The Tournament of Turns | Origins of The Transfer Banked Slalom

History lesson. The Transfer Banked Slalom is back on and calling on all snowboarders to come get involved...

Words: Xander

When snowboard contests first began, there were no live-streams, no stadiums and certainly no quad corks. The organisers weren’t committees, resorts or energy drinks, just local passionate snowboarders looking for a way to evolve the sport and have fun with their friends whilst doing so. Contests were community-built, born from a collective passion for this newly created sub-culture and a ‘fuck you’ attitude to the constraints of traditional ski contests. It wasn’t so much about who won, it was a way to put snowboarding on the map, earn respect from your peers and push for wider acceptance of snowboarding.

It was in this era that the Banked Slalom was born, the era of hand dug halfpipes and slalom races, a time when snowboarding was newly formed and still undefined by time, experience, rules and governing bodies.

The origins of the Banked Slalom date back to 1985 where, according to folklore, sixteen snowboarders set sporting gates high on the walls of a sloping gully called “The Chute” at Mt Baker USA, riding with duct-taped gear and high-top tennis shoes. It is said that “like the birth of a human, the soul of snowboarding began on a blank canvas when everything and everyone associated with the sport was in a constant state of experimentation and invention”.

Bob Barci, a local bike shop owner, and Tom Sims, owner and founder of Sims Snowboards, came to Mt. Baker with their idea of a banked slalom because it was one of the few ski areas in North America that welcomed snowboarders at that time and one of the few with a natural halfpipe.

Held on Super Bowl Sunday, when most skiers were glued to the TV instead of on the mountain, the first Legendary Banked Slalom in 1985 was, coincidently, won by Tom Sims and would unknowingly become one of the most influential events in snowboarding history. Etched into snowboard mythology, it was the initiation of the contest ‘for snowboarders, by snowboarders’ and since has influenced the creation of hundreds of Banked Slalom events around the world.

Terry Kidwell, Bob Klein and Tom Sims (RIP) at the first Legendary Banked Slalom, 1985 Mt Baker, Washington
Tom Sims, the eventual winner of the first ever Legendary Banked Slalom, 1985
Legendary photographer Bud Fawcett is a mandatory follow on Instagram for anyone interested in snowboard history and was on the ground at the first ever Baker Banker Slalom, 1985.

In Australia, it was a group of local snowboarders at Mt Hotham that first brought the spirit of the Mt Baker Banked Slalom to our shores. Founded in 1988, Hotham Boardriders is believed to be the oldest snowboard club in the country – a club built on community, mateship, inclusion for those who ‘love to shred’.

Ashley Muller, instrumental in starting Hotham Boardriders, 1988. “People think snowboarding will come and go, but it’s just going to grow and grow”.

The club first hosted a Banked Slalom in 1990 on Gunbarrel, the famous natural halfpipe run in Heavenly Valley at Mt Hotham. The event became popular amongst the best riders in the 90s – a fast, steep, burley course akin to the berms of Mt Baker, where success was determined by a combination of technical ability and sheer hell-man level confidence. In more modern times, the Hotham Banked Slalom has allowed riders like Robbie Walker and Alex Chumpy Pullin (RIP) to put Hotham snowboarding on the map, and these days, it brings together snowboarders aged 7 to 70 to throw themselves around the iconic berms of Gunbarrel.

The event’s legacy is part of the fabric of Australian snowboarding, and Hotham Boardriders club still lives and breathes snowboarding, bringing that same spirit from Mt Baker to Australia. 32 years later, the Hotham Gunbarrel Banked Slalom still lives, and plans to run again in August.

Since 1990, the course has taken place on Gunbarrel, the natural halfpipe in Heavenly, Mt Hotham, Victoria. Image: Mt Hotham

It wasn’t until 2014 that Transfer Magazine announced the first Transfer Banked Slalom, and for many, it was a fairly new concept, with turning being on trend again and Banked Slaloms only just becoming more commonly accepted among the younger ‘cool kids’. The first event, held in the Sponars Gully at Thredbo, brought together an interesting blend of new-breed rail kids and hard booting old dogs, some of which struggled with the incredibly steep hand-shaped berms and deathly shark fins in the goat track.

The first annual Transfer Banked Slalom poster by Louis Macindoe.

A beautifully imperfect course, it was the first event of its kind in the NSW resorts, and it stuck. For many, it was their first introduction to snowboard competition, a welcomed alternative to hucking carcus off a fifty-footer or tacoing on a stair set. But what was most palpable was the sense of community and inclusion – the same spirit that Tom and Bob channelled in 1985. The first TBS was won by American Jason Robinson, who didn’t sleep for two days after being crowned champion.

Faces of the first annual Transfer Banked Slalom, 2014. Photos: Robbie Warden

The Transfer Banked Slalom has since evolved, and each year brings some of the best snowboarders from around the world for what has now become an iconic annual event. Terje Haakonsen, Nicolas Muller, Austen Sweeten, Scotty James, Pat Moore, Marko Grilc (RIP), Matt Crepel, Bryan Fox, Shaun White , Torah Bright, Stale Sandbech and Tess Coady are some names that come to mind having graced the berms of the cruiser area. Banked Slalom purists way not call it the most technical course, but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in vibe.

The 2015 Banked Slalom was dedicated to Mick Fanning.
Poster art is a big part of a lot of Banked Slaloms, and this one has to be one of our favourites. Louis Macindoe, 2016
Terje Haakonsen showed up at the 2017 TBS, and left his custom made T6 and the bottom of Thredbo, posting a photo of it on Instagram with the caption ‘first come first serve’.

Olympian Scotty James took top spot in 2018 in the open category ahead of Nicolas Muller and Jarred Hughes.
Jye Kearney opted for extra streamlined outerwear, riding a Kelly Air Replica and Burton Step On

After a year off in 2020, Covid lockdowns didn’t stop Torah Bright in 2021

Better than Bunnings – Tess Coady taking advantage of the culinary delights of the event.
6 years old or 60, age is irrelevant at the Transfer Banked Slalom.

To me, what makes this event so special is these icons, GOATs and Olympians compete alongside weekend warriors, washed-up hacks and 6-year-old girls in onesies. There’s something very cool about flying around the same berm as your favourite snowboarder’s favourite snowboarder, and the fact that no one really cares who wins or if you crash makes competing in the event approachable and attainable for everyone. There isn’t a supercoach or FIS judging booth in site – and you can’t help but have a smile on your face as you reach the bottom, heart pounding and back leg quivering. Pure fun – even for a desk-bound keyboard warrior.

First place or dead last, the event channels the same spirit born at Mt Baker all those years ago – inclusivity, mateship and community – where snowboarders of all abilities gather to embrace everything great about this culture we all love. Slide sideways through some flags together and sink a couple tins afterwards. Pretty simple concept really – it truly is the event for snowboarders, by snowboarders.

The 2022 Transfer Banked Slalom happens August 12th and you can register here.

This year will be rolling out the red carpet of Banked Slaloms. All snowboarders are encouraged to enter and get involved in the “day of the season”. Lock in the date, and don’t miss out.

Race your heart out on Friday 12 August on the specifically built course in Thredbo’s Cruiser Area. Followed by the official presentation and afterparty on the Merrits Deck with live music, beer, good times and more. The afterparty runs till 5:30pm where you can then download the Gondola back to Thredbo’s village.

See you at the starting gate…


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