Day One: 2002 Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom

The Eighteenth Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom started off hot under twenty-three inches of cold, soft powder overnight, and ten during the day. Big water!

A twisty, turny but smooth sprint to the finish, of course. Where a Western Washington freshman borrowed a friend’s board and qualified first in Pro Men, and Victoria Jealouse was riding with confidence in front of the women.

Things started late. Chairs opened at eight after getting walloped by an all-night blizzard. “Some of our crew has been up working since three-thirty a.m.,” said Gwyn Howat, “Chair 4 was buried. It was crazy.”

Par for a course that was classic Baker. Competitors were still running full-speed “side-slips” at ten a.m., and the race was on eleven-ish after corners could be marked off in the flat light, and allowed Baker Bankers to go further, faster. A thought Victoria Jealouse echoed: “I got bucked a little bit,” she said, “But I came into the bottom like, straight? Straight? Really? Should I go straight!?”

Her answer was yes. Officially, 1:30:23, a full three seconds ahead of speed five-time champ Karleen Jeffrey. Last year’s victor Barrett Christy dropped in with a nasty X-Games shiner. Michele Taggart rode well. Janna Meyen rushed it. Two women in a row backwards head-sprung off their heels on the tricky, high-speed third to last gate.

After Grand Masters, ages 30-42 were split into Master Amateurs, then Masters-aka “Pro gone Master’s,” so many pros are headed out to pasture. 2001 Master champ Shannon Melhuse easily lead seven other fast old dudes-ahead of Pos Karabotsos, two in front of 2000 winner Garry Pendygrasse. Matt Cummins and Matt Remine were grumbling about being stripped of their amateur status yet ran fast. On the record, Melhuse got my DQ but left for home before I straggled in at five p.m.

They may have still been running Juniors then. Forget posted times, course officials, would’ve been lucky if they were in by dark. There’s more on the way. With the feather flakes falling on the way down, maybe another two-foot dump is in the flow of possibility.

The sky did open up for a brief second to shine on young Ralph Backstrom. Running second he came in at 1:24:79-one full second in front of 2001 winner Temple Cummins and another in front of Terje Haakonsen. Mario-Paolo Dabbeni was right behind in a straight-up finish line shoot-out that Mike Basich called, “A leg burner, all the way. I’m done for the day.” Tom Burt came and went from the parking lot to sunk in powder.

At qualifying first Backstrom said he was, “Stoked. It felt good. Maybe I can ride powder tomorrow.” He borrowed a friend’s board to enter Pro, despite parents who encouraged him to stay in Younger Ams so he could have a shot at some loot.

He might, only in the main event. Double-checking his score next to Terje, Backstrom revealed he was, “Shocked,” at what a young charger was capable of. He checked his gut in anticipation of a final where he’ll need to fend off past winners Cummins, Haakonsen, Morrow, and Goodwill for the coveted duct tape idol. Is he the new fast new kid reigned in by experienced pros? Let’s see.

Today, eighteen-year-old Ralph Backstrom is the fastest snowboarder in the world, saying, “I hope it doesn’t go to my head.”