Silver Belt Banzai set for return; weather forecast should cooperate this year |

Silver Belt Banzai set for return; weather forecast should cooperate this year

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

NORDEN, Calif. and#8212; Knock on wood, but at least a blizzard shouldnand#8217;t be among the challenges in this yearand#8217;s Silver Belt Banzai.

Last year, the return of the Silver Belt Banzai couldnand#8217;t have landed on a stormier weekend, as heavy snowfall socked Sugar Bowl with a powerful two-day punch that tested even the most seasoned skiers who braved the conditions and#8212; like Sugar Bowl ambassador Daron Rahlves, who didnand#8217;t seem to mind the whiteout en route to taking the win.

and#8220;It was pretty cool last year just because of the storm and how much snow we had, just skiing fast lines down powder moguls and stuff,and#8221; said Rahlves, who hopes to defend his title this weekend. and#8220;This year I think itand#8217;s going to be a lot easier as far as visibility. Youand#8217;ll be able to see what youand#8217;re getting into.and#8221;

The Silver Belt Banzai, a unique event that blends skicross and boardercross action with the tradition of an Alpine race, returns to Sugar Bowland#8217;s Silver Belt Gully on Saturday and Sunday.

The race is steeped in history but has been tweaked from its original form. Named after the gully it follows from the top of Mount Lincoln, the original Silver Belt race, a giant slalom, hosted the worldand#8217;s top racers each year from 1940 until 1975. The course was rated the steepest race terrain in California and the fifth most difficult in North America.

After the start of World Cup competition in 1967, however, the Silver Belt lost luster on the upper-tier race circuit, and a new amateur points system, revisions in scheduling and increasing costs eventually led to its demise.

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Sugar Bowl revived the Silver Belt in 2004, using the same course as the historic race but adding the hairball element of skicross, where racers speed down the mountain in four-person heats. They called it the Silver Belt Banzai. The race wasnand#8217;t held again until last year, when some 18 inches of snow fell overnight between the two days of competition, and never let up as skiers took to the course.

Although weather forecasts call for snow on Friday, reports have the storm petering out Saturday morning and#8212; just in time for the start of the Day 1 time trials.

and#8220;Weand#8217;re supposed to have some fresh snow for Saturday, so that should help,and#8221; said Rahlves, who competed last month in the Olympic debut of skicross. and#8220;Theyand#8217;re going to have that area closed to the public Saturday and Sunday, which means it wonand#8217;t get that beat up.and#8221;

Rahlves was trailed in last yearand#8217;s race by Shawn McGee, who finished runner-up, followed by Nicholas Barton in third, Trevor Tanhoff, Cliff Bennett and Gunnar Newquist. In the girlsand#8217; race, Shannon Rahlves edged Squaw Valley skier Jackie Paaso for the win and#8212; although Paaso competed with the men in their quarterfinal and semifinal heats, turning her legs to and#8220;Jell-O,and#8221; she said, by the time the womenand#8217;s final was over.

Jake Somerrell and Brian Bozack finished 1-2 among snowboarders last year.

While the forecasted sunny conditions should provide good visibility, Rahlves said thereand#8217;s no getting away from the leg burn after racing down 1,300 vertical feet of natural terrain.

and#8220;Oh yeah, youand#8217;re not going to avoid that. Itand#8217;s basically a minute long, and thatand#8217;s a pretty good run when youand#8217;re hitting the banks and trying to control speed,and#8221; he said. and#8220;Youand#8217;ve got to have some strength in your legs, for sure.and#8221;

Skiers race individual time trials on Saturday starting at 1 p.m. to determine who advances to Sundayand#8217;s four-person heats, which begin at 11 a.m. John Monson, Sugar Bowland#8217;s director of sales and marketing, said he expects about 80 athletes to compete.

and#8220;Itand#8217;s a competition, but itand#8217;s not like a serious competition,and#8221; Rahlves said. and#8220;Itand#8217;s just all about going out there and having fun and doing something different and unique and#8212; and being a part of this historic race in a modern way.and#8221;