The Sporting Life
The Legendary Banked Slalom Takes on the Olympics
The 29-year-old snowboarding event will go on—and attract some of the biggest names in the sport—no matter what.
Every February the best snowboarders in the world come to Mount Baker for the Legendary Banked Slalom, a one-of-a-kind race down a steep, winding halfpipelike chute. Every year but this one, that is. The faces in the starting gate between February 7 and 9 will be different because the race just happens to overlap with another snowboarding event—a little thing called the Winter Olympics.
Big names like Maelle Ricker, seven-time women’s division winner, and reigning champ, Seth Wescott, are headed to Sochi. But organizer Amy Howat Trowbridge—whose family runs the mountain and who’s won the women’s division twice—says rescheduling was never an option. After all, the LBS has been around for twice as long as Olympic snowboarding.
On Super Bowl Sunday in 1985, 35-year-old Tom Sims, the snowboarding world champion at the time, duct-taped his Sorels to his board, stood on top of a hill on Mount Baker—one of the only mountains to allow snowboarding at the time—and challenged anyone to beat him to the bottom.
Twenty-nine years later the LBS, the longest-running snowboard event in the world, looks pretty much the same. Bindings have improved and a lot of the old guard have moved on—including Sims, who passed away in 2012—but snowboarders still rocket through the gates of the steep, winding course. And Trowbridge can sum up rather succinctly why: “It’s pretty unique.” Instead of an open run, racers run gates down a natural shoot. And it’s as much a party as it is a competition, what with the old-timers placing bets on the races during the Saturday-night salmon bake in the parking lot.
Pros don’t have much incentive to attend: There’s no prize money—just a trophy made of duct tape and a Pendleton blanket—and sponsors don’t care if riders win or lose. So it makes sense that some are going to Russia, but Trowbridge isn’t worried about turnout. More than 1,000 people applied for 85 spots this year—a slight increase from the 17 riders who finished the race in ’85. “Even if people aren’t racing, it’s an annual get together,” she says. “It’s the family of snowboarding.”