t matter how you got here, you’re here now. Go do your best. Stay low and be powerful.”
Suddenly, I felt relief. Actually, more than relief, I felt welcome… like I was a part of them. I surveyed the course through a different lens feeling thrilled and honored to be racing that day.
Mount Baker Ski Area has put on this race for over 32 years and it’s like no other. It’s not just a race, it’s a gathering of friends and family to compete for competitions sake. The winner doesn’t receive money, trips or cars… they receive a roll of Duct Tape. Pride is the prize for anyone who dare attempt to get down the course in one piece. However, if you have the fastest time in your division, you earn bragging rights for life.
Growing up riding Baker, I’ve always known about the LBS and held it in high esteem. Probably how someone who grew up in Boston thinks of their marathon. So when I stepped into the starting gate and heard, “Rider Ready, 3, 2, 1...GO!”, I pushed off with all I had. Setting up, I took a hard heel side left turn around the first gate. Then… Crash. I felt a rush of adrenaline rush over me. Not the good kind. The type that wants you to run away from an awkward situation as fast as possible. In a fraction of a second, I thought about my Erin Baker’s® team members who were waiting for my start for over an hour in the snail (snow/rain mix). I thought about the guy from Sandpoint who threw positivity my way. I thought about Gwyn Howat who designed the course that gave me some tips. I would not let them down for the rest of this run. I popped up onto my board and pointed it down the course gritting my teeth. Slashing each gate with purpose and pushing the limit of speed and G forces on each turn, I mentally repeated “Stay Low, Be Powerful”. I crossed the finish line breathing heavy and smiling ear to ear. I stopped and looked around. Each racer had that same look of satisfaction… like completing a bull ride for 8 seconds.
I finished the rest of the run by taking some long turns down the mountain arriving at White Salmon Lodge where the team was waiting at the Erin Baker’s Booth. They greeted me with hugs and congratulations warming my memories of the race. We spent the next couple of hours telling stories and greeting participants and guests with our tasty Homestyle Granola with slushy milk (pretty good combo actually) and witnessing joy from kids spinning our prize wheel. When I say joy, I really mean, kids losing their minds at winning stuff. Stickers may not seem like a big deal, but to an 8 year old with a helmet to put it on… it IS.
Looking back, I’m grateful for everyone that came by to say hello and remind us that we have the “Best Breakfast Ever” and our team whom also showed them the same gratitude for sharing that sentiment. I’m grateful for all of the racers who shared stories of near misses, yard sale crashes, clean turns and eventful après evenings. Lastly, I’m grateful for Mount Baker Ski Area who puts on this race each year. Their dedication to the “Art of Competition” and keeping The Legendary Banked Slalom a no frills, family friendly, community event all the while challenging the best snowboarders in world is unparalleled. Oh… and thanks for letting a hack like me in too.
-Rob McCormack, Chief Operating Officer
Have you ever heard of the Legendary Banked Slalom?
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