Grassroots events are the counter movement to professional snowboarding contests like the X-Games or the US Open. At these events, the notion of higher, faster, further applies with the inclusion of complicated tricks and as many rotations as possible. This is not the case at grassroots events. Because, as already implied in the name, the community goes back to its roots. The aim is to re-establish original competitions and present the fun of racing, for example in banked slaloms. Everyone can race – regardless of age and level of performance.
One example is the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom in Mount Baker, Washington State, where the contest has been held annually since 1985. It’s a special place for the snowboarding community: After all, Mt. Baker was one of the few ski areas in the 1980s that welcomed snowboarders. But much more than that, snowboarding legends Bob Barci and Tom Sims created the event there.
At the time, only fourteen snowboarders competed, however the number is now over 1,000 – ranging from professionals to amateurs. Many of whom come every year. According to a survey carried out by the organizers, the fascination of the event resides in the fact that snowboarders from all over the world congregate here.
The Sudden Rush Banked Slalom in Laax, Switzerland is a European version of the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom. The founders are two of the most influential freestyle athletes in snowboarding history: Nicolas Müller and Terje Haakonsen.
The Norwegian Haakonsen has already won seven trophies at Mt. Baker. No other male competitor has won more frequently.
Haakonsen and Müller created their own Banked Slalom together with sports presenter Chris Bachmann. That was 2015 - when there was pretty much only halfpipe and slopestyle contests for well-trained athletes. Bachmann had something else in mind: “At our contest, everyone should be able to take part and have fun.”
The Banked Slalom demonstrates the parallels between the different board sports. According to the Sudden Rush organizers, the course feels almost as if you’re surfing or skateboarding on snow. To achieve this, the banked curves of the course are thoroughly prepared. Preparations for the event begin two weeks in advance.
As Bachmann explains, Terje and Nicolas work together with a local team and spend the whole day on the mountain. They both do this voluntarily and see it as a great challenge. At the upcoming Sudden Rush Banked Slalom, the plan is to share this knowledge with experienced shapers.
In 2018, the course featured 23 banked curves that they shaped together. 300 participants started the race: children, teenagers, adults – both men and women. Müller and Haakonsen also took part – alongside snowboarding legends including Brian Iguchi, Max Plötzeneder, Peter Bauer, Michi Albin, and Fabian Rohrer.
Sudden Rush is Nicolas Müller’s snowboarding event of the year. “Of course, we all want to be fast. But in the end we’re all winners and go home with a big smile on our faces and a fantastic memory,” he says as he explains the fascination of the event in an interview in the magazine Board Sport Source.
Snowboard brands are also building on the power of amateur competitions to strengthen ties with their own communities. “Grassroots and professional snowboarding events are equally important,” says Hanna-Marie Mayer at Burton Europe in Innsbruck. “At professional events such as the traditional Burton US Open, the top athletes can be admired. At grassroots events, the courses are simple and no qualification is required.”
The global market leader organizes the latter under the motto “Participation.” The goal is to get as many people to try snowboarding as possible.
Burton also wants to get amateurs involved in professional disciplines. One example of this is the Stash Gatherings in Avoriaz, France – it’s a traditional slopestyle competition open to all performance levels. Participants have the opportunity to present their skills in front of a jury made up of Burton professional riders.
The contest runs for several days. One day is dedicated to the banked slalom, which is open to anyone five years old or over. In the coming winter, the Stash Gatherings will also be held in Flachauwinkl, Austria.
Volcom Europe uses the Banked Slalom to bring the Volcom family together: At the end of April, end customers, team riders, journalists, and European retailers gather at the Kitzsteinhorn. Their partner is Nitro, with whom Volcom also shares several team riders. Beside Terje Haakonsen, there are many other riders, even the youngest team riders.
“Terje is an incentive for everyone. Anyone can compete against him. That is really cool. This if the fifth year in a row that we’ve done this and it’s been received extremely well,” explains Jens Hennefarth, Marketing Austria/Germany. The contest is organized into two rounds, and everyone has the opportunity to improve. The overall winner gets a starting place at the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom in the US.
With a barbecue on the mountain and music acts provided, the event is turning into a must-do. In the evening, the Volcom family meets at the Castle Rock Out Party held at the local castle. Most recently, Leopard Ale from France and King Khan and the Shrines from Canada performed.
Grassroots events aim to strengthen the community and bring as many people together as possible. That’s why, alongside the big events, there are also many small events like the Burning Boots Banked Slalom in Brauneck/Lenggries, Germany.
This was hosted for the first time in 2018 by the snowboard school Schneesturm. As co-organizer Matthias Baier states, there are many children at the starting line. At the upcoming event in 2019, they can also collect points for the German Race Series.
Individual targets groups are also addressed. Ride with Anna Gasser is a new event format by Burton specifically designed for young women. Admittedly, you first have to win the starting place, but everyone can participate, regardless of performance level.