words: Liam Griffin
photos: Adrian-Mathieu Morin
Spring in the backcountry is always an unpredictable time of year, where the weather can be your best friend or your worst enemy... depending on what you're trying to do. One day is bluebird and sunny with spring corn, and the next is graybird & dumping. Creating a banked slalom in the backcountry in this variable time of year is part of the exciting concept behind the ZigZag at Baldface. If you get sun and slush, the course is fast and shreddable. If you get snow and clouds, you hop in the cat and go ride pow in epic terrain. Either way - it's a win!
Cradled in the Kootenay Mountains with 32,000 acres of backcountry terrain outside the front door, Baldface is a mecca for snowboarders and a bucket-list destination for anybody with roots standing sideways on snow. The ZigZag course takes full advantage of the terrain, with huge berms hand-dug through tight trees up above the lodge, snaking down into some sweet cat-built hips, rollers, step-downs and banks between the chalets and down below the helipad. Lucas Ouellette from Arena Snowparks worked for days alongside some of the riders to get the course into primo condition before the rest of the crew arrived.
Last Sunday afternoon, a crew of a dozen pro riders jumped in the helicopter in Nelson, BC for the quick flight up to Baldface Lodge.
Danny Davis, Jamie Lynn, Gabe Ferguson, Chase Josey, Robin Van Gyn, Marie France-Roy and defending champion Ben Ferguson walked off the helipad and were greeted with perfect weather right off the bat. Knowing how fickle things can be in the mountains, they wasted no time gearing up and rolling right out to take some quick laps on the course. An impromptu practice session was underway before the first day of the event had even begun.
Early the next day, Baldface owner Jeff Pensiero made the weather call. The high pressure from the transfer the day before was only going to stick around for one more day, so the word went out to the riders at breakfast that the race was on for that afternoon. Instead of a mellow freeride day to get people warmed up, it would be straight into race mode on day one of the trip. Wax strategies & board setups were tweaked before the cats were loaded for a few mellow runs before lunch, while the event crew hustled to get everything ready. Canadian race legend Mark Fawcett helped with the timing system and gates while Lucas was hammering with the Baldface homies on rake duty to make sure the course was buffed out and fast.
The cats rolled back to the lodge around noon so the riders could all get fueled up for the race. Boards were waxed, sandwiches were eaten, beers & HiBalls were hosed and the practice session got rolling as the sun started to warm up the course. With plenty of laps under his belt during the course build, Billy Anderson was the first to drop in as the seconds on the clock ticked away. Rolling straight from Mammoth after the JLA Banked Slalom to work on the course paid off in intimate knowledge of every tricky turn on the course, and Billy posted a time to beat of 69.06 seconds.
Danny Davis, Jared Elston and Mark Fawcett all posted respectable first run times, but nobody was able to beat Billy's mark until defending champ Ben Ferguson dropped in with a time of 67.96 seconds. Chase Josey had a smoking hot run going, coming through the split time by the lodge a full second ahead of Ben, but he blew out in the second to last turn of the course and couldn't get back on track to finish the run. The rest of the field rolled through the course and at the end of run one it was looking like Ben, Danny & Billy were holding down the top three spots.
In Run Two, things really started to heat up with people dialing in the course and dropping a few hundredths of a second off their times. Billy clocked in at 68.32 seconds, just hanging on to second place. Ben shaved almost a full second off his first run, posting a time of 67.07 seconds on run two, creating a slim margin to keep himself in first. Chase Josey held it together on run two and beat Ben's first run time with 67.75 seconds on the clock, bumping Billy down to third.
At the start of Run Three, things got interesting as the timesheet & scoreboard were hidden from the riders to keep the final results secret. You could start to see the internal struggle between the riders battling the conditions of the course, taking the newfound knowledge of lines, ruts and berms to gain every little advantage they could. Everybody was giving it their all, but they'd have to wait until that evening to find out if it was enough to shake up the podium.
Once the pros cleared the course, it was time for the bros to shred. The beauty of the ZigZag is that regular Joes can book a trip to come up and ride the same course as the pros to see how they stack up against some of the fastest riders on the planet. With piles of awesome product from D'Angelico Guitars, Electric, Vans, HiBall, Gnu, Capita, Lib Tech, Traeger Grills, HitCase, Celtek, Sandbox, Remind Insoles, North Drinkware, The James Brand and Kind Snacks, there are podiums and prizes for every trip till the end of this season just waiting to be won.
After an awesome three-course meal served up by the incredible @sfdkitchen crew, there was the traditional after dinner slide show of all the days' antics cued up for everyone's viewing pleasure. With full bellies, drinks in hand and anticipation at an all-time high, Pensiero started to call out the final results. In the Bro race: Will Thysell (81.65s) took home 1st place and a D'Angelico guitar. Gabe Basham (86.48s) landed 2nd place and a snowboard from Capita. Ed Cummings (86.67s) rounded out the podium in 3rd place taking home a Vans bag full of prizes.
In the Pro race: Ben Ferguson (67.07s) defended his title, taking 1st place and winning another trip back to Baldface next season. Danny Davis (67.38s) squeaked into 2nd place and nabbed a sweet new guitar from D'Angelico. Chase Josey (67.75s) proved he can ride a banked slalom just as well as a halfpipe, taking the last step on the podium with 3rd place and a new Traeger Grill. Billy Anderson (68.32s) deserves mad props for his 4th place spot, beating a ton of riders half his age and representing for the "pro masters" crew.
The night quickly disintegrated into bell ringing, which — if you've never been to the bar at Baldface — means you're buying a round of drinks for the whole place. Not sure if the 10% rule was in effect, but I'm sure the bar tabs at the end of the trip will reflect the good times that were had by the pros & bros alike.
If you've got the urge to race and have always wanted to make the trip to Baldface, this is the only time of year you can still book a whole trip, or even just take a day trip to one of snowboarding's most legendary spots. Come on up, slash some berms and set your time. There are still stacks of prizes to be won, and good times to be had by anybody who makes the journey.