words: T. Bird
photos: E-Stone, Oli Gagnon and T. Bird
As of recent, I've been hearing people say that snowboarding is dying. I've read it on websites and seen the graphs in ritzy, vapid ski town magazines. Maybe by the numbers, it's true. Maybe snowboarding is dying. But I dare anyone who truly calls themselves a blue-blooded snowboarder to come to the Dirksen Derby. Because here's the thing: Snowboarding as a culture is a barn-raising. It's selfless. It's fun. It's about spending time in the mountains with people that you truly care about, and that is what the Dirksen Derby is all about.
But there's a greater meaning to this event. Nine years ago, a local up-and-coming snowboarder from Bend, Oregon was tragically paralyzed at the USASA Nationals at Northstar, California. The news stunned the snowboard community in Bend, and then Josh Dirksen decided to do something about it. He created a banked slalom snowboard race with all benefits going to Tyler. It was a small gathering with a handful of local riders paying the entry fee to ride the course designed by Dirksen himself and it received some core media coverage. In the following years, the event snowballed and now, eight years after the first annual Derby, the contest has raised over $100,000 for Tyler, beckoned the best snowboarders on the planet and has become one of the preeminent gatherings not just in snowboarding, but in snowboarding history.
This year was no different. With over 550 racers signed up—ranging from current Rider of the Year Bode Merrill to Japanese snowboard enthusiasts who flew over simply to partake in a good old fashioned snowboard race—the Dirksen Derby is a juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down and it now includes an art auction and a film festival in addition to the on-hill activities. And just like the event itself, the course also evolves year after year, and 2015 was no different.
It seems as if the majority of banked slalom courses in years past consisted of conditions that tested one's ability to hold an edge and required cat-like reflexes. The incredible Dirksen Derby course sculpted by Pat Malendoski as well as Dirksen and friends was quite different focused on testing technique, fluidity, and your wax technician's predictions. Another factor in this year's race was that the course consistently received a fresh layer of snow that made one's perfected banked line a thing of necessity. The masters of performance were not phased and you could tell in the times, as is true with any good banked slalom race. The red course was tight and technical, with tall berms and at times, uphill ascents, while the green course resembled a steep, fast waterslide with a few key turns toward the end. Ultimately, the lowest combined time of both the red and the green course would decide the champion.
With forty-two trophies to hand out and a ton of riders to drop, the contest started early, with the older gents and the groms kicking things off before the women dropped in. Following the ladies was the men's Open category and the grand finale would be the Derby Elites. Throughout the day, the list of big-name pro snowboarders who were intermingled with the general public of Mt. Bachelor and on the race course was astonishing. Dirksen, Scotty Wittlake, Louif Paradis, Pat Moore, Bode Merrill, Bryan Fox, Austen Sweetin, Maria Debari, Blair Habenicht, Phil Jacques, Wolle Nyvelt, Temple Cummins, Curtis Ciszek, Chris Roach, Eero Niemela, Alex Cantin, Iikka Backstrom, Forrest Shearer, Scott Blum, Maria and Lucas Debari, the brothers Mindnich, Spencer Schubert, Alex Yoder, Mike Ranquet and more were ripping through the Derby course at mind-boggling speeds and when they weren't, they were aggressively lapping the two-and-a-half of new snow that absolutely pummeled Bend and it's surrounding mountains.
Halfway through the finals day, the man of the hour, Tyler Eklund, finally got his first chance in nine years to reap the benefits of Mother Nature's bounty, as Dirksen and the race staff at Bachelor roped off a section of snow specifically for Tyler to take a long-deserved powder run. As the hundreds of people in attendance hooted and hollered, Tyler grinned from ear-to-ear as the cold white whisps of snow flecked off of his face, and the electricity in the air was palpable.
As the day winded down, the crowd dispersed out into Mt. Bachelor's vast terrain for a few more pow laps and with rubber legs and frozen faces, filed into the lodge for awards as Dirksen took the stage to thank everyone for turning out. Well, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Josh. Thank you for supporting your community, and in turn, nurturing the greater culture of snowboarding. Thank you Tyler Eklund, for being one of the most inspiring and strong people that I have ever met. Thank you Mt. Bachelor and all the sponsors for giving Josh the resources to make this event what it is. And thank you to everyone who comes to this event. You are making snowboarding better, stronger and more fun for everyone who knows fully well that regardless of current market trends and a string of less-than-desirable winters and because of gatherings like the Dirksen Derby, snowboarding is better than ever.
First – Eero Niemela
Second – Harry Kearney
Third – Austen Sweetin
First – Colleen Quigley
Second – Yoko Nakamura
Third – Maria Debari
First – Martin Ciszek
Second – Logan Beaulieu
Third – Chris Luzier
First – Devyn Schnake
Second – Tracy Faux
Third – Isabella Gomez
First – Hiromi Tatumi
Second – Ravi Drugan
Third – Gabe Rousseau
For the full list of results check out The Dirksen Derby page on Mt. Bachelor’s website.https://www.mtbachelor.com/event/dirksen-derby/