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Monday, February 13, 2012
Updated: February 17, 9:27 PM ET
A legendary race

By Alex Yoder
ESPN.com

On Sunday at Washington's Mount Baker Ski Area, the 27th annual Legendary Banked Slalom brought together snowboarding's heroes, vets and rookies alike to face the twists, turns, "caves" and boilerplate ruts that have made the contest the stuff of Pacific Northwest legend.

Olympic snowboard cross gold medalist Maelle Ricker took her sixth consecutive victory in the pro women's category, followed by Laura Hadar and Glacier, Wash., native Maria DeBari in second and third place, respectively. Terje Haakonsen, who had to catch a flight home to Norway right after the race and missed the awards, had the fastest pro men's time of the day, at 1 minute, 25.66 seconds. It was Haakonsen's seventh win in the event, 17 years after his first victory. Josh Dirksen was less than a second behind in second place, and Baker's own Temple Cummins took third.

Vermonter Kevin Pearce, who in December stepped on his snowboard for the first time in two years, was on hand, competing for the first time since a traumatic brain injury sidelined him in 2009. Pearce was disqualified for missing a gate in qualifiers but still earned the Andernewski award -- an award that started as a fastest-time rivalry between Volcom's Billy Anderson and Thrasher's Dave Sypniewski. Anderson didn't make it to the LBS this year and Sypniewski didn't make the finals, so the award -- and lifetime entry into the LBS -- went to KP.

Sure, it's a race. You get timed, and the fastest person wins. But that's not why most people say their prayers and slide into the starting hut at this contest. They do it for the gathering, the grassroots vibe and the chance to spend a weekend with a bunch of friends.

"I guess it's called a community. That's the best part," Cummins said. "Getting to see a bunch of people, meet new people and become better friends with people."

Then there's the course itself, with banks that test the skills of even the most seasoned professionals. Coming straight off his win at the Red Bull Supernatural, Travis Rice, who could be anywhere in the world, was at Mount Baker for the Legendary Banked Slalom.

Terje Haakonsen, winner of this year's Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom.

"I just wanted to keep the good vibes rolling," Rice said. "It's not like you come here dreading having to do psycho tricks. It really just comes down to riding your snowboard and letting your snowboard run with it. For everyone it's kind of an internal battle. There's a clock and everything, but it's really you against your own limits."

I found myself nervous at the approach of my first drop into the course. So did Scott E. Wittlake.

"I'm super nervous, and it's really silly because there's no reason at all to be nervous," he said.

In the end, it was those who kept their cool and flowed to the finish who took home the coveted LBS Pendleton Blankets and highly regarded duct-tape trophies. But at this event, those who come out on top are rewarded with much more -- they earn the respect of an entire community that can't wait for next year to do it all over again.