Wind, fog, snow, and perfect blue skies. Yeah, the banked slalom saw it all this year. Warming temperatures and lower than average snow levels weren’t enough to dampen spirits as a cast of characters ranging from Glacier-based riders like Blair Habenicht and Maria Debari to Tahoe’s Nate Holland and Norway’s Helene Olafson (who finished second in the pro women’s category), plus a slew of Canadians, took to the higher than normal banks and tighter than normal corners of the natural halfpipe.
Qualifying on Friday started in fog and heavy snow then mellowed to high could and, by the end of the day, clear views to Shuksan, Baker and beyond. This gave visitors and locals alike the chance to sample some of the goods higher on the mountain as the bootpack was laid on the arm and, continuing through Saturday, spectators in the starting area were watching lines being thrown down up above Chair 8 alongside riders dropping into the icy ruts winding around race gates in the shaded gully.
With a few new features, including a left or right option through the flats near the bottom, and a diversion left of the toilet bowl, even seasoned racers faced a new challenge and times didn’t dip below the 1:24.00 mark all weekend, enough of a workout to leave everyone struggling for breath. Luckily, replenishment was provided in the form of smoked salmon bits, hot soup, and more than enough energy drinks to keep everyone charging hard through the weekend.
In the end, Whistler’s Maelle Ricker repeated as the pro women’s champion whileboardercrosser Nate Holland posted a 1:26.86 to take pro men’s. The fastest time of the weekend went to Graham Watanabe of Hailey, ID, who topped both the Friday and Saturday qualifiers before falling to second on Sunday’s finals.
Photos: Colin Wiseman