As you pull off Mount Baker Highway into Glacier, Washington, your clock rewinds 20 years. Might as well put your phone on airplane mode because you won't have service until you leave. Don't bother texting friends to make plans; your messages won't go through. You'll see 'em at the bar though—there are only two.
The small community that lies on Route 542, a half hour down the road from some of the best snowboarding in the United States is a far cry from the 5-star village at the base of some Vail-owned resort.
We arrived in Glacier on a Wednesday night before the 31st Mount Baker Legendary Banked Slalom. As six of us settled into a house with beds for less, everything went black. We stoked the fire and accepted that we were now not only without cell service or WiFi but power altogether. A sudden and jarring thud shook the dark house as a large tree toppled onto the roof.
Driving into Glacier, Washington is like entering a portal that transports you to a time two decades past. There is no cell reception, and WiFi is limited. Graham’s Store and Restaurant have most everything you need, including candles when the power’s out. | Photo: Taylor Boyd
We woke in the morning to a cold house illuminated only by natural light and lit a fire. Downed trees crossed Mount Baker Highway every fifty feet or so. When the road to the mountain would reopen was up in the air, as were hundreds of horizontal trees waiting to join those fallen to the pavement. After a trip to general store to get supplies, the six of us ended up circled in the living room. We talked, we stoked the fire, and we talked some more. When the sun dipped behind the trees, we threw another log on the fire and lit some candles.
When we woke, we were back on the grid and the road had opened in time for Friday morning's qualifiers. Racers rushed through registration, peeling duct tape from the rolls strewn about the Mount Baker lodge, sticking numbers to their front legs. Visibility on-course fell toward the 'can't see shit' side of the spectrum, which in combination with lack of familiarity with the course setup reflected in riders' times.
When the clouds lift, Shuksan reveals itself. | Photo: Erik Hoffman
The following day, during Saturday's qualifiers, it was common for racers to shave more than five seconds off their Friday time, with fast times on the course running between 1:17 and 1:30, depending on category.
Saturday of LBS is most riders' last night in town and always draws the biggest crowd to the bar. Racers who didn't qualify for the following days' main event have easy justification to order one more, while those who did have ample opportunity to induce a hangover before Sunday’s finals runs.
Sunday was one of those rare days when the dense Northwest clouds that lurk around Baker dissipated, allowing the sun a chance to shine on Mount Shuksan in the background and the Legendary Banked Slalom course in the foreground.
The course was fully banked by Sunday, rewarding racers who took a high line through berms, slingshotting from toe to heel and gaining momentum with each turn.
Elias Elhardt. High spirits and high lines. | Photo: Nick Hamilton
Ultimately, it was the young Nils Mindnich who found the fastest line through the course, beating his mentor and second place-finisher Josh Dirksen for the top spot in the Men’s Pro Division, while relatively unknown Canadian ripper Stephanie Honey-Haines nabbed gold duct tape in the Women’s Pro Division, beating out Spencer O’Brien, Torah Bright, and Desiree Melancon.
LBS sets up an unmatched combination of people in a place unlike any other. Everyone in attendance is awarded with a few days during which they can ignore the outside world and enjoy the largely WiFi and cell service-free microcosm that exists around Mount Baker. It is its simplicity that makes the Legendary Banked Slalom the longest running contest in snowboarding.
Congrats to all the racers, especially those who took home the tape.