Searching For the Soul of Snowboarding

Searching For the Soul of Snowboarding

Lost Trail Powder Mountain- a place that exists outside the normal realm of time and space.

Words and photos: Kevin Nolan

I'm standing around a roaring bonfire in a ski area parking lot 100 miles from anywhere, struggling to stand up straight after about 12 too many beers, when I ask Shane Stalling why he pours so much time and energy year after year into the Smash Life Banked Slalom- the reason the roughly 50 heads still standing around the fire at this late hour have shirked responsibilities and obligations to make the pilgrimage to this remote outpost of snowboarding on the Montana/Idaho border. Shane pauses, takes a long pull from a plastic bottle of Pendleton whiskey, and after handing the bottle to me tells me why he's still putting his heart and soul into this event 10 years after it's inception. "I want a snowboard event that feels like the era I grew up snowboarding in- the 90s." 

The road to Smash Life- driving through places where "politically correct" isn't part of the vernacular. Never change, Montana.

It's easy to find reasons to feel jaded about snowboarding in 2022. $200 lift tickets, ski area parking lots that fill up an hour before the lifts spin, lift lines long enough to question why you even bother going up to the mountain anymore- the list goes on. Lost Trail Powder Mountain, the venue for the last 5 or so years of the Smash Life Banked Slalom, doesn't have any of those problems. Rather, Lost Trail feels like a place that exists outside of the normal realm of time and space. A place where you can camp in the parking lot with all your friends, a place where the lifties bump ancient diesel powered double chairs in one piece Carhartt suits and ask you how your days going, a place where you can ride uncrowded, low stress powder all day- the polar opposite of the modern ski area experience. Making the long journey to Lost Trail every winter (and it is long- no matter where you're coming from) always feels like a good reset for me- a reminder why myself and the 150ish other people that come out for the event dedicate so much of our lives to sliding sideways on snow. 

Lot Life. Lodging options are limited around these parts, but it's all part of the experience.

The Smash Life Banked Slalom was originally started as a memorial for Aaron Robinson-a snowboarder's snowboarder whose time on earth ended far too soon. Now the event celebrates not only the life of Aaron, but also Dillon Candelaria- one of Aaron's best friends that was a fixture of stoke at every Smash Life event until he tragically passed away in 2019. To a greater extent, Smash Life is a celebration of life in general- of all the people we've lost too soon, and of all the life that has yet to come.

Race day preparation always includes a healthy amount of Smirnoff Ice. Shane Stalling (center) somehow managed to keep things on track after consuming enough malt beverages to kill a lesser man (bottom right).

Aaron and Dillon both touched countless people in so many ways, and one of my favorite parts of the event is the riders meeting at the top of the course on race day, when people share their favorite stories about Aaron and Dillon before erupting in a "moment of loudness" to honor our friends that have passed on. Besides serving as a way to preserve the memories of the boarders that have left us too soon, the event is also a (wildly successful) fundraiser for the Plant A Seed Foundation- an organization started by Aaron's family and friends to help give underprivileged kids access to snowboarding by giving them a season pass and the snowboarding equipment they need.

The scene at the top of the course. Joe Pope addresses the crowd (bottom right) as the next generation looks on (bottom left).

Standing in the start gate with my bindings cranked down a few notches too tight and my head feeling a little fuzzy from the two Smirnoff Ices I (unwillingly) consumed earlier that morning, I can't help but appreciate what lies ahead of me. A beautifully sculpted rideable piece of art- 20ish perfectly shaped berms built by a crew of dedicated diggers that had spent the previous week living in the parking lot in below zero temperatures to ensure the course lived up to the high standards that people have come to expect at Smash Life. Their hard work and dedication (assisted this year by a very generous Lost Trail cat driver) made for possibly the most fun banked slalom course I've ever had the privilege of riding.

"Alright Nolan- course is yours"-

The unmistakable voice of course marshal Joe Pope, another Smash Life staple, snaps me back to reality and reminds me I probably should try hard for the next 45 seconds. 

The main event. Aaron and Dillon had front row seats to the race- their snowboards (bottom left) watched over the first turn. Some of Dillon's ashes were even scattered across the start line- a racer for eternity.

Despite all the extra curricular activities that go along with it, the Smash Life Banked Slalom is still a race, and therefore like every other banked slalom trophies are handed out for the fastest times of the day. However, what sets the race aspect of Smash Life apart from all the other events out there in the world are the side bets- wagers amongst groups of friends in which the riders with the slower times out of their chosen factions usually have to undertake some kind of humiliating task. In years past there have certainly been some notable side bet consequences- drinking a Smirnoff Ice out of the winners boot, bleaching hair and mustaches, taking a run at the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom shirtless, and shaving the winners initials into the losers chest are a few that come to mind. This year was no exception for entertaining side bets, and there was certainly a lot of the line for those (brave, unfortunate?) souls that signed themselves up for additional stakes. A few of the 2022 Smash Life side bet obligations for your imagination- taking a run down the race course after awards wearing nothing but an American flag speedo while the entire lodge crowd watched from the deck, a naked pow surf run beneath the parking lot, having to rock a neckbeard for an unspecified length of time, shotgunning a beer with a Smirnoff Ice shoved in it (think margarita with a beer upside down in the glass- and if you haven't caught on by now, Smirnoff Ices are an integral part of Smash Life), and even one unlucky slow rider that will be getting a Smash Life tattoo. 


Snowboarding has been the driving force in my life for most of my existence- pretty much every major decision in my life has been influenced in one way or another by my unexplainable (and seemingly pointless) love of sliding down snow covered hills on a piece of fiberglass, wood, and plastic. Time and time again I've chosen snowboarding over relationships, steady employment, and literally anything else I could be doing with my life. But it's moments like these, as I stand at the top of a mountain looking out at some of the finest views God's country has to offer, looking down a perfectly groomed trail that runs as far as my eyes can see, surrounded by 30 of my closest friends that can hardly contain their froth, that I know that I've made the right choices in my life. The sun peaks out from behind a cloud, perfectly illuminating the sidehit riddled cat track ahead of us, and as wind blown snow from the weathered Montana pines sparkles in the air all around us, I know Aaron, Dillon, and all the other friends that have left us too soon are with us, here in this moment. Suddenly everyone is dropping all around me and the next thing I know I'm heading straight toward a perfect frontside hit, barely a board length behind the person in front of me, and my mind is empty except for one thought-

I love snowboarding. 


To learn more about the A-Rob Plant A Seed Project and support the cause check out their Facebook page here: