December 21, 2005
A few weeks ago, the country’s first-ever U.S. Boardercross National Championship was scheduled to take place at Snow Summit Mountain Resort in California. Due to lack if snow down south, and an abundance on Mt. Hood, U.S. Snowboarding officials decided to move the championships to Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area. With about two weeks to prepare for one of the largest snowboarding events in the nation, Meadows pulled off without a hitch what resort managers are calling the biggest-caliber event in resort history.
Male and female snowboarders from countries across the globe — including Canada, Japan, Austrailia, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria — traveled to Mt. Hood to compete on Friday for the chance to qualify for the upcoming Winter Olympics, the first U.S. National boardercross title and a $15,000 purse.
After a full day of racing, Bend native Leslie Olson took the women’s division and Graham Watanabe, of Sun Valley, Idaho, won the men’s. The two took home $4,000 checks, the title of National Champion, and a place in the upcoming European World Cup races, which act as Olympic qualifiers. Boardercross will make its Olympic debut this winter.
Thanks to Mt. Hood’s copious snow supply, Meadows’ groomers and event staff built the race course to the maximum defined dimensions; meaning, quite simply, the course was as steep, as long, as technical and as gnarly as was allowed. When combined with the Friday’s sunny but crisp weather — nearly perfect for holding up course conditions — the stage was set for an extreme and radical race to determine the best of the best in a newly-emerging global sport.
“We are very proud of our event staff, under the leadership of Mike Hubert, and our grooming staff, run by Jason Stankevich,” said Dave Tragethon of Mt. Hood Meadows. “The event went fantastic. The ability of our entire staff to pull off such a great event in such little time really made a statement to U.S. Snowboarding. Of course, we also have to give credit to the weather.”
The course started near the top of the Vista Chair lift and finished within walking distance of the lodge, just above the Super-pipe. Between the starting gate and the finish line, riders negotiated — at break-neck speeds — rollers, a step-up, drops, single- and double-banked corners, steeps and table-tops. The object is simple: get down the course as fast as possible without wiping out. Although intentional contact is not allowed, riders taking each other out is not uncommon on a boardercross course. Probably the worst wreck Friday was when rider Jonatan Johansson, of Sweden, was forced wide around a steeply-banked corner. He caught the safety fence at the top of the embankment and rag-dolled over the fence and out of the course.
Johansson walked away from the crash. According to Tragethon, other than some scrapes and bruises inherent to such a sport, there were no major injuries.
A field of about 100 riders started in Friday morning’s qualifier rounds. Each rider got two trips down the hill alone, with the best of those runs as their qualifier time. The fastest 16 women and the fastest 32 men qualified for the final rounds, which is when the action really picked up.
In the finals, an air of tension filled the starting gate. Camera crews got their close-ups, then panned wide to capture the summit, then back to the action as four riders at a time were sent careening down a steep starting section toward rollers, a table-top, a giant step-up and a banked corner that dropped abruptly out of sight. The key is to get the hole-shot and lead from the opening stretch, as passing on a boardercross course is risky business.
About half way down the course the trees kept shade on several banked corners, which kept the snow solid and chattery. This was the most treacherous and technical section of the course, as Johansson discovered the hard way. The final stretch straightened back out and took riders over one final table-top before the finish line, where a cohort of friends, family, fans and camera crews congregated to tunes bumping from speakers mounted on a massive and awesomely-ugly Red Bull-mobile resembling a creation from the Mad Max and the Thunder Dome era.