Smash Powder: A Weekend of Storms at Alpental for A-Rob’s Smash Life Banked Slalom

Above: Matt Edgers. Photo: Wiseman.

“We didn’t really talk about it publicly, but Tipton and I have been discussing ‘Code Red’ for a few days now,” Joe Pope said.

The Park Director for The Summit at Snoqualmie, Pope was standing atop a whited-out banked slalom course in the Alpental, WA backcountry. It was Saturday. We were supposed to be racing today in the A-Rob Smash Life Banked Slalom. He and Tipton Power and a dedicated crew of park staff and volunteers had been digging all week. But it had snowed heavily—a foot-plus overnight.

Interstate 90 was shut down. Nobody could get to the mountain, let alone ride it. Except for those of us lucky enough to be sleeping in the parking lot for the few nights prior, and early risers who made it up there before the freeway shut down. So code red it was—everyone qualified for the finals, and Saturday was a powder day for all. Flakes continued to pour out of the sky all day, refilling the mountain while the backcountry gates slowly opened up one by one.

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By the time I made it to the course, it was about 1pm. A quick practice run through 22 berms, hang a left, enter Snake Dance and find a few airs—I’d be willing to bet our departed brother A-Rob wouldn’t have gone anywhere near a race course on a day like that. Maybe long enough for a quick safety meeting, but I doubt it. Saturday was all about smashing powder, and the collected contingent of shreds from WA to MT and beyond were happy to abide.

A-Rob’s Smash Life Banked Slalom at Alpental, WA from Funny Feelings on Vimeo.

But we were there, after all, for a race. Maybe more of a gathering, I guess. For those of you unfamiliar with the Smash Life Banked Slalom, it’s a two-part race series taking part at Big Sky, MT and Alpental, WA. The overall winners for the Men’s and Women’s Open categories get a spot in the Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom. But more importantly, it’s a reason to rally the troops in memory of our great transient friend Aaron Robinson, a Whitefish, MT native and northwest-based seeker of good times who left this plane of existence while riding in Chile in 2011. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years. But the strength of character present at Alpental was testament enough to the connections he built within the snowboard community. A number of my closest friends were introduced to me by A-Rob. He just brought people together that way. And now, through A-Rob’s Plant A Seed Project, the Smash Life series gives back by getting the youth of his native Flathead Valley on snow.

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So, to Sunday: a brief warming trend had brought a little rain, but clearing skies left a slick dance floor in lot 3 for the 40 or 50 folks scattered about in tents, RVs and other forms of homes-on-wheels to howl at the moon. Then another five or six inches of fresh fell quietly and blanketed camp as we shook off the cobwebs for race day. It was another powder day—not everyone made it to the course, because it was just too deep. You can’t ignore a message as strong as the GO RIDE POWDER blaring from the whitewashed old growth rising sharply on all sides.

A-Rob’s Smash Life Banked Slalom Big Sky 2016 from Shane Stalling on Vimeo.

I, however, made it to the race. The course itself just looked too fun. A minute-and-change of high, near-vertical banks through a natural gully under towering cliffs. Flow and momentum with few ruts and soft transitions thanks to the still-falling snow. Visibility presented some issues, but we all had to deal with it—and if you veered off course, well, you could always slash a few turns. Everybody got two runs. And once Pope took the last lap through the course around 2PM, there was still plenty of time to exit stage left and smash powder.

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In the end, Blair Habenicht won the Men’s Open and Mariah Dugan won for the ladies—congrats to them and all those who found their way to the podium. A huge thank you goes out to Tipton, Joe, Greg, Shane and all of the other volunteers and riders who make the Smash Life Banked Slalom a spiritual gathering of sorts—one filled with long days and long nights and laughter and pillows, spines, and laps under the lights. A race as an excuse to come together and simply ride.

As Pope put it at the awards ceremony, “The best way we can celebrate the life of those lost is by celebrating life in general. And I think we really kicked the shit out of it this weekend. There are a lot of problems in the world, and snowboarding is not one of them.”

Amen, brother.



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