|Race of LegendRiding the Banked Slalom
Story by Brandy Kiger
Each year, an audacious group of snowboarders head for the hills, say their prayers and slide through the starting hut to take a twisty, turny, hell-on-wheels ride down the Mt. Baker’s Legendary Banked Slalom (LBS).
They’re the best of the best. Each boarder has earned their entry by either outstripping their opponents’ time in the previous year’s race, qualifying in a local challenge or winning a lottery and proving they have what it takes.
The LBS is one of the longest running events (it celebrates its 28th year in 2013) in the snowboarding world, but it still retains its down home, local feel. There’s no media hype or loudspeakers blaring, just a bunch of folks who love the powder and want a steep shot of adrenaline and the chance for an award made of gold duct tape.
About 300 athletes will compete in the three-day event, taking place February 8 to 10. Here’s a look at two:
“I find it fun to try to be the fastest,” Ricker said. “I guess it’s my competitive racer instinct that comes out when I’m in the start hut. What I really like is the feeling I get when I have a clean run down the course, where I whipped some of the corners and had a smooth line – that’s a great feeling.”
Ricker said the biggest challenge of the race was to get a clean line from top to bottom on the course. “It’s impossible actually. The key is to minimize the mistakes as much as possible and work the exits of the clean banks for speed when you’re on top of your game,” she said. “I love the feeling at the bottom when you’re totally out of breath. It makes you feel like you really worked for it.”
With the gold duct tape trophies piling up in her home (“I haven’t needed that much tape for anything yet,” she said), Ricker is still hoping to pull a first-place finish this year – and maybe even a little more.
“Ultimately I would love to beat the guys,” she said. “I know that’s never going to happen but it would be fun!”
It was the similarity between surfing and snowboarding that first drew Kevin Boyce to the mountain. As soon as he saw a rider in action, he knew snowboarding was for him.
That was almost 20 years ago, and now Boyce is a fanatic. He’s built his life around snowboarding, and works at night to free up his days to ride the slopes of Baker. Outing after outing, he comes back to the same mountain. “There’s really no point in going anywhere else,” he said. “There’s familiarity and safety here, and I can ride at a level where it’s really fun every time. This place is magic.”
At 58, he’s one of the older guys racing for the gold duct tape. “I’ve competed for 10 years,” he said. “I dreamed of doing [the Banked Slalom] when I started riding; it’s intense.” His one win was garnered in 2008, and it’s been a highlight. “I rode for years before I started to compete,” he said.
“The turns in banked slalom give you a slingshot effect,” he said. “It’s such a technical course. I get tied up in the turns, and I just go ‘Wow! That’s what it’s all about.’ You have to trust that the bank is going to be there for you, even though sometimes when you go through a gate you can’t see the other side.”
Boyce said the event itself is a draw. “There are a lot of rippers riding, and it’s a great weekend to see people ride,” he said. “There are so many people having so much fun. It’s such a neat event.” X