On some big mountains, in a little corner of northern Washington, something happened that always does, only not quite in the way it always does.

It snowed.

But not just snow. Thanks to winter’s extra-cold, cold-water La Niña effect in the Pacific Ocean, Mt. Baker, Washington was pummeled by snow. Punished. Storms loaded with precipitation whirled in the water off Canada. A jet stream hanging right at the California/Oregon border brought them barreling through and back around. Freezing levels dropped (except for that nasty four inches of rain where the maintenance crew had to dig moats to drain the lifts) and the better parts of November and December were blanketed dry and cold. Then January. And February. Then March …

It wouldn’t stop. No “Cascade Concrete” either–this was light, flaky. Tender. Juicy.

Like George Foreman on a carne-asada bender, riders rode in from everywhere to cut up the finest spread this cranky Hispanic babe La Niña could dish out. Mt. Baker being one of the steepest settings in North America, doable lines filled in ’til they became flat, and the once-in-a-blue-moon shots were given the go.

“The powder year of all powder years!” With tall tales, fish stories, and outright lies mounting, the timing was perfect to go when everyone goes–like salmon swimming upstream to spawn–for the fifteenth running of the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom. The slim Radio Shack tape recorder was in hand, ready to commit to the permanent record, a few impressions

Press Play:

The Race

Tom Sims One of the fathers of snowboarding, receiving a Banked Slalom Grand Masters second place: “Screw the Olympics–this is the spirit of snowboarding.”

On Friday race day, after 90-mph winds and in-bounds slides closed the mountain to the public for the first time, the race course was opened for over 100 Pro Men, Women, Masters, and Grand Masters who had to hike up to get the lift and one run.

Wes Makepeace Whistler loc, fierce freerider, Baker lifegaurd:“The locals who ride here, the fact that it’s out of the way at the end of the road–it’s a special place for sure. It’s got a down-to-earth vibe. The Howats keep it going. No one does a race like this anywhere. It’s the perfect place because it’s a special mountain. You couldn’t do something like this at Whistler, it just wouldn’t come together.”

Gwyn Howat Baker born-and-bred, race director: “Last night–a blue moon–while we were trying to sleep the wind was blowing so hard the mirrors on the walls were shaking! All I’m thinking about as I’m lying in bed is the thousands of dollars of sponsor banners we spent all day zip-tying to bamboo at the top of the course. I had no idea if the start shack and the finish tent were even still on the ground. They could have been blown to Glacier. Some of the gates were still standing. We had sustained gusts between 60 to 80 miles per hour. On top of the winds, we had incredible amounts of snow, and right now in the ski area we’re having avalanches that are taking out trees. It’s a Legendary day!”

Karleen Jeffrey Canadian, six-time Banked Slalom winner–most ever: “I took a rip through the course on my skis–it was so much faster. It would be easier if I had those. If I let out my secrets I’d be beaten! laughs But there are a few things that some people totally miss the boat on.”

Billy Anderson Had the fastest first-day qualifying time last year–ahead of Terje–before finishing fifth in the finals while Terje won: “Beating Terje in the qualifiers was a mental psych-out for me because I knew I could do it. But then inhe finals I tried to race the course, carving too hard, being too much on my edge instead of just letting the board ride. So hopefully I’ve learned a little bit. The strategy is to ride the banks. Edging too hard just slows you down. The best way is to go inner-tube style–strap your board on and let the course take you where it wants to.”

Allan Clark Freestyle ruler who left numerous fresh feet in Whistler to drive over downed trees and power lines en route to the Slalom. The two-hour drive took seven:“This race is the best because it’s a straight-up timed event that shows who’s on it and who’s riding fast.”

Shannon Dunn: “Eight years ago, I did the Banked Slalom during the PSTA. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get back. It’s the funnest course I’ve ever done. This is just the back-in-the-day event, still. It’s cool to see the people you don’t normally see at events here. Glacier is such a small town. Everyone gets together, everyone’s hangin’ at the Chando!” The Chandolier is a classic Baker watering hole.

Leslee Olson Bachelor racer turned freestylist:“I did this race when I was twelve years old–nine years ago. I’ve wanted to do it every year, but I’ve been so busy competing. There was always stuff that interfered. This year I was like, ‘I want to do it. I’m not going to the World Championships.’”

Chris Karol Pro pioneer, champion back in the day:“Everybody shows up for this, it’s cool. Looking over in the starting gate seeing Jean Nerva and Peter Bauer is a total flashback.”

Bob Barci Banked Slalom originator, local guru:“This is actually only my second time racing in the Banked Slalom, although I organized the race for the first four years. This year there’s some stiff competition with Sims, and J.T. Jim Taylor who always wins it, and Rob Morrow–all those guys are great. The race is what makes Mt. Baker great for snowboarding. It’s a gathering point for the people who have been in the sport for a long time. For the young people, it’s a chance to see some of the greats and become part of that mixture. Hopefully they pick up some of the soul and spirit of the place.”

Matt Goodwill Big-mountain honcho, reigning Banked Slalom Champ:“This was the very first contest I ever did. I won as an am, but not as a pro. I got a couple third-place duct-tape trophies, a couple second-place duct-tape trophies. Finally, I got first place–stoked! I have the big board, the 176. You can pretty much let it run … if you can hold on. Rode the 170 last year and that was too short. I did some new stuff–actually waxed my board, took my baggy, heavy coat off, pulled my cross out of my shirt, and away I went. I got heckled by Sanders Nye and Shannon Melhuse–they said I check-turned a couple little spots. So when I came through the second time I made sure there was no check-turning going on.”

Jim Taylor Eight years riding at Baker, perennial Grand Masters Champion: “I’ve done the slalom four times and won the last three years. It was really fun with Tom Sims in the race–a great rider. Race tips? Riding the banks, just being as smooth as you can be. Flowing like water. It really is a freeriding race. You’ve got to be solid, but getting a good run when it matters … that’s what it takes. Some of us guys from Baker had an advantage because we’re used to riding without visibility–there wasn’t any this weekend.”

The Snow

Gwyn Howat:“This place–you always pay the price. I swear, for every good day there’s a bad day in there. That’s what gives me hope–you make it through days like today and you’re going to be rewarded. I can imagine it being worse, but I don’t want to. There’s always some drama for the Banked Slalom. We can deal with weather drama, but not people getting hurt. That kind of drama we can live without.”

Matt Goodwill:“Wet, heavy snow on the West Coast rules.”

Jim Taylor:“I’m hooked. I’ve never seen a place get more snow. Sometimes it’s a little heavy, but we like it that way. It’s got mass. Rainy days, with the right wax, can even be great. Your friends are always out on a rainy day.”

Amy Howat:“Gwyn and I both grew up here, and we’ve never seen conditions like this year. The only way to describe it is epic. Epic and intense, in both good and bad ways.”

Wes Makepeace:“I came down here at the beginning of December and it was as good as it gets. It’s just as good now. It hasn’t stopped snowing.”

Mike Coates Spokane Master Blaster who was almost, almost in the Lillehammer Olympic Exhibition that never was, lives to ride and vice versa.: “It’s like I told Joe Cummins–I’m old, I’m tired … broke … broken fingers, separated ribs … and I still can’t get enough.”

The People

Karleen Jeffrey:“I really enjoy coming because Gwyn and Amy have really great hospitality toward all the riders. They really try to get to know everyone, which is so difficult over a weekend with 270 people! By the end you really feel like you know them, even if you just met them. It’s just a really friendly atmosphere, a lot of camaraderie, cheering each other on–everyone’s here to enjoy it.”

Chris Karol:“It’s hard to put a finger on why Mt. Baker’s special. It just is, thanks to the people who have been here over the years. The whole area’s got history–the Craig Kellys, Jeff Fultons, and Carter Turks. All the Northwest legends coming out of here, the terrain is epic, it gets tons of snow. The Howats have been just doing their thing all these years. As the sport gets big with all the hype, you can come up here and it’s a casual scene.”

Jim Taylor:“The last couple years, I got 60 or 70 days in. This year–fifteen. I had to get a job, I ran out of money. This year, something happened that was amazing. I’d had it kind of difficult– some family members who were ill–and a couple friends bought me a pass on New Year’s. They said they missed me at the mountain. That’s what Glacier’s about–good friends riding together.”

Amy Howat World Cup Champion hard at work in the family business, race starter:“The people–it sounds like a cliché–they feel like family. This is a very challenging atmosphere. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it brings you closer. I still see people who worked at Baker when I was five who say those were the best years of their life. The creativity is inspirational. The people, the snow, the mountains–they get into your mind and soul.”

The Mountain

Matt Cummins Pro most likely to pick the right wax:“The circus of snowboarders who comes to play in Candyland. It’s always like that these days–you’ve got to be out here midweek or it gets tracked out fast. People go straight to the gnarly shit and it’s done in the first hour, so you’ve got to be super-local to know where to go. It’s kind of like the North Shore of Hawai’i–that’s what I compare it to. It’s the mecca for crazy snowboarders.”

Luke Edgar K2 Sales Director, backcountry drill sargeant: “One year I had the new 1710 Sims Blade straight-tail. Coming under both chairs it was Hollywood, everyone hootinng to be rewarded. I can imagine it being worse, but I don’t want to. There’s always some drama for the Banked Slalom. We can deal with weather drama, but not people getting hurt. That kind of drama we can live without.”

Matt Goodwill:“Wet, heavy snow on the West Coast rules.”

Jim Taylor:“I’m hooked. I’ve never seen a place get more snow. Sometimes it’s a little heavy, but we like it that way. It’s got mass. Rainy days, with the right wax, can even be great. Your friends are always out on a rainy day.”

Amy Howat:“Gwyn and I both grew up here, and we’ve never seen conditions like this year. The only way to describe it is epic. Epic and intense, in both good and bad ways.”

Wes Makepeace:“I came down here at the beginning of December and it was as good as it gets. It’s just as good now. It hasn’t stopped snowing.”

Mike Coates Spokane Master Blaster who was almost, almost in the Lillehammer Olympic Exhibition that never was, lives to ride and vice versa.: “It’s like I told Joe Cummins–I’m old, I’m tired … broke … broken fingers, separated ribs … and I still can’t get enough.”

The People

Karleen Jeffrey:“I really enjoy coming because Gwyn and Amy have really great hospitality toward all the riders. They really try to get to know everyone, which is so difficult over a weekend with 270 people! By the end you really feel like you know them, even if you just met them. It’s just a really friendly atmosphere, a lot of camaraderie, cheering each other on–everyone’s here to enjoy it.”

Chris Karol:“It’s hard to put a finger on why Mt. Baker’s special. It just is, thanks to the people who have been here over the years. The whole area’s got history–the Craig Kellys, Jeff Fultons, and Carter Turks. All the Northwest legends coming out of here, the terrain is epic, it gets tons of snow. The Howats have been just doing their thing all these years. As the sport gets big with all the hype, you can come up here and it’s a casual scene.”

Jim Taylor:“The last couple years, I got 60 or 70 days in. This year–fifteen. I had to get a job, I ran out of money. This year, something happened that was amazing. I’d had it kind of difficult– some family members who were ill–and a couple friends bought me a pass on New Year’s. They said they missed me at the mountain. That’s what Glacier’s about–good friends riding together.”

Amy Howat World Cup Champion hard at work in the family business, race starter:“The people–it sounds like a cliché–they feel like family. This is a very challenging atmosphere. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it brings you closer. I still see people who worked at Baker when I was five who say those were the best years of their life. The creativity is inspirational. The people, the snow, the mountains–they get into your mind and soul.”

The Mountain

Matt Cummins Pro most likely to pick the right wax:“The circus of snowboarders who comes to play in Candyland. It’s always like that these days–you’ve got to be out here midweek or it gets tracked out fast. People go straight to the gnarly shit and it’s done in the first hour, so you’ve got to be super-local to know where to go. It’s kind of like the North Shore of Hawai’i–that’s what I compare it to. It’s the mecca for crazy snowboarders.”

Luke Edgar K2 Sales Director, backcountry drill sargeant: “One year I had the new 1710 Sims Blade straight-tail. Coming under both chairs it was Hollywood, everyone hooting and hollering at me. I get right to that point boarder’s left of Chairs 4 and 5 and launch it, all the way over. I flew. I checked my speed and what I’d done was jump around some roping they had at the bottom of this creek–there was a 35-foot waterfall coming out of it. I put the brakes on and leaned back, grabbing the treetops in front of me. The snow breaks through and I’m wearing wool everything, so I’m just a big snowman. My wool mitt froze to the treetops. I pulled my hand out and fell backward. My board and ass hit a rock that was sticking out–it put a hole in my long johns, cracked my tailbone, threw me into a front flip, and I landed fifteen feet down in about twelve inches of water with another pretty big stream of waterfall flying down on top of me. The water dug out this circle of ten-foot-deep ice, so I hit my face on that, chipped all these teeth, and jammed my nose in my head so I got two black eyes later. I got up, totally soaked, dug steps up, looked back–there were my goggles. Went back to get those, got my glove–frozen like a flag to the tree. Had to hike out and hitchhike back to Bellingham.”

Karleen Jeffrey: “Baker has awesome terrain features, lots of pillow lines. They definitely get the snow here every year. With the storms that come over the Pacific, it just dumps. It’s got minimal liftlines and quick turn-around times. The first year I came here was in 1991. I’ve never been here for a season, I lived in Chamonix. But I live here now–I won a pass!”

Jim Taylor:“You have to be really careful around here. A lot of people come here from other areas and they don’t know the terrain. They see a line that looks like a nice, gentle powder field, and it just keeps getting steeper and steeper. All of a sudden they’re on a cliff band with no way back up. You’ll be following a good line and it turns out to be Tex’s Devenport.”

Billy Anderson:“This place was built for skiers and snowboarders, but it’s not a resort town where you wear your fou-fou outfit to show off for everyone, you know? If you can hook up with some local kids, you’re even more stoked. You could learn a few lines and have a blast. It’s your responsibility, all on your own, to make it or break it. There’s no detachable quads or new trams or gondolas–just stock chairs that get you up to the top so you can ride sick runs down.”

Lael Gregory Don’t call it a comeback, he’s ruled the pipe for years: “It’s just out there. The mountain’s super fun but sketchy! It’s not all strict but totally set up for fun. That’s what makes it special.”

Matt Goodwill:“It’s really good for a resort–it’s got some steep chutes, kind of like AK. This place definitely compares to all the big resorts that claim they’ve got the shit. This place has the shit.”

Leslee Olson:“It’s such a good mountain out in the middle of nowhere. A lot of good riders come out of this area, it’s cool.”

Bob Barci:“Baker is the center of the universe for snowboarding. That’s the reason I always come back. There’s no better place.”

Wes Makepeace:“This is definitely my favorite place to ride, and I live in Whistler! laughs There are no tourists here–it’s at the end of the road. You have to put your time in here to know where you’re going. Whistler’s so spread out, you have to traverse a lot to get where you’re going. Here you can just go boom, boom, boom! Get off, go straight down and pretty much get the goods right off the lifts. I’ve had my best days here.

“Terrain-wise it’s super steep, so when there’s powder it’s like you’re heli-skiing. You’re coming up Chairs 4 and 5, spotting your lines like you’re in a chopper.

“One time I was coming down 4 and 5 with Matt Cummins and I saw this track going down a second closed rope. I looked over this chute–I was like, ‘There’s no way Matt went down there.’ It was a gnarly line, 40 feet down and another 30 feet past that. I saw these mitts flapping and thought, ‘Oh shit, that’s Matt!’ So I had to figure out how to get down there, get him out, and not f–k myself up. I was slipping off the branches. If I fell down the chute, I would’ve dropped on his head. I had to grab another branch, drop down 30 feet, and dig him out–it was this kid who’d jumped off without his board and ended up submerging. One foot was in front of him, one foot was behind him, and he was underneath three feet of ‘cement.’ He didn’t have snow in his mouth. He said he was breathing, so he must’ve had a little pocket of air between his chin and his chest. All he could say was, ‘I thought I was a goner! I thought I was a goner!’ He thought I was ski patrol. I was like, ‘No, but you’re one lucky kid. I was just following my buddy.’ He was lucky I saw him because no one would ride down there unless they followed his track. It got my heart pounding. Got me warmed up for the race anyway.”

Epic-logue

When all was said and done after another Legendary Banked Slalom, Gwyn and Amy had more to say, but we were done. They let us stay with them on the mountain, and while we fell asleep in our chairs, they still haad energy to talk into the night.

The next day, they were at it again–early! With more inches to contend with, we saw Amy charging the Chair 6 fall-line like she was still ruling the World Cup.

Temple Cummins gave us a scare, not coming in ’til after five with snowballs hanging from his hair after yet another epic Willows adventure.

Down in Glacier, Mike Ranquet and Shawn Farmer dropped in on George Dobis at the Snowboard Shop, but there wouldn’t be much printable from that transcript. Later, they were at Milano’s, filling the joint to capacity with even more pro snow elite: Temple and Matt Cummins, Barrett Christy, Jamie Lynn, Dave Lee, Johan Olofsson, Jason McAllister, Peter Butsch, and sundry individuals from this narrative.

The room swelled with a vibe that felt as good as snowboarding gets. All the stories swapped in there of epic days come and gone. But I ain’t no snitch–I left the tape recorder in my pocket.

With all Mama Baker provides, let her keep a few.

nd hollering at me. I get right to that point boarder’s left of Chairs 4 and 5 and launch it, all the way over. I flew. I checked my speed and what I’d done was jump around some roping they had at the bottom of this creek–there was a 35-foot waterfall coming out of it. I put the brakes on and leaned back, grabbing the treetops in front of me. The snow breaks through and I’m wearing wool everything, so I’m just a big snowman. My wool mitt froze to the treetops. I pulled my hand out and fell backward. My board and ass hit a rock that was sticking out–it put a hole in my long johns, cracked my tailbone, threw me into a front flip, and I landed fifteen feet down in about twelve inches of water with another pretty big stream of waterfall flying down on top of me. The water dug out this circle of ten-foot-deep ice, so I hit my face on that, chipped all these teeth, and jammed my nose in my head so I got two black eyes later. I got up, totally soaked, dug steps up, looked back–there were my goggles. Went back to get those, got my glove–frozen like a flag to the tree. Had to hike out and hitchhike back to Bellingham.”

Karleen Jeffrey: “Baker has awesome terrain features, lots of pillow lines. They definitely get the snow here every year. With the storms that come over the Pacific, it just dumps. It’s got minimal liftlines and quick turn-around times. The first year I came here was in 1991. I’ve never been here for a season, I lived in Chamonix. But I live here now–I won a pass!”

Jim Taylor:“You have to be really careful around here. A lot of people come here from other areas and they don’t know the terrain. They see a line that looks like a nice, gentle powder field, and it just keeps getting steeper and steeper. All of a sudden they’re on a cliff band with no way back up. You’ll be following a good line and it turns out to be Tex’s Devenport.”

Billy Anderson:“This place was built for skiers and snowboarders, but it’s not a resort town where you wear your fou-fou outfit to show off for everyone, you know? If you can hook up with some local kids, you’re even more stoked. You could learn a few lines and have a blast. It’s your responsibility, all on your own, to make it or break it. There’s no detachable quads or new trams or gondolas–just stock chairs that get you up to the top so you can ride sick runs down.”

Lael Gregory Don’t call it a comeback, he’s ruled the pipe for years: “It’s just out there. The mountain’s super fun but sketchy! It’s not all strict but totally set up for fun. That’s what makes it special.”

Matt Goodwill:“It’s really good for a resort–it’s got some steep chutes, kind of like AK. This place definitely compares to all the big resorts that claim they’ve got the shit. This place has the shit.”

Leslee Olson:“It’s such a good mountain out in the middle of nowhere. A lot of good riders come out of this area, it’s cool.”

Bob Barci:“Baker is the center of the universe for snowboarding. That’s the reason I always come back. There’s no better place.”

Wes Makepeace:“This is definitely my favorite place to ride, and I live in Whistler! laughs There are no tourists here–it’s at the end of the road. You have to put your time in here to know where you’re going. Whistler’s so spread out, you have to traverse a lot to get where you’re going. Here you can just go boom, boom, boom! Get off, go straight down and pretty much get the goods right off the lifts. I’ve had my best days here.

“Terrain-wise it’s super steep, so when there’s powder it’s like you’re heli-skiing. You’re coming up Chairs 4 and 5, spotting your lines like you’re in a chopper.

“One time I was coming down 4 and 5 with Matt Cummins and I saw this track going down a second closed rope. I looked over this chute–I was like, ‘There’s no way Matt went down there.’ It was a gnarly line, 40 feet down and another 30 feet past that. I saw these mitts flapping and thought, ‘Oh shit, that’s Matt!’ So I had to figure out how to get down there, get him out, and not f–k myself up. I was slipping off the branches. If I fell down the chute, I would’ve dropped on his head. I had to grab another branch, drop down 30 feet, and dig him out–it was this kid who’d jumped off without his board and ended up submerging. One foot was in front of him, one foot was behind him, and he was underneath three feet of ‘cement.’ He didn’t have snow in his mouth. He said he was breathing, so he must’ve had a little pocket of air between his chin and his chest. All he could say was, ‘I thought I was a goner! I thought I was a goner!’ He thought I was ski patrol. I was like, ‘No, but you’re one lucky kid. I was just following my buddy.’ He was lucky I saw him because no one would ride down there unless they followed his track. It got my heart pounding. Got me warmed up for the race anyway.”

Epic-logue

When all was said and done after another Legendary Banked Slalom, Gwyn and Amy had more to say, but we were done. They let us stay with them on the mountain, and while we fell asleep in our chairs, they still had energy to talk into the night.

The next day, they were at it again–early! With more inches to contend with, we saw Amy charging the Chair 6 fall-line like she was still ruling the World Cup.

Temple Cummins gave us a scare, not coming in ’til after five with snowballs hanging from his hair after yet another epic Willows adventure.

Down in Glacier, Mike Ranquet and Shawn Farmer dropped in on George Dobis at the Snowboard Shop, but there wouldn’t be much printable from that transcript. Later, they were at Milano’s, filling the joint to capacity with even more pro snow elite: Temple and Matt Cummins, Barrett Christy, Jamie Lynn, Dave Lee, Johan Olofsson, Jason McAllister, Peter Butsch, and sundry individuals from this narrative.

The room swelled with a vibe that felt as good as snowboarding gets. All the stories swapped in there of epic days come and gone. But I ain’t no snitch–I left the tape recorder in my pocket.

With all Mama Baker provides, let her keep a few.

6;re heli-skiing. You’re coming up Chairs 4 and 5, spotting your lines like you’re in a chopper.

“One time I was coming down 4 and 5 with Matt Cummins and I saw this track going down a second closed rope. I looked over this chute–I was like, ‘There’s no way Matt went down there.’ It was a gnarly line, 40 feet down and another 30 feet past that. I saw these mitts flapping and thought, ‘Oh shit, that’s Matt!’ So I had to figure out how to get down there, get him out, and not f–k myself up. I was slipping off the branches. If I fell down the chute, I would’ve dropped on his head. I had to grab another branch, drop down 30 feet, and dig him out–it was this kid who’d jumped off without his board and ended up submerging. One foot was in front of him, one foot was behind him, and he was underneath three feet of ‘cement.’ He didn’t have snow in his mouth. He said he was breathing, so he must’ve had a little pocket of air between his chin and his chest. All he could say was, ‘I thought I was a goner! I thought I was a goner!’ He thought I was ski patrol. I was like, ‘No, but you’re one lucky kid. I was just following my buddy.’ He was lucky I saw him because no one would ride down there unless they followed his track. It got my heart pounding. Got me warmed up for the race anyway.”

Epic-logue

When all was said and done after another Legendary Banked Slalom, Gwyn and Amy had more to say, but we were done. They let us stay with them on the mountain, and while we fell asleep in our chairs, they still had energy to talk into the night.

The next day, they were at it again–early! With more inches to contend with, we saw Amy charging the Chair 6 fall-line like she was still ruling the World Cup.

Temple Cummins gave us a scare, not coming in ’til after five with snowballs hanging from his hair after yet another epic Willows adventure.

Down in Glacier, Mike Ranquet and Shawn Farmer dropped in on George Dobis at the Snowboard Shop, but there wouldn’t be much printable from that transcript. Later, they were at Milano’s, filling the joint to capacity with even more pro snow elite: Temple and Matt Cummins, Barrett Christy, Jamie Lynn, Dave Lee, Johan Olofsson, Jason McAllister, Peter Butsch, and sundry individuals from this narrative.

The room swelled with a vibe that felt as good as snowboarding gets. All the stories swapped in there of epic days come and gone. But I ain’t no snitch–I left the tape recorder in my pocket.

With all Mama Baker provides, let her keep a few.