Words & Photos: T. Bird

Watch the video of the 6th Annual Dirksen Derby.

Snowboarding exhibited its ever-growing versatility this past weekend in the form of two wholly paradoxical events taking place at the exact same time. While the contest contingent flocked to Breckenridge, Colorado for the Dew Tour, an entirely different assemblage of snowboarders collected on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, Oregon for the 6th Annual Dirksen Derby.

Josh Dirksen is one of the most naturally-gifted riders to ever strap in, and if you’ve ever had the simple joy of watching him link his snowboard from heel to toe, then you’ve witnessed something that you won’t see in many of today’s modern era. With over half-a-dozen podium appearances at The Legendary Baker Banked Slalom to his name, Dirksen drew inspiration from snowboarding’s longest-running event at one mountain in order to cater to those who look to test their abilities on a course designed solely to gauge how well one can ride a snowboard. No double corks, no back lips, no style judges or overall impression score. Shit, there’s no leaving the ground, aside from the occasional pump bump ollie if you came out of Turn Five a tad too hot. The only thing that matters is how fast you get down the roller coaster of a course and that you have a hell of a good time doing it.

This year, the Dirksen Derby setup consisted of two runs (hand-dug by Josh and the local Bend boardin’ batch) yielding almost-overhead and sometimes over-vert banked corners. On the rider’s right, the Red Course was a tighter, more technical run with cross fall line alleys toward the top that opened up into a hell-for-leather, hold-on-to-your-hat straight away with mellower banked corners. On the rider’s left was the Green Course that was more open and inviting, allowing the racers to throttle full-speed to the finish. Qualifications were held on Saturday for the following groups: Men, Women, Derby Elites (those who have gotten top three at any previous Dirksen Derby), Sit-skiers (hands-down the most badass group in the entire event), and Groms. With nearly five-hundred competitors, the assemblage on the side of the trail atop the Dirksen Derby setup grew exponentially by the hour. The clam chowder wafting through the air as snow fell from above and the reverberating hoots and hollers from the hundreds set a scene that was the epitome of the antithesis from any soda-sponsored, strobe-lit, glitz and glamor event that you’ve ever seen. This was a session with friends on steroids, and as I sat back and watched Terje Haakonsen settle into the starting gate for his run through the Red Course, I immediately knew that there was no other place I’d rather be.

After Saturday’s qualification, the field was whittled down to the top twenty-five percent from those who ran both the Red and Green Course (you could only ride one in qualifiers, so you had to choose wisely and strategize). Needless to say, the heavy-hitters all qualified and intermingled with local Oregonians and travelers from afar were the likes of Bjorn Leines, Marie-France Roy, Jake Blauvelt, Temple Cummins, Austin Smith, Blair Habenicht, Shaun McKay, Bryan Fox, Desiree Melancon, Curtis Ciszek, Tim Eddy, Scotty Wittlake, Terje Haakonsen, Ryland Bell, Nick Dirks, Forrest Burki, Ralph Backstrom, Russell Winfield, Jason Robinson, Jason McAllister, Ami Voutilainen, Ben Lynch, Blake Paul, and more of today’s top turners. Since this gathering began it has snowballed into one of snowboarding’s biggest early season events and year after year, the feel becomes more Banked Slalom-esque.

In 2006, local Bend upstart Tyler Eklund suffered a serious spinal cord injury during a competition, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Shortly thereafter, Josh focused the efforts of the Dirksen Derby to:

A.) Raising both money for Tyler and awareness of traumatic spinal cord injuries, and
B.) Inviting his friends to come ride his home hill with the intention of making a few turns and generally having a great time.

To this day, Josh and the Dirksen Derby have been 100% successful in achieving both of the aforementioned goals equally because what the Dirksen Derby does best is assemble a mass of snowboarders with the sole purpose of enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the simple act of turning a snowboard.

To make an amazing event even that much more awesome, Bachelor was blessed with a few inches overnight and presented everyone on the hill before the finals got underway with an incredible early-season pow day. As it puked, the crowd started to amass as every division took their final runs of the event, which were one go at each course with both times added up and whoever had the lowest score wins. Terje drew a massive applause. Blauvelt and Temple’s snowboards barely made a sound around the burms as they were locked into their respective toe and hell edges perfectly. Marie-France and Maria Debari looked really, really fast. Bjorn ripped so hard. Tim Eddy tossed a ho-ho on Turn Two. The Elites showed why they are indeed elite, as Jake, Austin, Curtis, and Wittlake cooked down the course at mind-numbing velocity. Ben Lynch not only knows how to turn really well but you can tell just by looking at him. And lastly, the soft patting of applause from the crowd’s gloved-hands as Tyler Eklund dropped in to the Green Course was truly enough to choke up even the most strong-willed of humans. For close to three minutes, Tyler sat atop the setup that was built for him and listened to an orchestra of hooting from the people who were there for him, and it was nothing short of magical.

At the day’s commencement, everyone gathered in the Sunrise Lodge at Mt. Bachelor for the awards, as Dirksen and Tyler called the winners up onto the podium, but in all actuality, it wasn’t about who won and who didn’t. While those who took home a coveted golden glove are surely stoked, there’s no doubt in my mind that even if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t care, because though the Dirksen Derby is technically a “contest” and there are proven times associated with each and every run, this event is simply about getting together for the common good, sharing some laughs, and making a few really fun turns, and frankly, it’s events like the Dirksen Derby that are saving the soul of snowboarding when snowboarding’s soul needs saving most.

As our so-called sport becomes more accepted and in turn, more popular with the mainstream, it’s the grassroots events like the Legendary Banked Slalom, the Bode Merrill Mini Pipe Invitational that went down on Mt. Hood last summer, Drink Water’s Rat Race, and the Derby that remind us that snowboarding isn’t always about who’s pushing the level of progression to astronomical heights, whose PR marketing machine is pumping out the most press releases, or which rider is three-peating on the podium in Aspen every January. It’s about utilizing and enjoying the tools of our trade in their most simplistic form to hang out in the woods, support one another, and make some noise while making some turns. The Dirksen Derby is a celebration of life in many ways, and while the snow industry numbers are significantly down as the economy begins to pull itself out of a settled slump, what went down up at Mt. Bachelor this past weekend made me a true believer that snowboarding is not only alive and well, but flourishing at its core.

So thank you Josh, and everyone who participated in the 6th Annual Dirksen Derby. As someone who is about to set off into a whirlwind of winter full of contests, photo shoots, industry gatherings, and the occasional trade show, this is exactly what I needed to remind me that we’re all in this because we really do love to ride our snowboards.

Results:

Splitboard
1.    Ralph Backstrom
2.    Forrest Burki
3.    Justin Bender

Women
1.    Maria Debari
2.    Marie-France Roy
3.    Desiree Melancon

Men
1.    Ben Connors
2.    Harry Kearney
3.    Max Warbington

Derby Elites
1.    Austin Smith
2.    Scotty Wittlake
3.    Curtis Ciszek

For the full results from the 2012 Dirksen Derby, visit www.mtbachelor.com.