With snow in the forecast and trophies on the line, snowboarders gunned for the fastest times at Mt. Baker Ski Area for the 35th Annual Legendary Banked Slalom on the weekend of Feb. 4-6.
This year's Banked Slalom saw the return of the event after two years of cancellations due to COVID-19.
“It’s been special to get together with everyone again,” said Adam Haynes, a competitor in the event. “This event brings people together from all over the world. … The energy at this one is as good as it gets.”
Competitors came from all over the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Norway, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and New Zealand.
The fastest times of the weekend included Tess Critchlow of Kelowna, British Columbia, in Pro Women with a run time of 1:19:37 and two-time champion of the Banked Slalom event Harry Kearney of Telluride, Colorado, in Pro Men with a run time of 1:13:49.
Racers had Friday and Saturday to qualify with finals on Sunday, making for a vigorous three days.
The course challenged riders through slopes, banks and bumps, according to the Mt. Baker Ski Area website. The course was accessible through the White Salmon Base Area and the races took place at the top of Chair 5.
Racer categories were divided by gender, age and skill. Categories included: Next Gen, Juniors, Amateure, Masters, Mid Masters, Grand Masters, Super Masters, Pro Masters, Pro Legends and Pro.
Bend, Oregon’s Alex Haynes has competed in the Banked Slalom for 14 years. This year, he competed under the Mid Masters Men category.
Haynes said this year’s course challenged his abilities.
“The top is technical and difficult, but once you get past turn eight, it opens up to silky smooth turns and berms. [Then it’s] as fun as it gets,” he said.
All racers competed on the same course, regardless of category. At the end of the race, every boarder competing had their best time tracked in the overall placing list.
“We’re not here to participate; we’re here to win,” said professional snowboarder Šárka Pančochová, an Olympian and X-Games medalist from the Czech Republic.
Pančochová qualified for the finals on Saturday, Feb. 5, with a third-place scoring run. Pančochová finished seventh overall in Pro Women with a best time of 1:21:97.
Individually, racers were competitive, but as a community, the atmosphere was supportive. Racers relied on their run times to advance to finals with only two runs allotted each day.
Mid-Masters Women competitor Maggie Schwartz from Glacier, Washington, made her return in the Banked Slalom after 20 years. She said in order to prepare, she’d go snowboarding every day.
“It’s a great time to see all my friends, and it’s a great sense of the snowboard community,” Schwartz said.
Race results from other categories and qualifying times from each day can be found on the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom results page.
The Legendary Banked Slalom at Mount Baker has roots in the history of snowboarding. In 1985, Mount Baker was the first ski area in the U.S. to allow snowboarders on their lifts. Now, the slalom event has grown to be one of the most popular races in the sport.
“Baker is the mecca for snowboarding, and the Banked Slalom is the main event at that place,” said Thom Hudson, the father of Junior Girls racer Riley Hudson.
During the first event in 1985, only 16 snowboarders with homemade gear and duct tape participated. Since then, the event has increased to more than 400 participants, with numbers increasing each year.
More information on the history of Mount Baker and the Legendary Banked Slalom can be found here.
Over the weekend, racers experienced fluctuating race conditions and temperatures. Some racers saw rain while others saw snow or sun.
“The weather is always a big issue for the Banked Slalom,” said Haynes. “You just kind of hope for some visibility when you go.”
At age 14, Jade Knox had the fastest women’s time of the day in the Junior Girls category at 1:26:92. Knox beat Amalia Pelchat, the fastest in Pro Women, by 1.04 seconds. Pelchat finished with a time of 1:27:96. Both qualified for finals with their Friday runs.
Ultimately, Knox finished first overall in Junior Girls, and Pelchat finished eighth in Pro Women.
Finals day brought excitement from spectators, made up of unqualified racers and other mountain-goers.
“You get on the mountain and you feel the energy, you feel the stoke and you don’t want to leave,” said mountain host John Meehan.
After three long days of competition, an award ceremony took place in the White Salmon Lodge Sunday afternoon. The gathering honored and awarded the top-three snowboarders in each category.
The Legendary Banked Slalom is a no-cash prize event. Winners received care packages from sponsors of the event, a commemorative jacket and official Legendary Banked Slalom trophies.
The award ceremony honored Craig Kelly, a world-champion snowboarder and Mount Baker local. Kelly played a large role in developing the Mount Baker snowboard community.
Fatigued competitors and weary spectators aside, the award ceremony brought fans and competitors of all ages together in a packed house for a night of laughs and recognition.
“It [was] amazing this year; it’s like the gathering of the tribes,” said Britt Berg, Mistress of Ceremonies. “Lots of new faces, plus old friends.”
With this year’s event concluded, racers can prepare for the event coming up in 2024.
Information on entry into the 2024 Legendary Banked Slalom is available on the official website.
Snowboarders who are new to the event can either enter through the lottery or the local qualifiers on March 18-19.
Local qualifiers allow anyone to apply from Whatcom County, Skagit County, San Juan County or from Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack or White Rock, according to the local qualifier webpage.
Registration begins Feb. 16 and any Mt. Baker Ski Area pass holder or snowboarder with a permanent address in the surrounding area is invited to apply.
The local qualifier is an excellent way to earn a spot in the Legendary Mt. Baker Slalom, a world-famous race just 50 minutes from Bellingham, Washington.
“Every snowboarder should make a trip to Baker at least once in their life,” Thom Hudson said. “It’s where snowboarding started.”
More photos of this year's event can be found here.
Kota Sato (he/him) is a sports and recreation reporter for the Front and third-year student at WWU. Majoring in news/editorial journalism, he enjoys writing most on topics that revolve around American football or basketball.
Tarn Bregman (he/him) is a fourth-year environmental studies major who has also worked as a reporter and photographer for The Planet magazine. In his free time, Tarn can be found on Galbraith Mountain riding his mountain bike or hanging out at Bellingham skatepark. Tarn hopes to bring The Front’s coverage to niche sports and recreational activities locally and across the county.