This year’s PacWest Banked Slalom was fast. The first third of the course was your only real chance to take in the scenery; five medium-tight turns granted passage to the rest of the course, meandering under the chairlift and giving all above a wonderful birds-eye view. The sixth turn was your final opportunity to breathe easy. Enter the Gauntlet: a steep pitch consisting of seven long and open turns that hurled riders outward at top-speed. Amongst the rest of the course, a corner full of hecklers, a pump-bump, and three final high-G-force turns had even the most practiced riders holding on with everything they had. Firm-but-edgable snow and a One Ball Jay tuning station up top kept every racer moving at their max velocity.
This gem of an event was in its second annual running at Summit East, a weekends-only groomers and side-hits treasure trove at The Summit at Snoqualmie. That being said, you’d be hard pressed to find a local that calls the place Summit East. It’s more-beloved title of “Hyak” comes from the eponymous town. Established in the early 1900s, Hyak served as the eastern portal of the Milwaukee Railroad Tunnel: a 2.3 mile-long passage that runs underneath just about the entirety of the Summit at Snoqualmie. But the area is not just known for its pre-World War II history—snowboarding in Washington state has deep roots at Hyak.
After a week of digging, and a weekend of racing, I caught up with PacWest course-creator and race organizer Marcel Dolak to discuss the history of Hyak and the inspiration behind bringing banked slalom racing back to Hyak.
The Snowboarder’s Journal: I can only imagine how much of a foot-on-the-gas week that (PacWest Week) was for you. And probably even for the weeks leading up to the event too…
Marcel: It’s like being a pinball kind of. And it’s just like, “Okay, where am I going next? Boom there, boom, boom. Hey, Marcel, come over here. Hey, Marcel, over here.” But it’s good. It’s a really good kind of busy to have the opportunity to do this event.
Hyak has needed an event like that (PacWest) for a long time. I remember pre-Covid when you announced it for the first time [in 2019] the race was just barely cancelled, maybe was supposed to happen about a week after the Summit (at Snoqualmie) closed due to Covid restrictions.
It was literally days. It was a hard start. For 10 years, I’d been wanting to do this secretly and had been planning it in my mind. I started being more vocal about it in 2019. I approached Guy Lawrence, the GM of The Summit and longtime friend of mine, and said, “Guy, here’s what I’m thinking.” And he’s like, “I love it. I love the idea. I think you’re a good steward for it.” So we went out to Hyak and cruised around, looked at zones, and really started making it a thing in our minds and really trying to map it out.
I’m 23, so I never lived any of the OG Hyak days. I’ve heard a lot of stories, and the history of Hyak is contained mostly within the stories people tell over time. Do you think you could speak to the history of Hyak and snowboarding?
I think about 1987 is when Chris Schuler started Aloha Snowboarding, which was a snowboard shop and a snowboard school at Hyak. And there was a guy by the name of Matt Remine. He was an integral part of that too. He was an instructor and somebody that when I was a grom, everybody knew and looked up to at [Snoqualmie] Pass and around the northwest.
And then you had early contests, [Hyak]’s where they would go down. I remember personally, it must have been late ’80s, early ’90s where there was kind of a halfpipe… Below that chair down towards the lodge, there was a halfpipe that had a snake in it. It wasn’t a halfpipe like we know today. It had these built-in hits on the sides and that’s where we’d launch. I believe the event was called the “Good N’ Plenty Jam.” There were also the K2 Shred Events. I remember guys like Chad Blotz Sakari, Danny Sullivan and Jerry Sullivan. Jamie Lynn, Peter Line, and many others were riding there back then too. Those were the early days there. There was also a banked slalom at Hyak, which was called PacWest during the 80s. From what I understand, that was one of the first banked slaloms that Craig Kelly ever won.
Really bringing it back to the beginning, first and foremost, Hyak was one of the first resorts to bring snowboarding in. Dave Moffett and the Moffett family who owned the resort back in the day for many years were one of the first groups that said, “Yeah, we’ll allow snowboarding.” Same with the Howat’s up at Mt. Baker. Those families were very receptive with snowboarding and really, I think, helped the culture to take on its creativity.
One of my favorite parts about PacWest [Banked Slalom] is that while everyone is there for the race, you recapture what I imagine the early days to be like. It’s not just about the race, it’s about having 250 snowboarders at Hyak, putting in the same side hits the same way it was back then. Seeing how snowboarders can shape the resort and the culture of everyone there. That’s super cool.
The Summit has been so good to me over the years. When I was a grom and couldn’t afford lift tickets, they made it happen, which was huge. And I was able to ride some other resorts they were a part of at the time. They asked me to be captain of their snowboard [Syndicate] team and I was fortunate to have some cool opportunities with their support. It’s been a really fun thing in my life.
This event is about trying to maintain that culture at The Summit and snowboarding as a whole here in the PNW. It’s so close to a busy city and it’s easy to get lost in the lights. I feel like the way to ground that culture and not let it slip away is to keep the people involved together. Like I’ve said a few times in the past couple weeks here, a snowboard is not a soccer ball, but without culture, it is. There are incredible events like the Legendary Banked Slalom at Mt. Baker and the Bomber Banked Slalom at Mission Ridge, which are all doing a great job to maintain that culture, that history, and let the next generation be a part of it. But for the groms to really see that culture, feel it, and have a course that they can feel comfortable on, it’s huge. Also for them to get a little history lesson so they understand the roots of snowboarding. For me, snowboard competition wasn’t to be better than another rider, but it was to have that camaraderie and be a part of that culture. I think it kept me out of trouble, helped me be a better person, and eventually helped me start my real estate career. I thank snowboarding for that.
You’re there to be a snowboarder and participate in the camaraderie and have a good time with your friends. Podiums are nice, but there’s way more to it than just standing on that podium.
Exactly. Not every person can hit a 70-foot super kicker or a stepdown rail or whatever. As long as you can turn a snowboard, you have a chance to get on that course and have a blast. Regardless of if you win or lose, you’re going to have fun. That’s the big win.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered? And what are the rewards for overcoming those challenges?
It takes all hands on deck to make something like this happen. I think the biggest challenge is there’s so many positions that you need—you need gatekeepers, you need timers, you need starters. You need people to dig the course and maintain it as well.
Personnel’s a bit of a challenge, but I think a lot of people are starting to share the passion behind the project. The reward is huge because I get to see those kids—the youngest person on the course, Priscilla’s four-year-old daughter, or groms like Lucy Wei, Kellen Fletcher, just these groms, man. That’s what it’s all about. I think back on myself at my first contest, it was a slalom race at The Summit. I don’t even know if I knew how to link turns back then, but I did a slalom race. Or hiking up under Julie’s chair for my first time with grey moon boots, blue sweatpants, and my Kmart jacket that died my white shirt red by the end of the session. I was that grom too. My dad wouldn’t buy me a lift ticket; he said hike up there and earn it! I’m forever thankful for the determination that my parents, who are first generation immigrants, instilled in me.
PacWest is an event that everybody can enjoy that knows how to snowboard. Last year we had people from 6 to 66 years old. This year, 4 to 67 or 68 years old. That’s a lot of people that are able to enjoy snowboarding together on the same course. They can talk about the same turn, they can talk about that same problem area. The fun turn or the challenging one, they all are experiencing the same thing. I think that’s what makes it really special.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank the to the dig crew; Nick F, Donavon J, Mike H, Mike C, Grace B, Colin W, Andrej H, Matt L, Fendetti, the course volunteers, Smooth Operator [Cat Driver] Dave, Rick and Marilyn, Karter Riach, Andy Cantor, Jeff Cragin and Olivia Cayley from The Summit at Snoqualmie. Olivia was my first volunteer and keeps all running smooth behind the scenes. And of course, to all the sponsors that came in huge this year: the community and myself can’t thank you enough! A huge thank you to my wife Kaitlin and daughters Isla and Camille for their support. Also a special thank you to Model Snake and Todd Schlosser for shaking the lodge. Looking forward to Pacwest Banked Slalom 2024.