words and photos: Brendan Hart

Tanner McCarty flew toward the first berm of the Fourth Annual Mike Baker Banked Slalom at Waterville Valley. He bent low and greased the sucker, then hurtled toward the second turn with velocity and determination, like a really good snot rocket. Descending into the third berm, he saw them. Waiting. Semi-sober. A torrential volley of snowballs slammed against his body. But somehow he remained standing.

Until he got barreled.

Not the surfer type of barreled, where a joyous cannoli of water cascades over your head, but the type of barreled where a shirtless Shane Nassar throws a barrel directly into your face. Tanner went down, skidding off the berm, followed by more snowballs.

Even though the gauntlet implies such peril, Tanner said, "More contests and more races should have the gauntlet. It adds a factor that's more than just turning. It's survival."

Every single run of the Mike Baker Banked Slalom was a different variation of Tanner's scenario. The first two turns were all birdsong and cotton candy, and then you hit the gauntlet. Or rather, the gauntlet hit you.

Gauntlets are one of those traditions in snowboarding that cannot be questioned (think Hunger Games). They tend to take place at banked slaloms, where one berm is littered with obstacles, like beer cans and dog poop, and fringed by a crowd of ruffians, who dart projectiles at the targets, or sometimes called "competitors," who ride so fearfully by. There were even a few spineless turds who decided that one run was all they could take (I was one of them).

The Mike Baker Banked Slalom in itself, however, is also part of another tradition, a custom that is strictly East Coast. It's the continuance of a legacy that began in the '90s with the World Quarters, an event that was more a ceremony of anarchy than an actual competition. After the WQs was virtually evicted because of silly reasons, like arson, Pat Moore established Back to the Boneyard, which carried the flame of lawlessness ingloriously onward until 2014. Now the Mike Baker Banked Slalom has inherited the infamous duty of organizing annual mayhem at Waterville.

This year the race took place on a beautiful, warm, sunny April day. Only it was March 11. Temps were in the 40s, as were many of the participants. But all ages were present at the Mike Baker Banked. You had impressionable children like Oliver Conterino, Morris Gifford, and Tucker Johnson; local industry notables such as Tanner McCarty, Dan Hartman, Kevin Formalarie, Ian Feliney, Tyler Davis and Avert Guldemond; Olympian Pete Thorndike was in the fray; Shane Nassar (Shanesaw) took a run wearing a furry jock strap, which really opened (and closed) a lot of eyes. Cole St. Martin, Nick Doucette, John Murphy, Ralph Kucharek, Ian Dreher, Merrick Joyce, Parker Szumowksi, Brendon Rego, Ian Hart, and Tyler L'Heureux also maneuvered the course and its many dangers. The most heartwarmingly disturbing category, however, was the teenagers. After Shane started building the gauntlet during the first few runs, he commanded high schoolers Kenny Houle, Grant Shambo, and Kyle Finn to add to its deadliness, which they also assumed meant tackling riders. It reminded you of that old inspiring, feel-good family film: Lord of the Flies. 

Mike Baker, of course, was also ripping the course. The former pro rider turned full-time fisherman after whom the contest is named floated about the chaos, adding to the energy while at the same time maintaining a degree of order. Mike is a vigorous adult, still very much wild, but he did acknowledge the fact that he now has "three kids and a vasectomy."

The contest was punctuated with après on the sundeck at Buckets, where nachos, Red Bull, and PBR spilled into stomachs and mellowed the day’s shell shock. Finally, everyone was rallied for awards, which was the only moment of the event where people remembered that the Mike Baker Banked Slalom was actually a contest. The full results are listed below, but Luke Mathison deserves special recognition for working unceasingly all winter for wvparks, overseeing the event, and taking home the fastest time of the day by five seconds.

Open Class:
Luke Mathison – 1st – 39.13
Tyler L’Heureux – 2nd – 44.15
Merrick Joyce – 3rd – 45.11
John Murphy – 4th – 45.45
Tanner McCarty – 5th – 46.38
Parker Szumowski – 6th – 46.99
Ralph Kucharek – 7th – 47.24
Nick Doucette – 8th – 47.41
Mike Trapp – 9th – 47.62
Mike Baker – 10th – 48.29

Nora Healey – 1st – 48.16
Katie Kennedy – 2nd – 49.32

Dan Ney – 1st – 48.26
Shane Nassar – 2nd –  49.89

Steve Laroche – 1st – 47.32
John Goldsmith – 2nd – 47.92
Chuck McLean – 3rd – 48.16

15 and under:
Nate True – 1st – 46.31
Xavier Kennedy – 2nd – 46.45
Kenny Houle – 3rd – 52.02

Tucker Johnson – 1st -54.49
Oliver Conterino – 2nd – 108.04