Air time! Photo Tyler Mitchell
The list of past Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom winners is as deep and as mystical as the snow that falls in shit loads on that mystical mountain – Craig Kelly, Terje Haakonsen, Shaun Palmer, Temple Cummins, and Harry Kearney to name a few. Wait, Harry Kearney? Who the heck is Harry Kearney? When he stepped up to the podium late last February to accept the coveted LBS duct tape trophy, many asked the same question. There have been two 17-year-old winners in Banked Slalom history – Shaun Palmer in 1986 and Harry Kearney in 2011. How did a little known 17 year old from Telluride come to Baker and win? How did he beat 6x time champion, Terje Haakonsen and 4x time champion, Temple Cummins? Is he the world’s fastest 18 year old? Questions, questions, questions. We asked. He answered. When Baker Banked Slalom rolls around again at the end of February, Harry Kearney will be there to defend his title against the world’s greatest. It’s the crap Disney movies are made of. Grab the tissues and sit down.
When did you get the snowboard bug?
It all started when I moved from Florida to Telluride. I was born in Pennsylvania, then I moved to Florida when I was about 5 years old, then I moved to Colorado when I was 7. I wasn’t there for very long, but it was long enough for me to start skateboarding in Naples when I was really little. I was kind of a little punk kid out in Florida. Definitely getting thrown out in the mountains here in Colorado was humbling. Snowboarding was the natural thing to do after skateboarding.
What was your first board?
My first board was a Burton Chomper 129.
What was your first day like?
I was 8. My first day of shredding was with my brother, Hagen. We went to Telluride on our first day. Honestly, if it wasn’t for him pushing me that first week, I probably would have given up on it. He was right there pushing me. As soon as I got the hang of it was a go from there. Getting thrown into the San Juan Mountains is pretty cool, I guess (laughing).
Not exactly the top of Silverton, but close.
Just drop you off at the top of Silverton?
That would be a quick learning curve (laughing).
Tell us a little bit about Telluride.
A lot people have this idea of Colorado as park riding and pipe riding, a lot of good shit like that out in Colorado, and for people from the San Juan’s it’s totally different. It’s definitely a little gnarlier here. We’ve got some of the most dangerous avalanche stuff in the world down here. You’ve got to be on top of your game when you go out there. It’s pretty rocky in the Southwest.
How old were you when you got caught in your first avalanche?
I haven’t been caught in one, knock on wood. The first time I learned to deal with sluff was actually at Stevens Pass when I was 14.
What was more important losing your virginity or getting sponsored?
Oh man, that’s a tough one! I’d say losing my virginity. I’d be snowboarding if I had to scrape together the money, regardless, so I am definitely saying losing my virginity.
Duct tape and stubble. Not bad for a 17 year old. photo: Tricia Byrnes
You’re 18 and have a damn good man beard. Are you lying about your age?
No, I am the one out of my good friends who has been blessed with the beard here. It’s funny ‘cause it changes colors as you look at it. It’s all to catch face shots. I have never really let my beard grow this long. I got jealous of seeing other dudes with beards on the mountain.
Colorado! You guys have got loose marijuana laws, huh?
Yeah, we do. It’s interesting to see what’s going on. Everybody jumped on it right off the bat it seems, as far as dispensaries go. A lot of them have closed down already. Everybody realized, oh shit, we’ve got 5 dispensaries in a town of 2,000 people that’s kind of ridiculous (laughing), but maybe not for Telluride, because people love that stuff here.
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?
Gosh, my Mom’s going to hate this (laughing). Maybe someday, we’ll see.
What’s your favorite cuss word?
I just say shit all the time.
Banking that shit. Photo: Tyler Mitchell
You placed 9th at Banked Slalom at the ripe age of 16, and won the coveted event at 17. How did you set out to beat the worlds best at Mt. Baker?
Ohh, man, gosh, I dunno. I just stayed positive the whole time. It’s hard not to up there. I guess I just stayed low and hung on. That’s what it was.
What’s the Baker Banked Slalom key to success?
It’s totally to relax. A lot of the people get caught up in thinking about it too much. I’ve seen people just go crazy with the wax. Everybody’s talking about individual turns and stuff! It’s good to know which turns are going to bobble you and have your wax dialed, but I mean… I had some good wax, but I just threw it right off, threw my board down and laid down that one time on the course. Don’t over think it. Be smooth.
How crucial is a good wax and what’s your process?
A good wax is crucial I would say, despite what I last said in the previous question (laughing). You want to use good wax. I use HS wax. That’s it.
Rocks can be slightly less forgiving than gates. Harry goes fast anyway.
Do you set some candles or say a prayer while your listening to some early Metallica or Lynyrd Skynyrd while this is going on?
Dude, I am listening to Lynyrd Skynrd right now.
Kyuss, Sabbath — stoked they just got back together recently, Lynyrd Skyrnd’s my favorite, and probably Pantera to top it all off there.
The way Dimebag Darrell of Pantera died was fucked up.
Dude, so gnarly! Last words were, “Van Halen” I guess.
Before the guy shot him, Dimebag Darrell’s last words were, “Van Halen”?
I guess because him and his brother Vinny, you know Vinny Paul Abbott, the drummer of Pantera, from what I’ve heard, before every show they would shake hands with each other and say “Van Halen” right before they went out on stage. So, it’s the last thing he said to anybody I guess.
No, seriously guys, he did the LBS. Photo Tyler Mitchell
Someone recently said that you were one of the fastest 18 year olds in the country. How do you respond to that?
Somebody said that, huh (laughing)? I don’t know how many other 18 year olds there are out there really racing, but there are kids coming up. There are kids right in front of me who are kicking ass.
Being a boardercross dude, are you into the hard boots and spandex?
I am definitely not into spandex, that will probably never happen, unless it’s Halloween. I have never ridden on hard boots. It looks like for maybe half a day that would be the funniest thing for half a day. But other than that, no I haven’t messed around with it .
What are your plans for this season?
Kind of loose. I’ve raced boarder cross a bunch in the past, and I am just starting now to step out and get into free riding which is really cool. I am probably going to race a couple boarder crosses and I am finally old enough to do the North Face Masters, too, so I am going to go try my hand over there. Other than that, really just chasing snow and going where the storms hit. I will probably go to Jackson for awhile, than spend a month around Baker I think, and go back to the race. Riding – hopefully getting some exposure and chasing snow.
Did you get to meet or talk to Terje Haakonsen or Temple Cummins at Baker?
I never really got to talk to Temple, but it’s kind of a funny story about meeting Terje. I never got to meet him formally till after the race, and when I was down at Milano’s just eating dinner there, I was walking out and my friend was like, “Dude! You should get Terje to sign your jacket!” I thought it was a good idea, so I went and got a sharpie and walked over to his table and asked if he could sign my jacket. It was hilarious! He kind of looked around, looked over at the other guys at his table, and he fucking wrote down something on there. I couldn’t tell what it was. Then he handed me the jacket and he was like, “You suck” and I looked down and that’s what he wrote — you suck.
Some day, we should all aspire to be told we suck by Terje.
Compatriot Snowboards, Arnette, Telluride Gravity Works, and Motion Body Engineering.