Outdoors

Smashing Life for A-Rob

Banked slalom series celebrates life of Whitefish snowboarding legend, fuels passion for underprivileged youth

The boys of winter who populated Aaron Robinson’s youth are all grown up, some of them raising children of their own, their infant offspring already strapping baby boots into snowboard bindings and straight-lining backyard pump tracks.

The boys of winter have cycled through enough seasons to have become men — albeit with varying degrees of maturity — but at a recent snowboarding competition celebrating “A-Rob’s” life, and paying tribute to the passion he mainlined into the mountains and mates around him, they displayed only youthful exuberance and a powerful testament to the enduring bond of friendship.

The recent scene at Lost Trail Ski Area on the Montana-Idaho boundary line, which hosted the second A-Rob Smash Life Banked Slalom event in as many weeks, was animated by camaraderie and kindred spirits, and an inclusivity that spoke to the sport of snowboarding’s influence.

Competitive and compassionate, more than 130 riders converged on the remote ski area to ride powder and slash berms on a course hewed out of respect over the course of days, raced on for a few hours and torn down in a matter of minutes, its fleeting existence a symbol of life’s preciousness.

“If a bunch of snowboarders have got it figured out, then you’ve got to think the rest of the world can, too,” said Joe Pope, the terrain park manager at Alpental, the Washington ski area that hosted the first segment of the tandem Smash Life events, and where A-Rob had taken up residency at the time of his death.

Pope helped lead the throng of two-dozen volunteers who built the banked slalom course at Lost Trail, a surfy, serpentine affair that Smash Life organizer Shane Stalling, a longtime friend of A-Rob’s, characterized as the best course in the event’s seven-year history.

Building the course in the days leading up to the event also affords old friends an opportunity to reunite for a few days and build polished trenches in one of A-Rob’s favorite places, a mom-and-pop ski area that vibrates with the vintage authenticity of a ‘70s-era resort and encourages riders to pop endless pillow lines on its sprawling terrain.

Stalling said it’s fitting that the banked slalom events fund the Plant A Seed Project, which provides opportunities for underprivileged youth to enjoy access to Robinson’s hometown ski area at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain, a veritable daycare for A-Rob and his brothers growing up, and a mountain that has produced some of the sport’s finest athletes.

Andrew Crawford, Travis Parker, Aaron and Jason Robinson.

“I wonder who the next big name will be, and if they will have gotten their start in the Plant A Seed program,” Stalling said.

Robinson began snowboarding when he was in single digits, and he and his older brother Jason were quickly swept up in the sport’s momentum, pushing one another while looking toward the area’s old guard of talented snowboarders for guidance. Before long, they were in a league of their own, with professional ambitions and supreme talent manifesting in high-ticket sponsorships, top finishes in competitions and prominent film parts.

But A-Rob’s respect for the sport’s progression never diminished, nor did his deference for those who passed down knowledge along the way.

On July 19, 2011, while on an expedition in Chile, Aaron died tragically in a snowboarding accident at a popular backcountry area known as Santa Teresita, adjacent to the El Colorado ski area. He was 24.

The shock of Aaron’s death rocked his friends and family, leaving the town of Whitefish and the entire snowboarding community aghast as the path of a rising star was cut unbearably short. Many couldn’t comprehend the profound loss.

To deal with the grief and carry on his legacy and positive life philosophy, his family launched the A-Rob Plant A Seed Project, which raises money to purchase season passes to Whitefish Mountain Resort for kids between the ages of 7-12 whose families can’t afford to provide the opportunity.

It’s an effort that takes a village, to be sure, but there’s no debate about who’s running the show.

Spirits were running high at Lost Trail the weekend of Jan. 20, but the party started in earnest when Aaron’s mom, Pam Robinson, rolled into the parking lot sporting a shock of pink hair and a vanity plate that read “MANIFEST,” the name of A-Rob’s full-length film and passion project, which was completed after his death.

“This is so amazing. This is what it’s all about. It’s about having fun and getting a bunch of friends together to snowboard together,” she said.

Roughly 25 kids benefit from the Plant A Seed Project each winter, with Robinson outfitting them with snowboards, boots, bindings, goggles, helmets, and more. She helps supervise the project’s recipients, gives them meals and rides, and helps teach them how to snowboard.

“The kids are growing not only stronger as snowboarders, but they build confidence and self-esteem, and these are the kids that need it the most,” she said. “They are so mindful and respectful of one another. When one kids falls, everyone stops and makes sure they’re OK.”

Watching her son grow up, Robinson said he always showed a passion for helping others develop their skills and find joy in his favorite activities.

“Aaron was so patient when he taught others,” she said. “Aaron has taught skateboarding and snowboarding to hundreds of valley kids, so after he passed away I thought we should continue his legacy as a teacher. He wanted every kid to have the opportunity to schuss down the mountain with the wind blowing in their hair.”

To learn more about Plant A Seed or make donations, check out the program’s Facebook page or contact Pam Robinson at (406) 250-2440.

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