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Chase Josey and Coach Andy Gilbert Take on the Legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom
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Sunday, February 19, 2023
 

BY HEATHER FOSTER

Back in November, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Snowboard Team Head Coach, Andy Gilbert, learned he had earned a lottery entry into the Grand Masters Division for those ages 50 to 59 at the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom.

Two-time Olympian, SVSEF Snowboard Team alum, and U.S. Snowboard Team athlete Chase Josey, had received a Pro Division entry through a sponsor, and the seeds were planted for an epic adventure. 

When you get into the Legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom, you go! 

The Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom is arguably the oldest and undoubtedly the longest running snowboard event in the world. It runs on a motto of “Culture vs. Cash.” There is no prize money, no television commercials, and no judges. It’s just you, your board, and a course that’s the same for everyone—pro and “grom” alike. It’s about prestige, a genuine love of snowboarding, and the sport’s original spirit. 

The stars were lining up for the duo to make the trip to Mt. Baker in early February. Home events for the SVSEF Snowboard Team weren’t until the following week and Josey was able to take a pass on the Mammoth Grand Prix, an event he has attended every year since he was first named to the U.S. Snowboard Team.  

If you get into the LBS, you go!  

It was official. Plans were made, housing secured, and boards waxed. Andy and Chase talked weekly leading up to the race and the excitement was super high as they hit the road Wednesday before the race, which was scheduled for Feb. 3-5. 

“The drive out to Mt. Baker was a great time for us to catch up, talk about snowboarding, Chase’s upcoming plans for the rest of the season, our families and friends,” said Gilbert. “We’ve been traveling together since Chase was on the SVSEF Snowboard Team, and the road trip chemistry picked up right where it left off.” 

Along the way, the trip connected dots from the past, part of what makes the Legendary Banked Slalom such a unique experience.

“Andy McCabe worked at Smith when the company was still in Sun Valley and he had always included Chase in team activities, photo shoots, and various opportunities when Chase was the local up and comer,” said Gilbert. “Spending quality time with folks like Andy is invaluable in a world that moves so fast.”   

“It’s important to me to reiterate how much my sponsors are a part of my team,” said Josey. “I don’t get to see them that often with the craziness of the competition season and having that time to hang with my sponsors was such a great opportunity to be with my snowboard family and even turn my mind off from the halfpipe world for a bit.” 

Sneaking in a “test” lap of the course a day early was top priority. Baker has had a less-than-optimal snow year—it was overcast, grey, and the course was firm and to be honest a little scary looking. After some positioning and persistence, Gilbert and Josey were granted entry for a test lap— the last two guys to get a shot at it before the event crew closed the course. As was expected, it was fast and super challenging mostly because of the snow conditions. With nothing on the radar until late the next day it looked like the first day of qualifying on Friday was going to be a battle. 

Friday lived up to the expectation—flat light, some wind, and a rock on turn five that would be talked about by every single person in the race. The format is unforgiving with only one run on each of the qualifying days—you get one shot.  

Everyone has a theory about how to go about qualifying. Everyone wants to qualify on Friday so they can just cruise on Saturday. Qualifying times on Friday can be deceiving because most competitors are trying to just “stand one up” and see if it’s enough. Gilbert tried that plan but the firm conditions forced him to hip check, not making the Friday cut. That said, he was close enough that he was confident to give it another go on Saturday.  

Chase ran a smooth line right out of the gate and managed to grab the last finals spot on Friday—just edging out Seth Wescott, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Boardercross. The snow started to fall as the pros were wrapping things up and that always holds promise of a brand-new course the following day. 

Josey and Gilbert talked about the course--where they were both sitting and how they might approach it the following day. It was fun for Gilbert being at an event with Josey and getting the opportunity to compete himself. It was awesome to be getting some tips from someone he worked with as a kid and now is a legit contender. It was also awesome that everyone had the same concerns, namely “turn five sucks.” 

Mt. Baker delivered the goods overnight and Saturday came with a fresh blanket of nine inches of snow. In ski racing this amount of fresh snow could wreak havoc on an event. But at the Legendary Banked Slalom it meant a full course “reset” and some faster times. Competitors who qualify on Friday don’t need to run on Saturday, but everyone does. It’s a chance to get comfortable with the course and attempt to better your time.  

Gilbert ran early and just needed to stand it up. He took a pretty conservative run, which felt like it should be enough and his fuzzy math had him in there. Josey bettered his time and was the third or fourth fastest in the pros that day. It took a while for all the results to get posted, so Josey and Gilbert went about their business like they were both in the mix and it was a finals night for both. Results came in around 8:30 p.m. and Giblert squeaked in with a couple spots to spare—on to the finals! 

A couple more inches of fresh snow overnight made the course even better. It was time to go for broke. On finals day you get two runs and the best one counts. There is a clock at the bottom of the course where you can see your time as you cross the finish. They run it during everyone’s first run then unplug it on the second run so final results are a mystery and everyone has to go to awards.  

Gilbert dropped in for his first run feeling great. Turns one through four were smooth and fast, then good old turn No. five took him down. Even with the bobble, he was still in the mix with a 1:32:19 time. The focus for run two would be to just stand it up. 

Josey was in an unbelievably competitive Pro Final. The roll call was a “who’s who” of elite snowboarding: Harry Kearney, Seth Wescott, Hailey’s Graham Watanabe, Ben Ferguson, Cannon Cummins and on and on. After run one in the pros there were five riders all sitting in the 1:15:00’s and only separated by tenths and one-hundredths of a second. Josey was right in there with a 1:15:80, floating in fourth or fifth.  

Gilbert got back to the top and dropped in first in his group. The course was getting faster and was still in really good shape. He ran the first few banks well again, tried to control his speed into turn five, mistimed it a bit, wasn’t super clean but got through it. It felt like he was making up time in the middle of the course and stood it up.  

Before Josey’s second run, Gilbert told him he thought he could be smooth through the top, really open it up in the middle, then let it rip. When Josey was up, Gilbert shadowed the course so he could watch the whole thing.

Josey was flying after getting through the top. Gilbert rolled into the finish area and Josey looked over at him and gave him a look he has been giving him since he was a kid when he’d put down a heater of a run! Josey was stoked and so was Gilbert—they had both made it to the finals and laid it all out there. With second run times being a mystery, it was just wait and see. 

“The Legendary Banked Slalom awards are really like nothing else,” said Gilbert. “Grown men cry, entire families get on the podium, legends remind everyone how amazing they really are, and more than anything the gratitude that everyone in the room has snowboarding, which has brought us all together!”  

The trophies are rolls of gold, silver, and bronze duct tape—a nod to snowboarding’s original technology to make the boots and bindings work. Mt. Baker Pendleton blankets are draped over the shoulders of the winners, again—culture over cash. 

Before the pros, they announced the results for Gilbert’s group—the Grand Masters. His name didn’t get called, but he couldn’t have been more stoked on how the week went for both of them. Watching all the winners take the podium and seeing the smiles, tears, and unbelievable level of stoke in the room really set the tone for the main event—the pro results along with their times, announced in reverse order. 

  • 6th — Austen Sweetin 1:15.76  
  • 5th — Ben Ferguson 1:15.32  
  • 4th — Hagen Kearney 1:15.02 
  • 3rd — Darcy Sharpe 1:15.01  
  • 2nd — Chase Josey 1:14.31  
  • 1st — Harry Kearney 1:13.49 

There were only three riders who broke 1:15 all week and Josey was one of them. So many people in snowboarding only know Josey from his halfpipe riding. There are those “in the know” who knew he could be one to watch when he got to Mt. Baker.  

“One thing is for sure,” said Gilbert. “Chase Josey is a true all-around snowboarder—put anything in front of him and he’ll do something special with it. Chase returned any favor he may have received from me coaching him all those years by coaching me during the week. Having one of the best riders out there telling me what to look for was simply amazing.”  

On the way out the door, the full results came online. Gilbert finished ninth in his group—a top ten at Mt. Baker!  

If you get into the LBS you go!  

“It was a wild one and this trip was special—I know I made the right decision to go,” said Josey. “Every rider from time to time needs to test themselves. And these types of adventures are always better if you have someone to share it with. Andy and I have travelled the world together and have always taken the time to enjoy where we are and what we are experiencing.  

Most of all, it was just like the Legendary Banked Slalom itself—a great reason to get the snowboard family back together. 

“This entire experience felt like a full-circle moment for me in a way,” said Josey. “Andy and I broke down our strategy going into the weekend, we went there with a purpose and just to enjoy ourselves and see our old friends. It was also a really good mental reset for me from the halfpipe realm and coming away with second place and some duct tape was pretty awesome!” 

CHASE JOSEY HEADED TO GEORGIA

Chase Josey is now in Bakuriani, Georgia, with the U.S. Snowboard Team where he is competing at the 2023 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships. The competition begins today and runs through March 5.


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