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Banked slalom celebrates snowboard community

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Cassie Goodnough rides the Beehive Basin Banked Slalom Course on April 17 with a smile on her face. Goodnough was one of the few riders that had been to all four years of the banked slalom and took home fourth place. PHOTO BY KG CONTENT

‘Lap for the Lost’ opens conversation about mental health, honors lost loved ones

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the name of the friend to whom Kirby Grubaugh dedicated his Lap for the Lost.

BIG SKY – Roughly 1.5 miles into the Beehive Basin Trail on April 17, a speaker thumped with the rhythm of punk rock as a snowboarder cruised down a hand-dug slalom course. After crossing the finish line, out of breath but smiling ear-to-ear, the rider looked to his friend and exclaimed, “That’s some best-day-of-the-year s***!”

In its fourth year, the Beehive Basin Banked Slalom is as much community as it is event. Though a competition, the story of the grassroots race is better told through the hugs, tears and toasts than run times and podiums. Established by Big Sky local Kirby Grubaugh in 2018, Big Sky’s only banked slalom race celebrates snowboard culture, friendship and gratitude. Grubaugh has also dedicated part of the event to discussing mental health and hopes the slalom can be a bright spot for those struggling. 

It’s the kind of event that’s painted in sense of place; colored by familiar faces, locally treasured landscapes and of course, winter sport.

“I love snowboarding to my core,” Grubaugh said. “I love the community it creates, and there’s very much a lacking of that …  snowboard-specific culture in Big Sky. And so I just saw an opportunity to create human connection and meet people and give people something to look forward to and a reason to get out of bed for a week in the spring and come out and have fun and hopefully meet people and create relationships there.”

For many, the popularizing event is an anchor in their winter season. As Grubaugh kicked off the race, he asked the crew of more than 50 riders to indicate how many Beehive Basin Banked Slaloms they’d attended. Several riders were banked slalom veterans, proudly announcing their annual attendance.

Earlier that week, Grubaugh and a volunteer crew trekked out to the race location to carve the course. Four days later, the course was complete with 18 berms and two double-rollers.

On race day, each racer took two laps and was judged on their fastest lap. At the bottom of the course, Grubaugh’s wife, Olivia, and volunteer Mati Tressler kept times and cheered on riders as they slid between two ski poles that marked the finish line. Other spectators whooped and hollered from homemade snow chairs and cozy seats next to a fire.

Talia Balma, a Big Sky snowboarder, hiked out this year for her first slalom. She wasn’t originally planning on racing, but she said “peer pressure” pushed her into it, and she found herself in fifth place for the women.

“It’s just super awesome that we have this community and everyone worked so hard to put it on,” she said at the bottom of her second lap.

Ellis Jannsen from Bozeman said it was the camaraderie that inspired him to return for a second year.

“I liked the non-competitive nature of it,” he said. “Although it is timed and there are prizes, people are just here to have fun. It’s all about having a good time.”

Inspired by the Nate Chute Classic in Whitefish and the touring A-Rob’s Smash Life Banked Slalom, Grubaugh rallied the racers at the end of the event to participate in a “Lap for the Lost,” dedicated to a person of each rider’s choosing.

Following the path laid out by the Nate Chute Classic, which honors the life of a young snowboarder whom died by suicide, Grubaugh gathered the banked slalom community at the top of the course to talk candidly about mental health.

“We’ve all lost people to sickness, we’ve all lost people to suicide, and it sucks,” he said. “But we’re here to lift each other up, we’re here to be there for one another, we’re here to ask questions when somebody doesn’t look right. Be that friend and don’t be afraid to be that friend.”

Grubaugh dedicated his lap to his friend, Clay LaChance, who took his own life last year and invited other riders to make their dedication out loud. Out of the sea of helmets and snowboard noses, people began to speak up one by one, sharing stories of lost friends and family.  

It’s on everyone as friends to be responsible for each other’s wellness, Grubaugh said, but it’s also on everyone as individuals to be responsible for themselves. Find the things you love, he said to the crowd. Maybe snowboarding is one of them.

“Whatever it is that makes you stoked,” he said, “do more of it, because it may be what’s keeping you alive.”

Grubaugh read aloud lyrics to “Bro Hymn,” by Pennywise, about those lost and the preciousness of life and friendship.

“Let’s rip to that song,” Grubaugh said.

GRAPHIC BY ME BROWN.

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