The Mt. Baker Ski Area is a tiny ski resort located in the USA near Canada, known for having the most snow in North America averaging an impressive 641 inches of snow annually. The resort even broke the record for total snowfall during the 98-99 season with a whopping 1,140 inches of snow. Located within the Mt. Baker-Snowqualmie National Forrest the Mt. Baker Ski Area was created in 1940 as a recreational destination for Washington residents. Fast forward almost 75 years and the terrain and base area still look almost exactly the same. You won’t find any real estate for sale or overpriced ski shops here.
The nearest lodging to the ski resort is located 30 miles down the road in the town of Glacier, Washington where to the locals the lack of internet and cell service is a welcome relief. For travelers you truly have to adapt while stepping back in time. If your sole focus is riding powder and ripping it fall line you’d be hard pressed to find better terrain in North America. Short vertical runs average around 1,000 feet with access to some of the rowdiest terrain around, combined with a lack of crowds and non–existent lift lines and you have the breeding grounds for some of the best riders in the world to test their skills. Its no wonder people like Carter Turk, Craig Kelly, Jamie Lynn, Jeff Fulton, George St. James, Tex Davenport, Mike Ranquet, Lucas DeBari, Forrest Burki, and every other ripper in the snowboard industry has called this mountain home.
Baker’s roots in snowboarding go way back, this was the first resort in the United States to truly embrace snowboarding and has been home to the Legendary Baked Slalom snowboard race, the longest running snowboarding competition in the world for the last 27 years. The resort is family run and operated which is extremely rare these days, maybe that’s why parking is free and lift tickets are only $50 a day.
If you like to hike, or just access life changing terrain it happens quick at Baker. The resort’s backcountry policy allows for skiers and riders to duck ropes if the following conditions are met, you must have a partner, avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe and backpack along with an understanding of the terrain. Ropes here are meant to be ducked, just not the ones with 2 sets of ropes as those lines lead to un-survivable cliffs, which are numerous within the resorts boundaries. If you’re smart and a strong rider you can shred some of the best lift accessed terrain in North America, if you blow it you may end up seriously hurt or even worse.
Each year 100 lucky snowboarders are chosen by lottery to compete in the Legendary Banked Slalom (LBS) snowboard race. Getting a spot is truly an honor especially when you’re an unknown rider like myself. Looking at the start list for this years race names like Travis Rice, Terje Haakonsen, Temple Cummins and Blair Habenicht certainly stand out!
The LBS course is dug by hand each year in a natural half pipe with banked slalom gates running from top to bottom. The start shack is legendary in itself with the words “stay low, say your prayers” painted across the entrance, good advise indeed. Unlike other snowboard contest the vibe at the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom is all about having fun, maybe it’s due to the fact there is no prize money to win, instead the best snowboarders in the world hurl themselves down an icy course for the chance to win a roll of duct tape and a Carhartt jacket.
Snowboarders from all over the world come to the event annually driving up the Mt. Baker Highway to see old friends, rip powder in an effort to cement their names in the history books. Just being selected to race is an honor in itself. The LBS is regarded as the predecessor to boardercross races.
The LBS takes place over 3 days giving each rider 2 days to qualify for a shot to ride in the finals. Plenty of high fives, hoots and hollers will follow each run, as the course is lined by locals, media, competitors and visiting riders all looking to see fast and flawless runs.
Wondering what the secret is to win, so am I. To win a roll of duct tape your wax must be dialed for the Northwest snow that tends to be warmer than most places in the country. Sharp edges seem to help too especially when 100 riders slide down the same line creating an extremely fast course. Racers times tend to get faster as the day progresses.
Guys like Blair Habenicht, Terje Haakonsen and Temple Cummins seem un-phased by the icy conditions each year. However this year just may be a bit different as the resort is calling for between 2-4 feet of snow the week leading up to the start of the race.
Stay tuned for TGR’s updates throughout the week from the 2013 Legendary Banked Slalom race at Mt. Baker!