Legendary Mount Baker Banked Slalom 2007

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Thursday: I woke up at 4:30am sharp to make my early flight out of John Wayne Airport; only to find out it was delayed by 90 minutes. Nothing like three hours of sleep to sit in an airport terminal, so I made the most of it by getting some much-needed work done.

The highlight of my flight was sitting next to the one and only, Tom McElroy, one of the founders of Volcom, and listening to his crazy stories. Now that man has led an amazing life!

Gretchen Bleiler and Chris Hotell picked me up in one of the Oakley trucks and off we went to Baker, well sort of… first to Starbucks for a power session of emails, calls and networking. Then we were off to Baker. Now I am not sure how well versed you may all be with driving up to Baker, but it’s an interesting drive. First depending on what time you hit the road, one can run into Seattle traffic leaving work… and guess what time we left for Baker? You guessed, we hit the road at 4:30pm, could not have timed it better Chris. Once off the 5, you take several backcountry roads, where hitchhikers can be found wondering the roads in the dark fog… watch out for those guys.

Upon our arrival we settled into our nice little condo and enjoyed numerous snowboard videos and fun conversations about shredding different places in Tahoe.

Friday: I woke up to the sound of raindrops on the windows, pretended to not hear my alarm and rolled over. Five minutes later I was up and taking a shower for the first time in 48 hours. By 7:30am we were on the road to Baker from our condo, which was fun because the switchbacks up the Baker road are gnarly to say the least.

When we arrived in the parking lot we were told to, “Park our ‘Extendo Truck’ over their guy.” From that day forward Chris and I would refer to the Oakley truck as “Extendo.” First we checked in, got our tickets for the weekend, Gretchen and Chris received their rider packages with hoodies to wax inside them … something that was much needed the night before.

After a little light scrapping of our boards back at the Extendo Truck we ventured up to the top of the mountain where it was raining at chair 7, sleeting at chair 5, and snowing at the top. Classic Washington weather, now I could say I had shredded true Washington weather at Mt. Baker.

The day was fun, seeing all the uber pros from years past to the ones pushing the future of the sport today. Highlights consisted of chatting it up with Bob Klein, running into my buddies that run SASS, seeing Guch and Terje drop gates, and eating smoked salmon in the riders’ tent.

The Legendary Mount Baker Banked Slalom is very unique, you can only take one practice run, and that is on Friday. You have to be there during the 90 minute window to get the practice run and then you get one run on Friday and one on Saturday to qualify for Sunday’s final. On Sunday you take two runs and your best run counts, but you cannot see the time of your last run… which allows for some serious guessing as to who wins.

Conditions were tough for the riders on Friday, but Gretchen did well and qualified on the first day of qualifiers, allowing her to relax and treat Saturday as a practice run.

We headed back to the condo after hanging in the lodge to dry off, and probably saw a total of at least 25 cop cars before we pulled into our condo. It was insane to say the least, they were definitely out in force, but that did not stop Chris and I from driving to Maple Falls from some much needed Jack and Coke at a very interesting Liquor Store. Turns out in Washington the state runs the liquor stores, except for a few, which this one in Maple Falls happened to be… and man was that lady nice, not really.

The night was short, we meet up with Tobia from Dragon and McKay and Lance from K2 for some drinks and tacos, then went back to the house to have one more drink and called it a night at 9pm.

Saturday: Waking up to sunny skies in Washington during mid-winter is rare, so I was stoked to see sunlight peaking through our blinds on Saturday morning.

We packed up our stuff, made some bagels and boogied up to Mt. Baker. I could not believe it was sunny, the camera was going to need to wait for a little bit. I bounced around the mountain charging as many runs as I could get in before Men’s Pro Division started.

I set up on course around turn 10 because it showcased the first nine gates in the background and I could get the rider completely in the bottom right of my frame. Snapping away during the Men’s and Women’s Pro runs I was blown away looking off into the distance at Hemispheres – this ridiculous mountain off of my Mt. Baker. “Man, that hike must be gnarly, but totally worth it,” I said to myself. Later, Zimmerman would tell us it is the most photographed mountain in world for ski and snowboard magazines, pretty cool.

Some top highlights of the day had to be Seth Wescott’s ridiculous time of 1 minute and 27 seconds, seeing Sammy Luebke race with a cast on his left arm, the Salmon BBQ, Future Snowboarding Magazine’s Jason Ford hooking me up with the latest issue that has two of my photos from a summer in Argentina, and watching Joel Muzzey from Snowboarder Magazine run all over the course snapping sick shots with his Thump 2’s on – never listening to the crew members trying to wave him off the course.

Sunday: Finals race day was totally insane, it was freaking down pouring at the base of the mountain and nobody wanted to go up until they absolutely had to. Needless to say I ventured up to get my shots of all my heroes from Tom Burt to Terje.

The first runs were all over the map for the Men’s Pro with times coming in mostly around the 1:32 mark, but then Terje ran a 1:30 and the times started dropping. Local boy Lucas DeBari ran an unbelievable run of 1:28! Pushing all the Men’s Pro riders to step up there game.

The second runs were tough to tell who had done well, Terje left immediately after his run to try and make it home for his third child’s birth in Norway. But again it looked like Seth Wescott and Nate Holland had put up solid runs.

The Women’s Pro race was very tight with the ladies coming in around 1:39 to 1:36. Gretchen looked to be close to podium as the day came to a close.

Heading back to the lodge to shed some layers and see who won, Chris and I posted up near the back as the Mt. Baker Lodge turned into complete mayhem. By the time the awards ceremony started, there had to be at least a few hundred people crammed in to hear the results.

Top highlights from the awards ceremony had to be Bob Klein of Octagon taking second in the Mid-Masters Division, Joe Cummins taking third in the Grand-Masters Division, the entire Cummins family earning the Craig Kelly Award, and of course Gretchen taking third in Women’s Pro. Congrats to Gretchen who had never even ridden Mt. Baker, never mind running the Banked Slalom course.

Afterwards I ventured out into the rain to find my friends and a ride to a safe dry place…