With heads bowed, 140 snowboarders recently converged midway down a run at Lost Trail Ski Area on the Montana-Idaho boundary line, the vapor from their lungs merging in a single billow beneath a bank of clouds that gradually dispersed to reveal a brilliant blue sky.
They gathered in complete silence, a serpentine course of shoulder-high snow berms sprawled out below them, paying their respects to a lost legend who continues to influence the sport of snowboarding nearly eight years after his tragic death.
Then, just as ceremoniously as it had begun, the silence ended as a deep, resonant rumble erupted from the crowd, its rich baritone belonging to Dillon Candelaria, a perennial contender in the region’s slate of snowboarding competitions and one of the late Aaron Robinson’s closest friends.
And with that, the race was on.
The recent scene at Lost Trail Ski Area, which hosted the first of two A-Rob Smash Life Banked Slalom events this month, was animated by camaraderie and kindred spirits, and an inclusivity that spoke to the sport of snowboarding’s influence.
Competitive and compassionate, more than 140 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.
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 and intimidating berms 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.
It was organized in large part by A-Rob’s longtime friends, Shane Stalling and Kyle Miller, who both 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.
Representing the Robinson family was A-Rob’s mom, Pam, who runs the Plant A Seed Project, and his younger brother, Sean, who competed in the event.
Pam Robinson praised the legion of snowboarders who for eight years have gathered to celebrate her son while also supporting a program that annually provides access to dozens of new snowboarders who help perpetuate the sport, as well as the community it helps build.
“You all play such an awesome role in providing opportunities for the next generation to enjoy snowboarding,” she said during the awards ceremony on Jan. 12. “I love all of you.”
Perhaps no one embodied the spirit of community that is the foundation of snowboarding better than Aaron Robinson, his friends and family said.
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.
The next installment of the A-Rob Banked Slalom takes place Jan. 26 at Great Divide Ski Area near Helena, where Joe Pope, a close friend of A-Rob’s, is poised to formally take over ownership of the ski area following this winter.
“The guy designing and building the banked slalom course is basically in charge of the mountain, so we’re expecting something epic,” Stalling said.