Athletes from around the world came to compete in the Legendary Banked Slalom. // Photo by Hannah Gordon-Kirk
Race fans witnessed several of the world’s top snowboarders battling each other and Baker’s elements in the final Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom race. With 40 mph winds causing a drastic windchill of minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit, the weekend featured challenging terrain and unpredictable conditions.
Mount Baker hosted the 33rd annual three-day race starting on Friday, Feb. 8 and wrapped up on Sunday, Feb 10.
BJ Marraccini, a local event volunteer from Bellingham, has worked the event stand for the last 12 years. Marraccini said that racers and visitors should always expect “very high levels of intensity, tons of stoke, but quite a bit of chaos.”
A slalom is a traditional race for both skiers and snowboarders. Racers must follow a zig-zagged course consisting of pairs of poles they must pass through called gates. This year’s Legendary Banked Slalom race events included 17 categories for men, women and children of varying age and experience levels.
On Friday, competitors in each category race once in alphabetical order. The top 25 percent of contestants from Friday’s races automatically qualify for Sunday’s race, and can take Saturday as a rest day if they choose to do so. On Saturday the racers who did not place on Friday compete once more in reverse alphabetical order. The top 25 percent from Saturday go on to compete Sunday for the final race.
“There’s a lot of local talent and it’s a competitive race. It’s the biggest event that Mt. Baker puts on annually. They had over 400 racers this year and their family and friends come so it brings in a lot of more people than usual. There’s over 100 people just staying in the parking lot overnight,” Marraccini said.
Out of the 17 finalists, five were from Washington, with three of those five being from Glacier, Washington, just 18 miles down the hill from the Mt. Baker Ski Area.
While there’s merit to hometown advantage, numerous competitors traveled across the globe to come to the event. Zenta Muraoka, 13, from Higashikurume, Japan, won the junior boys 12-15 age group with a time of 1:19.42. Pontus Ståhlkloo, 45, from Sollerön, Sweden placed first in the Pro Masters division, ages 40-49 with a winning time of 1:19.36.
Marraccini stressed the global aspect of the event.
“There’s not just people from all over the world, there’s media. We get huge list of media names we can’t even pronounce and companies I don’t recognize. They’re all covering this event largely because of the historical value — the longest-operating snowboard event in history,” Marraccini said.
Event organizers also like to give travelers a real taste of the pacific northwest. In honor of the Legendary Banked Slalom, the resort puts on a Salmon BBQ for the racers and their families. It is a way to integrate this large community of competitive snowboarders.
Grahm Bueller, from Portland, Oregon received a competing spot in the Banked Slalom after winning a spot in the race lottery.
“This is my first time competing, but I have been coming for the last 10 years to watch. I got in through the lottery, 1500 people are in it and they only take 90. I am so lucky,” Bueller said.
On Sunday following the competition, an award ceremony is held in the main lodge for the qualifiers and finalists.
Brendan Keuling, 16, from Whistler, Canada, placed fourth in the younger amateurs 16-19 age group.
“It is cool that I only live four hours away and that my friends and I are able to come to this competition and qualify for our division year after year,” Brendan said after the ceremony. “It’s a great mountain so it is definitely not all about the race, tons of pow and great opportunities.”