After gaining momentum over the past four years, the Fifth Annual Dirksen Derby at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon blew away all previous events. Over 300 competitors showed up, more than double last years crowd, helping to raise a record $18,000 through entry fees, a silent auction, and water bottle sales. The proceeds were given to Tyler Eklund, a promising rider who was paralyzed from the neck down in 2007 while riding in a USASA contest when he was just 14. The Derby's namesake, Josh Dirksen, started it all to benefit Tyler, and in the process created a grass roots contest that keeps growing because of the vibe.
"It's just fun putting a smile on Tyler's face, and fun putting a smile on everyone's face here," said Josh. "I love seeing Tyler stoked and hanging with his buddies."
A testament to the event's reach, Terje was in attendance this year and took his timed runs along side everyone else. Despite his living legend status, no preferential treatment was given, and on Saturday Terje had to qualify for the finals the next day along with the other 179 men (Terje, of course, placed in the top ten). Of those riders, the 45 with the fastest combined time after running the two hand-dug banked slalom courses moved on. Only those who made the top three in previous years were exempt from Saturday's qualifiers, racing in their own elite division on Sunday.
The difference between making the cut or not was a matter of half seconds and as many egos were surely bruised as the asses of those that blew out of the tightly built berms. But perhaps the hardest part was less physical and more mental-the clocks at the end of the course were removed on race day, keeping riders in suspense as to how they had done until the official results were revealed.
Midway through the day, runs were put on hold for the splitboard division to practice before their race on Sunday. A sort of biathlon, splitboarders hiked from the bottom of the course to the top, assembled their boards, and then dropped into the slalom. At the same time Josh, Ryland Bell, Forrest Shearer, and Adam Haynes pulled Tyler to the top, giving him a chance to ride.
"Tyler does the Derby course on a sit ski--with someone driving--but he definitely feels it," said Josh. "You can watch him, he's banking into the turns with this head. He feels it just like we all do."
More than just a contest, Josh conceived the Derby as two days worth of events that continued off hill. On Friday night the kickoff party was held at the Poet House in Bend and on Saturday the Aaron Robinson (RIP) movie, Manifest, played at the Seventh Mountain Resort. Although mostly upbeat, featuring solid shredding by Aaron and crew, it also provided the weekend's one somber point, especially the scene of Aaron's memorial in Chile. The film's creator Sam Tuor hasn't decided how it will be released yet, but it's worth checking out once it comes out if only to see one of snowboarding's most passionate and most missed riders in action.
On Sunday, timed runs were once again put on hold for the splitboard race. Differing from practice, the actual race started with a sprint uphill from the top of the course around a stand of trees, followed by a Chinese downhill to the bottom where rider's disassembled their boards, then a splitboarded back to the top. Once racers had put their boards together they had to high-five either Scott E. Wittlake or Sam Hiltner, who guarded the drop-in gates, to lock in the dropping order.
After the sprint Forrest Burki got a huge lead on the pack by dropping in one-footed to the Chinese downhill, but soon slid out of control and was passed. Reaching Scott E. and Sam first was Ryland Bell, followed last years splitboard winner Adam Haynes, and Ralph Backstrom in third. That order essentially determined the winner as it was nearly impossible to pass on the course.
No doubt this race is a lung burner from hell. Last year, Ryland had to be hooked up to oxygen after his run, and this year almost all of the competitors were hurting for hours afterwards.
"I'm stoked," wheezed winner Ryland at the awards ceremony. "I didn't know if I had it in me. Adam's a seriously in shape, ripping dude, so it was tough. It really came down to how fast you could change over from splitboard mode."
Shortly after, it was revealed that the fastest rider on the course proper was Curtis Ciszek, who took the W from roommate and defending champion Austin Smith with a time of 57.55.
"It's great," Curtis said of kicking Austin's ass. "I had to live with his gloating for a year, now he's got a year to think about it."
"It's tied one-to-one," chimed in Austin. "Next year's the big one."
As for Tyler, he loved it all.
“It’s cool that everyone could come do this,” he said. “To see everyone come out and have fun, it’s awesome.”
1st: Curtis Ciszek - 57:55
2nd: Austin Smith - 58:39
3rd: Scott E. Wittlake - 59.29
1st: Knut Eliassen - 57:94
2nd: Blair Habenicht - 58.22
3rd: Dustin Anderson - 58.25
4th: Terje Haakonsen - 58.29
1st: Maria Debari - 1:04.38
2nd: Macy Price - 1:04.74
3rd: Tie, Desiree Melancon and Kelly Underwood - 1:05.21
1st: Van Allen -1:03.41
2nd: Rayan Bailey -1:10.97
3rd: Peter Christensen - 1:13.27
Older & Wiser
1st: Gerry Lopez - 1:11.21
2nd: Reuben Valdivia - 1:15.00
3rd: Terry Luzier - 1:20.04
1st: Ryland Bell
2nd: Adam Haynes
3rd: Ralph Backstrom
1st: Ravi Drugan - 1:16.47
2nd: Austin Sanders - 1:25.32
3rd: Melissa Sween - 6:43.65
Download the full results here: www.mtbachelor.com/site/info/media_center/Dirksen%20Derby%20Finals.pdf