The Legendary Banked Slalom is more than just a race. It’s a tradition. It’s an annual gathering for the snowboard community–one laden with indescribable energy that only those who have attended can fully grasp. It’s a multi-generational event. Not only does snowboarding’s elite make the annual pilgrimage from all corners of the world, but so do many from snowboarding’s next generation, as well as generations past. At the Legendary Banked Slalom, everyone is equal and the course alone acts as the arbiter.
While accolades are easily tossed around, actually putting your finger on what makes the LBS special is difficult. For one, it is the longest running event in snowboarding to be held in the same place year after year. Aside from the US Open, it is the longest running event in snowboarding, period. However, what is most surprising about the Legendary Banked Slalom, is that in those 33 years a lot less has changed than you might think.
It began in 1985 when Tom Sims approached Duncan Howat with the idea of starting a snowboard-only race. Duncan, who was at the time–and still is today–the General Manager of Mt. Baker, swiftly agreed. Today, his family still hosts the event, and the race wouldn’t continue if it weren’t for his daughters Gwyn and Amy, alongside countless volunteers that pour their hearts into the yearly gathering. This past weekend I asked Gwyn a question that has been on my mind for some time, “When did the race first don the title of ‘legendary’?” Her response, which had to break through a hearty laugh and heartier smile, was, “I would imagine on the second or third year.” After all, hosting a banked slalom in the mid-’80s is in and of itself legendary.
But in truth, what makes the tradition so special is more than just the passage of time. It is the people and community–everyone from the Paellaworks crew who serve up paella in the hospitality tent, to those who put on the annual salmon bake, the Howats themselves, and every individual who makes the trip east on Route 542 for a shot at winning the hallowed roll of duct tape that is an LBS trophy. At the LBS, pros don’t win money. Instead, they earn a trophy, a jacket, and a Pendleton blanket–each item enough of a motivator to keep them coming back.
Turning is said to be the first trick in snowboarding, where speed and stability fill the roles of second and third. At the Legendary Banked Slalom, riders practice the oldest tricks on the oldest and most prestigious course. One turn will often be the difference between first and second place, and many consider the honor that is afforded to the winners much more prestigious than that of snowboarding’s mainstream event fixtures.
It is this due diligence of those in attendance to ensure that the event’s history is celebrated that causes the event to also inspire the future. Where the next generation finds inspiration from strapping in and riding the same course as the pros, the pros too find inspiration from the next generation. That is the spirit of the event, and the reason that its energy and importance are so pronounced.
Now, with another year officially in the books and another proud group of riders donning their Carhartt jackets and raising their duct tape trophies high, all we have left to do while looking forward to 2020 is celebrate. Congratulations to the many winners, and to all that left cellphone service and the modern world behind to make the journey to the Legendary Banked Slalom. The event wouldn’t be the tradition it is without all of you, and we hope to see many of the same faces joined by many newcomers next season at the far east end of Route 542.