Funds benefit Plant a Seed Foundation

By Joseph T. O’Connor Explorebigsky.com Editor

BIG SKY – Lone Peak glimmered, a white gem beneath a deep blue, frozen morning sky. The static of snowboards shattered the early silence as riders tested the Smash Life! banked slalom course on Jan. 5. A herd of mountain goats, perched above the A-Z chutes, took in the timed event.

Other competitors piled atop Never Sweat off the Lone Peak Triple Chair warming their hands, though the adrenaline of competition filled their veins. Photographers from ESPN, Transworld Snowboarding and Snowboarder magazines speckled the course while organizers shoveled snow into banked turns and over rutted areas and exposed rock.

The second annual Smash Life! banked slalom competition at Big Sky Resort kicked off in the name of Aaron Robinson (A-Rob), a Whitefish, Mont. native who died in an accident while filming a snowboard video in Chile, during the summer of 2011.

Smash Life! organizer Shane Stalling put together the first event last year to benefit the Plant a Seed Foundation, created to provide kids in the Whitefish Mountain area with opportunities to snowboard, in Aaron’s name.

“He liked to snowboard, and we all liked to snowboard with him,” Stalling said.

More than 85 competitors tackled the icy course, including Aaron’s older brother Jason, down from the Flathead Valley near Whitefish. It wasn’t the first time Jason traveled south in the name of his brother.

After learning of the accident in 2011, Jason rallied his friends and took off for Chile. They finished the final third of the film, titled “Manifest,” which showed at the beginning of the awards ceremony, held later that evening in the Huntley Lodge.

“It’s pretty touching to see the support of all [these riders],” said Jason, 28. “Aaron would be super hyped. This is such a pure event. It’s all about cruising with friends and slapping fives.”

On course, riders had their hands full with tight gates and banked turns that had them horizontal to the fall line. The runout was straight, however, and snowboarders of all ages tucked through the finish, blowing by the course’s timer, Jeff Pawling.

“It’s definitely kinda gnarly out there,” said Pawling, a first-season Big Sky employee from Newton, Mass.

Sarris McComb, 34, of Missoula screamed by the finish and ran up to Pawling to check her time. She won the event in the women’s category last season.

“Plant a Seed is great for the kids,” said McComb, whose 37.86 time won her first place at this year’s event. “What A-Rob’s mom did for them…,” she paused, shading her eyes against the bright morning sun. “She became a lifty so her boys could ride.”

This year, funds from the Plant a Seed Foundation allow 16-17 children in the Whitefish area to rent equipment and ride for five nights and three days over the course of five weeks, according to Jason Robinson.

“We’re usually focused on the family market,” said Kipp Proctor, Big Sky Resort’s media relations and community manager. “This is a really cool event for a great cause. We hope it will bring more snowboarders out for the event [next year] and more people to Big Sky.”

Before the awards ceremony, the crowd watched “Manifest” on a big screen as Stalling put together prize packages from Never Summer snowboards, hand-made belt buckles, and t-shirts, hats, socks and more from World Boards and Four-0-Six. After the ceremony, Jason and his friends unveiled the premier of “Of Life and Love,” a tribute to Aaron.

Though not available to the public yet, the new film will again show on Jan. 18 at the Smash Life! banked slalom event in Alpental, Wash.

Local Todd Kirby edged-out a victory in the men’s category with 35.42, one-hundredth of a second faster than Jason Robinson; Sarris McComb took home first for the women; Jason Schultz won for the masters and Casey Holloran and Rhett Lenzing placed first for 14-17 and 13 and under age groups, respectively.

To watch “Manifest” in its entirety, visit mpora.com/videos/d91CThYhQ.