New Zealand and a Different Kind of Soul Food

The Legendary Mount Baker Banked Slalom is the longest running snowboard event in the sports history. It began with a selected group of individuals soul-turning their way into what’s become a duct taped version of the Holy Grail. Since the first race in 1985 hundreds of people from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to the White Salmon parking lot. They come to be a part of something bigger than just a contest. Some come to win. Others come to just be part of a legacy. They are all the makeup of an event that encompasses the soul of snowboarding in one of the world’s most desirable settings. I have been fortunate enough as to have lived in this area for the past ten years, marinating in a robust rub of sweet sun, savory snow, spicy spines, tangy trees, pungent pillows, and palatable people.

After another wonderful season at Mt. Baker, I found my way to New Zealand to work in the snowy southern hemisphere. I spent time between Queenstown and Wanaka where I had my ups and downs running a ski and snowboard program for teenagers. As a glorified babysitter, I had a rad place to stay, a car to drive and a cupboard stocked with Tim-Tams. There were beautiful sunny days at Snowpark and pow filled chutes at the Remarkables. Although constantly surrounded by children and strangers, I always felt alone.

The highlights of my life have been in the mountains, but what make these experiences so worthwhile is the people I share them with. Being from the Northwest, I have grown accustomed to the free riding spirit of snowboarding. The Banked Slalom encompasses this spirit. So when I found out there was a NZ-style Banked Slalom held at Treble Cone, I instantly signed up and showed up.

Winding my way up the muddy road to the ski hill, I tuned out the children’s monotonous questioning and constant requests to listen to their IPODs, and took in a familiar view – overcast, light rain at the bottom and snowing at the top. I laughed as the kids complained about the weather. For me it was a feeling of home, thousands of miles away. Little did I know, that feeling would grow throughout the day and the night.

As I stood in line to sign in, I was greeted by two Baker locals. We did the standard how have you been as the line inched closer to the registration desk. Shaking hands with Phil Erickson, the Director of NZ Snowboarder and the races organizer, a quick conversation revealed we had a mutual friend in the magazine’s senior photographer Greg Roebuck. For a minute there, I didn’t feel so alone. I tightened up my boots and put my racer number in my pocket (a NZ Snowboarder sticker with the number 54 written on the back alongside a smiley face. Hmmm… no duct tape), grabbed my board and got on the lift – unaccompanied.

The dense fog swept in and out of Treble Cone’s hips and valleys covering my goggles with micro droplets of frozen rain. The fog would seem to worsen as I rode until a swift wipe of the goggles revealed an extra three meters of visibility. Between a new mountain, thick fog and a lack of markers, it took me two tries to find the event. I arrived to see a small start gate atop a narrow run called the Superpipe. There were gates spaced out evenly on both sides of the walls, the top three turns were seen with a squint and then, all too quickly, disappeared into the abyss. I introduced myself to one of the race coordinators, NZ Snowboarder’s Associate Editor, and New Zealand legend, Dylan Butt. We slipped down the center of the course as to not remove what little snow there was on the banks, and rode the lift together.

There was an instant feeling of familiarity. We shared the same spirit and the same chair lift. I was no longer alone. He spoke of the local slalom as less of a contest and more of an excuse. A reason for some of the country’s top free riders to get together and see who could go faster down what was surely the gnarliest course I had ever seen. With the contests biggest turnout consisting of 85 competitors, all contending for a cash purse, a heli trip and more importantly – bragging rights.

Dubbed the Banked Survival, beyond the thick fog you had to avoid hurling snowballs at the first turn, manage countless ruts like giant mustaches around the corners, dodge multiple gates with rock outcroppings as banks, and a suck up a compression at the finish-line that provided most of the excitement for the spectators (which were mainly the competitors who had just gone earlier).

It was here I had the chance to meet Will Jackways and Abby Lockhart, two of New Zealand’s top snowboarders and leaders in a small yet growing free ride population. I joined them as we waited in line to meet our fate and watched as Will raced is way to the fastest time. We congratulated each other on successful runs and rode the lift together, sharing stories of mutual love for the Northwest and gave thanks for events like The Banked slalom that bring us all together.

I pawned the kids off on the other guides and drove into Wanaka for the awards ceremony and to meet up with my new friends. When Will took first place, I whistled and slapped my hand against the wall as to make a clapping sound and not spill my first beer in two weeks. Dylan and his girlfriend Karen bought me another beer and introduced me to their friends (which happened to be everyone). We went out for burgers and enjoyed them back at their house where they offered me a place stay. Although duty called and I had to return to work, my experiences in Wanaka and Treble Cone’s Banked Slalom were good food for thought.

Within snowboarding there are a variety of ingredients found in the concoction of soul. For some it’s cold clear skies in Montreal, a classic handrail, and their favorite layered tall-tees fresh out of the dryer. For others, including myself, it’s a weeklong storm, lifting and revealing a freshly blanketed Shuksan Arm, the sound of steps being kicked muffled by the out-of-breath murmurs of stoke, and the splendid moment of being strapped in, picturing your line and a high fived departure.

The common ingredient, like salt and pepper, in anyone’s recipe for soul, is those who we choose to high five. Riding alone has its benefits and at times it’s enjoyable but when there isn’t anyone there to high five, well then you’re just clapping in the woods by yourself. Like a friendly neighbor willing to lend you that pinch of salt, the type of people found at an event like the Banked Slalom, no matter its location, no matter its grandeur, are there to raise their open palms, spread their fingers, and properly flavor that soul stew.


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