Rahlves’ Banzai: The Most Challenging Alpine Race on the Planet.
Combining technology with professional sports.
I’ve enjoyed skiing since my Father taught me in 1974. I was 3 years old. He grew up with the leather boots and bindings and the tow-rope clasp that was mounted onto one of your ski poles. 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, for me, was 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 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 15+ years younger than myself. It’s a race I do for fun. The Banzai Race (Male and Female, Skiers and Snowboarders) takes place at 3 different mountains in the Lake Tahoe region. Each racecourse 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 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 (1984). Starring David Naughton and Shannon Tweed, the final scene of the movie, filmed at Squaw Valley, was of hundreds of competitors forming a mass start at the top of Squaw and 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 3 races at 3 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 and Skier Cross from the X-Games lineup, 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, to set yourself up for the elimination rounds that take place on the 2nd day.
I watched my buddy, Jason Burrill; compete on a snowboard at the 2011 Banzai Tour. I decided to enter two of the races in 2012, and I have entered 7 of the races, and finished the course 4 times (A Sugar Bowl course finish eludes me). I made it to the elimination rounds twice, but finishing the extreme ski run, that 90% of the 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 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 in 2012.
The Rahlves Banzai Tour Mobile App is designed to provide all the information necessary to get to the Banzai races, register and look up your race times. One of the most frustrating moments in racing was figuring out whether I have enough time to get in another training run, or can I make a pit stop before my number is called to race. 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 last run time. Users will be able to upload photos to Instagram and they will be available for immediate viewing via the app. Links to local weather and a Live audio stream of elimination day via KTKE, 101.5 Truckee Tahoe Radio, are included. 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 the male skier division, at one of the 3 stops, you get the opportunity to race against Daron on the final day and win $5,000 of the season’s $80,000 purse.
The goal of the Banzai Races is a fun competition for all to enter. The huge cash prizes of the X-Games, and Freeride World Tour lure some of the world’s best skiers/boarders away from the Banzai, but there is an amazing amount of equivalent talent that compete in the Banzai each year. One of the most notable competitors was Chelone “Chilly” Miller (RIP Chilly, we will miss you!!!!). He could make the course look like a Green Circle with his in-the-air calibrations for nailing the unseen landings. Nate Holland has competed in the Banzai in 2 separate years and was the athlete to beat, in the Super Finals at Sugar Bowl for a cash prize of $5,000 in 2014.
The Banzai has a strong following but doesn’t capture the target audience that it should each year. Maybe it seems like an impossible or incredibly curageous race, but there are many athletes in the Tahoe Basin that are more than capable of enjoying the Banzai and competing against the very best. When there are 4 racers on course, anything can happen, and 3 of them could take each other out, and leave you to move onto the next round. I very much hope to see some new faces this year. Heck, the price of lift tickets should make you want to enter for that incentive alone, and also the great schwag bag.
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. I look forward to seeing you there!
Daron and I are always updating the App for the competitors and spectators. We have a new look for this years 2015 races. You can download it at banzai.genzplay.com.
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, check out rahlvesbanzai.com, or the promotional video below.
About the author:
Based in Sonoma Valley, California, GenZplay was founded in August 2011 by Stephen Calhoun to make video games a physically active part of his son’s outdoor life. The company is focused on integrating gaming mechanics with everyday activities, especially those that need a mixture of fun and adventure to motivate and inspire.
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. Follow Steve on Twitter @genzplay or check out our website genzplay.com to download the Beta of the ‘Big Cat Race’. The 1st ever outdoor children’s fitness app.