Golf has St. Andrews. Kung-fu has the Shaolin Temple. Snowboarding has Baldface.
There are places so entrenched in folklore that their mythical status takes on a life of its own; creating an ultimate destination in which its legends almost seem out of reach. Yet to those who come to spend any amount of time out at Baldface Lodge and the surrounding terrain, your idea of snowboarding will change forever.
The Kootenays is an area that is still unknown to many, and those that know are quite happy with that fact. They are blessed with copious amounts of snow, more terrain than you could ride in a lifetime, and some of the most sincere people you’ve ever met. So it’s only fitting that Baldface sits in the heart of the Kootenays, just across the lake and up the road from the town of Nelson. At 10,000 people it’s the largest town in a 3 hour radius, and steeped in natural beauty.
Take your wildest childhood fantasy of a camp experience and stick it in the middle of some of the most perfect snowboarding terrain on earth. Then add a bar, a pool table, ping pong, guitars, amplifiers, a theater, massage rooms and a view that people invade countries for. Throw in some of the best food that you’ve ever eaten (without cell coverage, BTW) and that’s the lodge.
The lodge itself is built with beautiful craftsmanship and the open floor plan in the lounge and bar area makes me wonder about the stories those walls could share. It’s the type of lodging where you would expect the staff to be wearing black-tie attire and calling you “monsieur”. Yet these are my people: people who love the mountains and are stoked to share this little slice of paradise with everyone. At this very moment, Billy Joel is singing “Piano Man” over the stereo while guests relax at the bar with alpenglow light creeping through the window. A pretty ideal scenario to share the the stoke through my laptop with you. The second you arrive you feel spoiled from the rooms to the service, and every small detail in between. This includes a jam room full of guitars and other instruments–a place to express the inspiration gained from shredding well into the night.
ZigZag Banked Slalom
This spring, owner Jeff Pensiero decided to try something new. “The whole idea was that I really wanted to get people into the mountains for more than just powder,” Jeff says as he sips a fresh daiquiri. “Because the spring is so nice here.” And he’s right. The sun was out all day, and the vibe you get with spring snow and sunshine can’t be beat. So to attract a late season crowd to the lodge Jeff and longtime friend Billy Anderson created the ZigZag Banked Slalom: A chance to score the fastest time and win some incredible prizes that are well worth the price of admission.
Anderson runs the JLA Banked Slalom in Mammoth and helped with the Supernatural and Ultranatural contests (if you don’t know what those are, slap yourself for me and then watch this). The course runs around the cat shed, guest cabins, and the main lodge, with banks, rollers, mandatory drop and hip, until you wind your way to the finish where there is a snowmobile waiting for you at the end for another lap. Oh, yeah, and you are also timed, and the fastest times win some pretty cool prizes. But we’ll get to that later.
After a couple runs through the zigzag course it was time to hit the cat. For those who haven’t been catskiing/boarding, imagine having your own personal backcountry playground of 32,000 acres with just you and a handful of other people. But group dynamics are key and the group I’ve found myself a part of is on point. Fortune found me in the same group as freeride mountain bike legend (and also an amazing snowboarder) Brett Tippie. Dude’s pretty funny too–every free moment was filled with one liners.
Safety was of utmost concern and the guides were as professional as they come. In fact they were patient and willing to allow for several safety meetings if anyone needed one.
We visited the Super/Ultra natural course to scope it out. Seeing it in person is a real ego check as I felt a tightening of the anus when visualizing launching off the features. The sun had done its damage this year, but I’ve made it my new goal to hit that course in its prime down the road, hopefully with a crew of homies, at which point I can successfully claim having “arrived” as a snowboarder.
For our last run we paid a visit to the Craig Kelly memorial overlooking the lodge. As someone who spent the majority of his gromhood at Mount Baker (Craig’s home mountain), the moment was more than a photo op. Craig and the MBHC crew helped shape my attitude toward life through their snowboarding. There was a confident joy in their riding. But it was Craig who truly carried the torch. Tragically, this absolute legend was killed in a horrific avalanche near Revelstoke.
He pioneered guiding for snowboarders, being the first to attempt the ACMG certification and would have been the first snowboarder to receive the hard-fought, internationally recognized title if he hadn’t met his fate in that avalanche. Yet after coming here and seeing the playground he had at his disposal, he’d already found heaven.
The memorial is a collaboration of religious energies, all integrated to create a body overlooking the lodge. Jeff asked Keith Berens of Live Metal Studio to create it. I did the obligatory instragramable pose, but it was more than a pose. I had my arm around it like it was one of my bros. Although I never thanked him in person for his positive influence, shredding here and feeling the energy sure was a damn good consolation.
Back to the ZigZag
After sessioning the hip for a little while it was time to give out prizes for the fastest times. The top finishers got absolutely hooked up with prizes, including a Temple Cummins’ board for next year. But that was only for second place: the fastest time received a brand new, cherry red D’angelo Excel guitar, which means that someone made a solid investment when they decided to shred Baldface today.
I could drag on, but I’m being rude as that guy in the corner on his laptop while everyone else enjoys the merriment. This has been one of the best spring shred experiences of my life, and tomorrow it gets to happen again. I’ll let you know how it goes.