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Snowboard racing has long been the forgotten son of snowboard disciplines and without wanting to overlook a very dedicated and speedy band of hard-boot and full-face helmet clad participators, simply hasn’t been able to maintain the same level of buzz, audience and appeal that freestyle snowboarding has created.
That said, banked slalom - where riders navigate down a winding course filled with whoops, rollers, kickers and of course, banked turns, is perhaps the one racing discipline that has managed to hold onto any semblance of what the average (and even core) snowboarder would consider ‘cool’.
Maybe it’s because the discipline has such a long, rich history, extending all the way back to the sport’s true pioneers – your Tom Sims, Terry Kidwells and Craig Kellys; or perhaps the relaxed format of the banked slalom is just an appealing alternative to the top riders.
Either way, banked slaloms are becoming more and more popular every year. Many would even argue they’re getting much trendier too.
From the longstanding oak trees of the discipline to the creative new events that are sowing the seeds of the future, click through for 5 rad banked slalom events that are still alive and well in 2013 and attracting more and more interest every year:
[part title='The Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, Mt. Hood, USA']
If there’s one banked slalom that you will have heard about on this list, this is it. The Baker banked slalom celebrated its 28th year in 2013 – that’s almost 3 decades of bringing together some of the worlds best riders – freestyle, freeride and otherwise - to bomb it down a steep, winding course as fast as they possibly can.
The first ever Baker banked slalom went down in 1985 with Tom Sims christening it ‘The Sims Open’ and perhaps a little narcissistically, challenged riders to beat him down the course. Baker was chosen as one of only a handful of resorts that even allowed snowboarding at that time, although the mountain owner only allowed Sims to run the event on ‘Super Bowl Sunday’ – the quietest day on the hill of the year.
That fateful day truly set the scene for an event that would continue to this very day. Of course Sims posted the fastest time, followed by Terry Kidwell (who Craig Kelly dubbed “the father of Freestyle"), Ken Achenbach (inventor of the baseless binding and founder of Camp of Champions), a nineteen year old Craig Kelly and Bob Klein.
Over the years the event continued to grow in popularity and scale, consistently attracting the world’s best to tackle the course and most importantly, have a great day out with family and friends. Riders like Craig Kelly, Shaun Palmer and Xavier de le Rue have all won the event, with Terje Haakonsen taking it a whopping seven times over a 17-year period (he even qualified for the finals switch in 1996)!
As one of the longest running snowboard contests in the world (if you can even call it a contest as such), the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom is here to stay, and even though the word ‘legendary’ is bandied about a lot in snowboarding, it’s 100% deserved in this case.
[part title='The Neil Edgeworth Memorial Banked Slalom, Big White, Canada']
The Neil Edgeworth Memorial has been the banked slalom event of choice for those North Americans living north of the border (read: Canadians). First started as the ‘Inland Banked Slalom’ in 1987, only two years after the Mt. Baker equivalent, the event was resurrected in 1997 as a memorial event, after influential Canadian snowboarder Neil Edgeworth lost his life in an avalanche.
Although the Big White event doesn’t really attract the same pedigree of rider as its Mt. Baker sibling, it does share many of the same principles, being more about remembering friends old and new rather than getting all serious about winning.
(Might be best not to invite Shaun White then…)
[part title='Dick's Ditch Classic, Jackson Hole, USA']
Although many of us here in the UK hadn’t really heard of Jackson Hole until Travis Rice thumped it onto the map in 2008 with ‘That’s It That’s All’, Jackson Hole has infact been a legit snowboarding destination for yonks. The resort has even been running its own banked slalom event for the best part of two decades.
The ‘Dick’s Ditch Classic’ takes the tried and tested banked slalom formula and adds step-downs, step-ups and hips into the mix, creating a kind of winding half-natural, half-man-made rollercoaster. Looks a lot of fun if you ask us!
[part title='The Rat Race, High Cascade, Mt Hood, USA']
If you were looking for one reason to illustrate the fact that banked slaloms are indeed pretty cool again, look no further than the Rat Race at High Cascade. This year’s (2013) was the second ever and brought together legends, park rats and everything in between for a day of banked turn carnage.
When you’ve got Forrest Bailey and Temple Cummins riding the very same course at one of the coolest places on earth to snowboard, it says a lot about the event.
Yep, when it comes down to it, turning on a snowboard is still very fun and definitely isn’t as easy as you might think it to be. The broken wrist and chipped teeth that arose on the day are surely testament to that.
[part title='Nike Snake and Hammers, Mt. Hood (USA), Montafon (Austria), Mammoth (USA)']
Number 5 on our list of rad banked slalom events, and bringing us bang up to date is Nike’s Snake and Hammers. As David Benedek once told us back in issue 102 when asked about the future of slopestyle courses: “They should build stuff that’s so odd you can’t even do a double cork – even if it’s ten whoop-di-doos into a drop down. Some crazy shit. It should be about who can ride this thing creatively." Turns out that Nike did exactly that.
Snake and Hammers combined the berms and whoops of a traditional banked slalom with features that are more at home on professional slopestyle courses – stairsets with handrails, massive booters and a mini halfpipe section. Nike of course then proceeded to invite a whole host of top riders to ride the courses (including Mr. Benedek himself we might add) and the rider with the quickest time and best tricks took the crown.
The Snake and Hammers event that Nike have conjured is a perfect example of how something as tried and tested as the banked slalom has been fused with an aspect of snowboarding that is at the forefront of progression and created something truly unique.
It’s an encouraging step for snowboard racing and for all of us who love using our edges for a little more than scrubbing a bit of speed on the way to the next down flat down rail.
Which banked slalom course would you most like to ride in this list and why? Let us know in the comments!