words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mary Walsh, Adrian Morin and Dustin Lalik
Everyone had a childhood friend whose yard was the place you played. The biggest lot, the most expansive forest system, or maybe they had a pool. For me, it was my friend Nick. His house was set back just behind the main street, with a giant backyard the melted into the neighbors' gardens--folks who didn't care if errant kids ran through their grass. Almost every night in summer, we would make the rounds on landlines gathering a dozen of our friends to participate in legendary games of flashlight tag. Running amuck in the darkness, past fireflies, avoiding hazards, and chasing after one another until our parents made us come inside.
As an adult, it's more rare to find those outdoor spaces, the places to congregate and exhaust yourself as freely as you did when you were young. As snowboarders, we frequent resorts, we break trail into the backcountry, when the ground is dry we head to the skatepark. But few places, if any, rival the posse'd up playgrounds of childhood more than Nelson, British Columbia's Baldface Lodge, a remote mountain haven accessible by helicopter and equipped with all the powdery steeps you desire (and all the unique, shaped boards you could dream of). At Baldface, every chalet comes with a boot drying rack, and in the lodge there's both a bar stocked with Caesars and a movie theater filled with snowboarding's classics. And while Baldface is open all season to powderhounds looking for a fix, Jeff Pensiero, the owner and founder of this unbelievable retreat invited an ultimate crew to his mountainside lodge for a decisive banked slalom, the Baldface Zig Zag, during the third week of March. If the collective crew of our twelve-year-old selves could have anticipated the group of snowboarders that would descend on Eastern BC, they would have peed their pants.
A well-heeled posse had boarded helis only a few days prior and made the quick jump to the mountainside oasis of Baldface. It was a late winter long weekend for those involved. A dip away from building backcountry booters and footing it along Alaskan ridgelines. The kind of gathering usually reserved for bookending the winter season, but truly welcome when it comes in the middle of it. There was powder to be had and lines to be dropped, but this trip was very much about the few dozen banked turns that wrapped through the trees and wound down just beneath the lodge.
On hand were the benefactors of the Drink Water Rat Race, the three handlers of snowboarding's most infamous bucking bull, Bryan Fox, Austin Smith, and Curtis Ciszek. Raking berms and shaping turns runs in the blood of these gentlemen and on race day, they spent the morning making one last sweep of the course so it'd be perfect for everyone's freshly waxed decks come afternoon. The sun peaked out at lunchtime and began to soften the March snow. Blue skies emerged. Everyone gathered at the lodge, next to the mid-run hip. Custom Celtek bibs were donned and the Baldface crew started to shuttle riders up to the start.
Few banked slaloms boast the majestic countryside that surrounds Zig Zag. Deceptively mellow at first, the top section wrapped in and out of trees, beautiful if you actually had time to look around instead of being fixated on your line to the next elbow. An over/under tree branch option led into a quick knoll before the pitch got a little steeper and speed picked up even further. Midway down the run, a sweeping righthand berm cascaded into a manageable step-down and at that point you were two banks from careening over the rollers in front of the cabin. Send it over the hip, past the peanut gallery in front of the lodge, and you're on the home stretch of a dozen, wide-open, perfectly sculpted, cascading corners that wrapped to the bottom toilet bowl. Get there in under a minute and a half and you were doing well. Get there in under 1:11 if you hoped to place.
The assembled crew, brought together by Baldface founder, Jeff Pensiero, was full of turning talent. In addition to Smith, Ciszek and Fox, rudder-armed Bend local Ben Ferguson was in effect. Austen Sweetin and Robin Van Gyn had sent it to Nelson from Whistler. Erik Leines, Billy Anderson, Barrett Christy, and Andrew Marriner were representing some of the fastest edgers in the industry. Lucas Debari, Todd Richards, Temple Cummins, Tyeson Carmody, Wes Makepeace, and Jamie Lynn excel at ripping speeds and were fully accounted for.
The vibe was competitively mellow. Bases had been waxed late into the previous night and side bets were accumulating. Stakes were high but so was excitement. We had been riding the course casually since the day before and everyone was ready to officially set their edges into the snow. Just like youthful days gone by, it was truly a gathering of friends. Jeff was a benevolent leader, hosting the motley crew as they tore down the trails around the lodge. Radios and stop watches kept time. Everyone waiting for runs hung out at the hip. The Baldface staff hung out cheering (and gasping) when appropriate. SFD head chef, Shawn Colley and a few others from the home team stacked the field. The course was fast, totaling in just over a minute of turns, but the line between going as fast as you possibly can and holding on in the course is a fine one: blowing out of a berm and sending it over the edge is always an option, so even a minute can be a decently long time. Temple Cummins looked smooth as always on the ride down. Austen Sweetin took the hip with ease. Ben Ferguson ascribed tailwinds with his bent arm. Austin Smith scrubbed his first run, but pinned it on the second. Wes Makepeace chugged a beer on the turn. Lucas Debari is fast as hell. Barrett Christy and Robin Van Gyn held it down for the ladies.
Zig Zag was truly a ridden-run contest as even during the event the format was being adjusted by Jeff, Billy, and the crew. Two runs in, with plenty of time left in the sunny afternoon, an hour-long après break was decreed so riders could make sure they were hydrated for their final go down the course. Wes and Jamie picked up D'Angelico guitars and put on an impromptu jam session on a picnic table. Kokanees were cracked and strategies were discussed. As the clock hit 3:30, a new idea had come about: the final run would be a team competition, run boardcross style with each three-person group dropping at the same time. Team captains were drawn out a of hat and what would be possibly the most iconic kickball-style line up ever, Pensiero, Leines, Marriner, Cummins, Anderson, Debari, and Carmody were set to divide the remaining riders amongst themselves.
From then, the crew made quick work of the course. Dropping hot, the followed eachother around the turns, allowing very little room for error. The triple goofy threat of Temple, Barrett and Jamie dropped first. Ben Ferg led Marriner's team, with druku yelling, "Ben is fast!" as he trailed him through a turn. But it was Team Mule, made up of Erik Leines, Shawn Colley, and Austen Sweetin whose tightly knit riding rallied them through the course faster than anyone else. When the time came, they were awarded a very nice bottle of French wine that they enjoyed later than night at dinner, not allowed to share with anyone.
As the sun started to dip behind the mountains, it was time for Caesars and soup as everyone gathered in the lodge to take of boots and find out the winners. After a brief tabulation, Jeff emerged with the official times in hand and announced who would win the first-ever Baldface Zig Zag title as well as a trip for two to the lodge during the 2016-17 season. Times were close, but young Ben Ferg, one of the most adept arc'ers out there, took first place and the I.O.U. napkin. Temple Cummins earned second and a Traeger Grill and Curtis Ciszek earned third place and a D'Angelico guitar he needs to learn how to play.
Now that the pros' times have been set, the course is open for all. For the rest of the season, visitors to Baldface Lodge can set their own times on the banked slalom and win plenty of prizes from sponsors Stance, Electric, Hi-Ball Energy, D'Angelico, Celtek, Under Armour, Vans, Hitcase, Hightide MFG, Quiksilver, Sandbox and CAPiTA. Plus, if you best the time of a professional, you win their kit! All you have to do is head to Baldface to get some late season powder and you get the opportunity to drop into the banked slalom. Can't make it for a full session? Baldface is running day trips from Nelson, BC April 8-10. Get all the info on the Baldface website.
Keep up to date on the day-to-day standings on the Baldface Zig Zag Banked Slalom website, which will be updated with all competitor times from now until the end of the season, April 10th.