words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mike Yoshida, Aaron Blatt, and Mary Walsh
This past weekend beginning on December 12th, far from the triple corks and linked combos that are de riggeur for the opening of the contest season at the Dew Tour in Colorado that was going down simultaneously, a few hundred people migrated to the town of Bend, Oregon for three days of making turns with no intention of ever leaving the ground, save for errant sidehits and berms that populated the edges of Mt. Bachelor’s trails that led toward the race course. The Eighth Annual Dirksen Derby had arrived.
The group of snowboarders that had assembled at Mt. Bachelor ran the gamut from hungry up and comer to veritable legend. David Benedek, Austin Smith, Temple Cummins, Gerry Lopez, Sam Taxwood, Hans and Nils Mindnich, Max and Gus Warbington, Curtis Ciszek, Leanne Pelosi, Annie Boulanger, Bryan Fox, Desiree Melancon, Dillon Ojo, a whole family of Schuberts, Lucas Debari, Blair Habenicht, Forest Bailey, Forrest Burki, Scott E. Wittlake, Iikka Backstrom, Jason Robinson, Harry Kearney, Tommy Gesme, Griffin Siebert, Maria Debari, Tim Eddy, Derrek Lever and many, many more who collected at the start gate and reunited for the season amidst curls of steam from giant vats of complimentary clam chowder.
There are a handful of events throughout the winter that serve as authoritative examples that remind us why we love snowboarding in the first place and reaffirm that it continues to evolve in a direction we can all be stoked on. Over the past eight years, legendary snowboarder and Bend, Oregon local Josh Dirksen has propagated this precedent with his self-titled banked slalom, the Dirksen Derby. Dirksen’s contribution to snowboarding through his race is twofold: first, to raise money for Tyler Ecklund and to create awareness about spinal cord injuries. In 2006, Tyler suffered a sever injury while competing that left him unable to snowboard. Each December, Dirksen, race sponsors, and every competitor that signs up for the Derby contributes donations to Tyler, the Ecklund family, and most recently, a fund in Tyler’s name that will help others who have also sustained spinal cord injuries. Since the inception of the Derby, over $115,000 has been raised—not including any of the proceeds from this year’s event, which have yet to be calculated. Considering that the First Annual Dirksen Derby raised $1,000, to say that the community has rallied around the Ecklund family through this outlet is an understatement.
The second reason that the Dirksen Derby began was to celebrate a shared love of snowboarding and to reunite with friends both local and from afar for three days of lapping Dirken’s home resort. Since the very first year, this goal has been handily accomplished and each year, the chairlift next to the lodge is alight with packs of boarders taking advantage of the long laps that Bachelor has on offer.
With low-tide conditions in much of the Northwest, Friday’s practice day was many riders’ first time on snow of the 2015 winter. Luckily, while Washington and other parts of Oregon haven’t gotten to kickstart the season yet, Mt. Bachelor was covered in plentiful whitestuff and welcomed snow-starved visitors with plenty of groomers and even some soft and fresh if you knew where to look.
For Saturday’s qualifiers, men’s, women’s, gentlemen’s, groms, and the much esteemed older and wiser competitors were treated to two hand-dug courses, shaped by Dirksen and a grip of Bend local boarders who worked hard to ensure the turns would be perfect first thing Friday morning. As is tradition, there were two routes. On rider’s right, the red course was a more technical, tighter set of banks to be navigated carefully at a break-neck pace. On rider’s left, the more open green course provided sweeping turns and a through-the-trees flat section before reaching the finish line. During qualifiers, riders picked one course for one run to clock their best time. The top 25% would advance to finals on Sunday, so not only was it in each competitor’s best interest to go fast, it was a strategy game as well as to which course yielded the better odds.
The sun was out and temps were cold and comfortable, making for a hardpack course that yielded some fast times. Careening through the berms successfully took technical turning ability along with a bit of luck. More than one veteran turner was victim to an unforeseen error in calculation that sent them over a berm instead of along it, but that’s just how a quick-paced race goes—and the good news is, there’s always next year. Additionally, Mt. Bachelor’s summit opened on Saturday and throngs of Derby riders sent it rider’s right along the fallline to take some early season turns up top. Under bluebird skies, the sea anemone-esque crystalized snow glistened and if you took the right route, there was some chowder to be found.
Of course, Sunday was the culmination of the weekend as the podiums were to be decided and side bets would be settled. Dirksen Derby finals is based on a combined time from both the red and green courses, so boards were waxed, edges were sharpened, and eyes were focused on the finish line. Splitboard competitors kicked things off early in the AM with new, one-at-a-time format that brought each rider up the course once, down one side, then back up and down the other side. Only one second separated men’s first and second place and Maria Debari earned another Derby podium with a time that was two minutes speedier than the next competitor.
The sit-ski division, likely the most badass of any group to take it down the Derby turns competed midday. The three riders who careened down the course at mach-ten had a propensity for edge control that was dually admirable. These guys send it.
The groms, men’s, gentlemen’s, older and wiser, and women’s divisions took to the course next, a flurry of momentum through the turns that enthralled a growing crowd of spectators and provided fodder for speculation on possible placing. By early afternoon, it was time for the elites to gather at the start gate, the first time they would ride the course since practice. In addition, this year a new division was created, women’s elite, for any pro rider and/or anyone who has placed top three in a previous Derby. These women, along with the men’s elite division are allowed to eschew qualifiers and race just on Sunday. There are few instances when riders like (on the men’s side) Zak Hale, Blake Paul, Temple Cummins, Alex Lopez, Danimals, Eero Niemela, Shawn Farmer, and (on the women’s side) Leanne Pelosi, Mariah Duggan, Colleen Quigley, Madison Blackley and Barrett Christy can be found on the same start list. Many of the individuals racing through the trees on Sunday haven’t entered a traditional contest in years, or ever. During the elite division finals, though, some of the most talented folks to ever strap into a snowboard flew down the red and green courses on an even playing field. For the spectators during this part of the weekend, it was not only insanely fun to watch but also incredibly reassuring to see how the purity of making turns brings so many people from different parts of snowboarding together, all interested in riding the same thing and having a hell of a good time doing it.
As the sun receded behind the Cascades and shade overcame the trails, the crew of weary riders migrated to the West Village Lodge to clink glasses and share stories of the weekend. As the lifts came to a stop, Josh Dirksen took to the microphone to announce awards and it’s here, in the lower level of the lodge with all of the Derby-goers packed in alongside one another that once again, the overwhelming sense of community of Mt. Bachelor and Bend as well as the extended family who traveled to the event was so apparent. Beginning with a list of the top ten groms and moving through the top three of the other divisions, cheers grew louder as friends and family stood up to collect handmade wooden trophies and prizes. As the final three winners of the men’s elite group were announced, a marionberry pie was handed to birthday boy Austin Smith and the crowd erupted in a chorus of Happy Birthday. Harry Kearney earned first place and reinforced that he may be the most consistently fast man on a snowboard out there.
The culmination of the Dirksen Derby, beyond the personal best race times, the Friday night après reunion celebration, and the laps-on-laps with friends throughout the weekend, is that deep in the Oregon trees, a sense of snowboarding and dedication to the most central aspect of this activity—turning—is alive and well. Beyond any of the confines that have been set up within the contest circuit, the proliferation of internet videos, message boards, social media and/or the current state of the industry, snowboarding is flourishing because at the heart of it, it’s all about strapping in and racing downhill alongside a group of people you cherish spending time with. As the Dirksen Derby nears its tenth anniversary and more and more like-minded events spring up–like the Drink Water Rat Race, the Mike Baker Banked Slalom, the Baldy Banked Slalom, and plenty more–it’s clear that this is event that the snowboarding community not only needs, but loves.
Thanks to Josh Dirksen, Tyler Ecklund and the Ecklund family, everyone at Mt. Bachelor, all of the Bend locals who welcome everyone with open arms, and all of the sponsors who contributed to making the Eighth Annual Dirksen Derby already one of the best weekends of the year.
First – Harry Kearney – 54.21
Second – Austin Smith – 56.90
Third – Alex Deibold – 57.00
Fourth – Curtis Ciszek – 57.07
First – Desiree Melancon – 63.07
Second – Colleen Quigley – 63.93
Third – Stephanie Haines – 63.97
Men’s (Ages 14-34):
First – Spencer Cordovano – 59.06
Second – JD Dennis – 59.63
Third – Shane Chappell – 59.82
First – Brynn Hayes – 67.65
Second – Caley Vanular – 68.59
Third – Devyn Schnake – 70.34
First – Kris Melton – 61.27
Second – Greg Goulet – 61.40
Ami Voutilainen – 61.48
Older & Wiser:
First – Matt Gadow – 73.44
Second – Gerry Lopez – 77.30
Third – Michael Schubert – 81.14
First – Wyatt Foley – 58.18
Second – Parker Giblin – 67.70
Max Jones – 69.36
First – Ravi Drugan – 77.95
Second – Hiromi Tatumi – 80.34
Third – Gabe Rousseau – 90.82
First – Reid Persing – 14:00
Second – Ryland Bell – 14:01
Third – Adam Haynes – 14:22
First – Maria Debari – 17:35
Second – Allison Lightcap – 19:36
Third – Khai Bhagwandin – 20:40
For the full resorts for all racers, go to Mt. Bachelor’s website.
Read the full The Eighth Annual Dirksen Derby Welcomes Winter in the Northwest article on Snowboarder Magazine.