The screech of unraveling duct tape rings out across the second floor of the Heather Meadows base lodge at Mt. Baker Ski Area, WA as racers prepare for the 2020 Local’s Qualifier. They display slightly different techniques for fastening bib numbers to their lead legs: some cover the edges in tape before applying, others balance the paper in place as they carefully wrap a roll of tape around their calves to secure it. Everyone has their own special method for milking speed in the race to come, too—warm weather wax will prove a standout in the sea of rub-on, graphite and powder specific alternatives. The top racers in each division are granted a spot in the 34th Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, so every trick to shave off even a millisecond is worth it.
Today’s lift tickets read “PACIFIC NORTHWEsT,” and it’s fitting considering the persistent rainfall and temps reaching into the mid to upper 30’s. Following the 18-day storm cycle that brought with it over 200 inches of uncharacteristically cold smoke powder, this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend reminds the powder hounds here that nothing lasts forever—unless we’re speaking of bragging rights and duct tape trophies.
The Local’s Qualifier course starts near the top of chair four and weaves down through a drainage ditch with overhead banked walls. Racers gather behind the notorious start shack waiting for their name to be called. First, it’s, “10 racers out,” then, “on deck” and eventually a “3, 2, 1, go,” clearing them to push out, knock over the time counter and start their mad dash to the finish line. The course begins with wide, winding turns then shoots into a run known as Deathstar, requiring a navigation of quick pumps, tiny jumps, aggressive turns and well-built berms. Dedicated diggers come out to maintain the course between each division, readjusting gates, repainting course outlines and rebuilding berms if need be. A common response to how the course ran usually plays out along the lines of “Slow, but I stayed on my feet.”
Following the slalom, racers rally back to Heather Meadows lodge for the highly anticipated awards ceremony to reveal who earned a golden ticket into one of snowboarding’s most respected, and truly legendary, events. Claps, hoots, hollers and “yews” were in no shortage as the fastest of the day were called forward and presented with a paper reading “Local’s Qualifier Top Finisher.” It’s a paper to be proud of, especially considering how hard Baker’s regulars rip. To those who made the cut, remember to stay low and be powerful. Or, at the very least, say your prayers.
Thank you to Duncan, Gwyn, Amy, Eliah and the crew at Mt. Baker Ski Area, to the dedicated course shapers, and to everyone else who took part in making this year’s Locals Qualifier a great one. We’ll see you at the start shack for the big show next month, February 7-9.
In the meantime, see our recap of last year’s Legendary Banked Slalom here.