Rahlves’ Banzai: The Most Challenging Ski Race on the Planet.
Combining technology with professional sports.
My father introduced me to skiing when I was 3 years old. I had some fun racing in high school, and racing for some of the companies I worked for after school. We use to have a phrase, among my ski team buddies, “he can ski better than he can walk”, and I guess that would apply to me as well.
The most frustrating thing about ski racing is waiting in the cold at the top of the course for your run to start. Most of the time, you don’t have any idea as to when you are starting, as there are 100+ skiers running the blue course and the red course to get their best-combined time. 100+ skiers running a course twice can take a few hours, so we would take some free runs, and stop at the start of the course to see which bib number was currently running. In the professional sporting world, it’s a bit easier, as you have your coaches informing you of where you need to be.
This year I’ll be competing in the Rahlves Banzai Tour again. I’m not sure if you can call it competing, as most of the competitors are 10+ years younger than myself. It’s a race I do for fun and challenge myself to get better each year. The Banzai race takes place at 4 different mountains in the Lake Tahoe region, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl. Each race course is carefully designed by Daron Rahlves himself. Daron is a former US Ski Team racer, an Olympian, and one of the most decorated skiers in US history. Daron made the transition from Alpine Ski Racing to skier cross (SkierX) competitions on ‘The 48 Straight Jeep King of the Mountain Tour’, X-Games and the 2010 Olympics. He’s also one of the best big mountain free skiers and has been filmed for many top ski films, including the Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research movies.
Banzai was the term used to describe the Japanese suicide bombers during the Pacific War. It is a term described as an honorable suicide or suicide attack. You couldn’t use a better term for this sort of race. Many versions of Banzai ski racing have been run over the years. One of most classic portrayals of a Banzai race (except it was called the Chinese Downhill) was the movie Hot Dog from 1984, starring David Naughton and Shannon Tweed. The final scene of the movie, filmed at Squaw Valley, was hundreds of competitors forming a mass start at the top of Squaw and all racing, at the same time, where the first person to reach the bottom was the winner. There were no rules. Shoving, tripping, and releasing someone’s binding were the strategies of choice. The Rahlves Banzai is a bit tamer, but its still 4 racers on a very difficult, off-piste course, racing to be the first to the bottom. It’s similar to Motocross, but on skis and snowboards.
The Silver Belt Banzai Race first took place in the 1940’s at Sugar Bowl Resort, and Red Bull did it again in 2004. It was re-introduced by Daron in 2009. Its grown from the one Sugar Bowl race to 4 races at 4 resorts and brings in some of the top athletes of winter sports. It’s a race where amateurs can compete with competitors from the X-Games and the Olympics, and have a chance to compare their skills against the best. In many cases, an amateur will finish on top of the podium. ESPN recently dropped Boarder X and Skier X from the X-Games lineup (Boarder X has returned for 2014), leaving many competitors disappointed. This has created an even greater opportunity for the Banzai to attract even more incredible competitors.
The Banzai course is always different from year to year, as 99% of the run is not groomed (off-piste), and there are lots of moguls, jumps, ice, trees and steep chutes. Depending upon the snowfall for the year, Daron has to find terrain that is challenging and can handle competitors for 2 days of racing. The first day is time trials, run individually, to set yourself up for the elimination rounds that take place on day 2.
I watched my buddy, Jason; compete on a snowboard at the 2011 Banzai Tour. I decided to enter two of the races in 2012. My goal was to just finish the course and get a time. I never made it to the elimination rounds but finishing an extreme ski run, that 90% of any skiers would never even try, was a major accomplishment and rewarding experience for me. This year I’ve decided to lose 15 pounds, for more stamina and take some of the pressure off of these old knees. I grew up skiing and I grew up with technology, so I approached Daron with a new concept for his unique ski race.
Daron and I designed the Banzai App, which I programmed for the 2013 race season. We’ve had the opportunity to refine and add more information sections (see ‘Rules’ page in the app, which was posted after some spectator confusion at the Alpine Meadows race in 2013). The Banzai app is for the competitors and spectators. The app is designed to provide all the information necessary to get to the Banzai races, register and look up your race times. My idea for a Banzai App came to me while feeding my toddler. I realized I didn’t want him playing video games on the couch, so I started to visualize outdoor fitness apps and naturally the Banzai App was the 1st instance of these designs.
The ‘Rahlves Banzai’ app will provide any smartphone user with the ability to find out when they are scheduled to run the course, get last minute updates by Daron via Twitter, and check their results. The goal of the Banzai races is a fun competition for all to enter. Creating a unique experience for the competitors is part of the Banzai tradition. Combining technology with classic ski racing can help each competitor to focus more on his or her runs and less on the administrative aspects of the race. The key to winning the Banzai is focus on the course, and nerves of steel. If you happen to win at one of the 4 stops, you get the opportunity to race against Daron on the final day and win $5,000.
The Rahlves Banzai Tour has picked up a new sponsor this year. Alaska Airlines and GoPro have joined the headlines with Bank of the West. A Men’s Snowboard Super Final has been added with Nate Holland taking on the 4 tour stops winner’s for a winner takes all $5,000 purse. Holland is a seven-time X-Games Champ and U.S. Olympic Snowboarder, who signed on as Rahlves’ Banzai Tour Snowboard Ambassador.
I wish each and every competitor another fantastic Banzai experience, and I look forward to your feedback about the app. Let me know your thoughts about combining technology and sports by commenting below.
Update: (January 14, 2014)
Since the original posting of this blog, I have competed in the 2013 Banzai stops at Kirkwood and Alpine Meadows. I qualified for the 2nd day of eliminations at both stops, but due to lack of enough pre-season training, I chickened out of the eliminations. I competed in all four 2014 events and finished the course at 3 of them. The Sugar Bowl course has daunted me for 2 years in a row. Daron has given me some prudent advice and I’ve taken it to heart this year. Just 6 sessions of Crossfit (and adding more every week) has strengthened my core, and made it 50% easier to take on the bumps and has given me the confidence I needed to “focus on the feeling of skiing, tactics and flow. Skiing is more about the feeling and enjoying it. ~ Daron” (See Daron’s ‘Ski Tips’ videos in the App for more great advice.) I’d like to thank EA’s Crossfit in Sonoma Valley, California for getting me into shape.
Follow Daron on Twitter @rahlvesbanzai, or his Facebook page at The Rahlves’ Banzai Tour.
If you’d like to see footage of the Banzai races, use the App, check out rahlvesbanzai.com, or this promotional VIDEO.
About the author:
Based in Sonoma Valley, California, GenZplay was founded in August 2011 by Steve Calhoun to make video games a physically active part of his son’s outdoor life. The company is focused on moving the video game experience off the couch and out of the home, by integrating gaming mechanics with everyday activities, especially those that need a mixture of fun and adventure to motivate and inspire.
“Through mobile apps we combine technology and kinesiology programs, with health related issues, to teach, entertain and coach generations to be the person they want to be.” – Steve Calhoun
Steve has a degree in Architecture and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. He also has a 100ton US Coast Guard Captains License and he’s an extreme sports fanatic.
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