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Snowboarder Magazine – If You're Not First
Tim Dietz in the starting gate with Zack O’bryant on the radio, relaying when to drop. Photo: Kirby Grubaugh

If You’re Not First…

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Deep in the Montana wilderness a bunch of shredders put on a banked slalom race unlike any other

The Beehive Basin Banked Slalom was more than just a reason for me to get out of bed before nine on a morning in mid-April. I thought it would be an excuse to spend time with my friends, meet other snowboarders from Montana, and make some of my gnarliest thigh-burner turns of the year. I didn’t realize it would also be an opportunity to discuss the things I am struggling with in life.

“If you aren’t on the verge of barfing up your last beer when you reach the bottom: You should be going faster.”

Banked slalom snowboard races are held on single-track courses with banked turns, rollers, and jumps. Riders have two simple objectives: make it to the bottom on their feet, and do it as fast as they possibly can. Flame decals are encouraged. These races are tests of the fundamental snowboarding skills of turning and edge control. The winners are the ones who ride their boards the best, not the ones who can do the biggest airs or spin the most.

Part of what sets the Beehive Banked Slalom apart from more famous races like the Dirksen Derby at Mt. Bachelor–or Dick’s Ditch at Jackson Hole–is its location. The event is held deep in the backcountry in Big Sky, Montana. This means if you want to race, you have to hike the course and get yourself to the zone and back—roughly a two-mile round trip. You have to trudge back to the top of the eighteen-turn banked slalom course five or six times. If you aren’t on the verge of collapsing or barfing up your last beer when you reach the bottom: You should be going faster. The remote location and grueling setup thins out the crowd to a passionate bunch of riders who are willing to sweat in order to participate.

Snowboarder Magazine – If You're Not First
Johnny Duty airing over the first two rollers on his way to 1st place.
Photo: Kirby Grubaugh

The 18 hand-dug berms are the core of the event. Turns like those are unmatched by any machine-built boardercross track. Hand-dug courses are where it’s at for banked slaloms,  especially when a solid dig crew has time to build and session the course for days leading up to the event. The turns this year were fast and smooth, set up perfectly by the diggers.

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But the Beehive Banked Slalom isn’t just about snowboarding. The entire group also did a “Lap For The Lost.” It’s a ritual of remembrance adopted from the Nate Chute Banked Slalom in Whitefish that’s partly a conversation about mental health and partly a massive party lap. Kirby Grubaugh, the event organizer, led the discussion at the top. He reinforced the importance of checking in with your friends and discussing mental health with people you care about. He spoke about our roles as individuals to be there for the people we love. He also talked about the devastating effects of suicide on everyone involved. Then he opened up the conversation to the crowd, and let riders take turns dedicating their laps to friends and family they’ve lost.

The discussion brought out some intense energy. Many people had thoughts and feelings to contribute, and together we created an environment where members of the crowd felt comfortable sharing some tough stuff. It struck me as extraordinary that I had the opportunity to race with one of my closest friends after he talked to me about his struggle with depression. It was a conversation neither of us expected to have at a snowboard event. The Beehive Banked Slalom ended in tears mixed with sweat, and shouts of joy rang out as the crew piled up at the bottom.

I am incredibly thankful for this event and for Kirby. I got to snowboard with a huge crew of homies. It also helped normalize having difficult conversations with people I care about. The event seems to grow yearly, and I am already looking forward to racing again this spring.

Tell your friends you love them.

– JG

Jack Guthrie is boarder, artist, and lifer.

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