Rahlves Banzai Tour to kick off Saturday at Kirkwood – despite challenges | SierraSun.com

Rahlves Banzai Tour to kick off Saturday at Kirkwood – despite challenges

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Sylas Wright / Sun File PhotoGraham Watanabe leads a men's snowboard heat during the Beaver Bowl Banzai last winter. The Rahlves Banzai Tour begins at Kirkwood this weekend.

Daron Rahlves didn’t camouflage his concerns entering the first stop of his Rahlves Banzai Tour at Kirkwood this weekend.

“Banzai followers,” he wrote in an e-mail blast Tuesday night. “You’re making me nervous. A real small number of you have signed up for the first stop this weekend. Only 6 girls total as of now. 4 ski (and) 2 board. Not many more guys either.”

And that was only one of his concerns.

What began as a slow start to the Tahoe winter has now put in jeopardy the second and third stops of the annual Banzai tour – the Beaver Bowl Banzai at Alpine Meadows, which already has been postponed to Feb. 23-24, and the first-year KT-22 Banzai at Squaw Valley on March 3-4.

There simply isn’t enough snow to cover the terrain, said Rahlves, the organizer and promoter of the skicross-style event, which wraps up with the Silver Belt Banzai at Sugar Bowl on March 10-11.

“None of them are run-able right now,” Rahlves said Wednesday in a telephone interview, referring to the courses used in last year’s inaugural tour (as well as the new KT-22 course). “I wasn’t really planning on Mother Nature playing a part like this. I just figured we’d be able to go to the top of the mountain and run it. And now, we still need to get the coverage to do that.

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“I was up at Alpine a week and a half ago, and the bottom of Beaver Bowl looks like a Christmas tree farm. And the side hill at the bottom is just a willow grove; there’s no way you can navigate it. So unless we get some snow, we’re going to have to change it. I’m hoping that we get what we need real soon.”

The National Weather Service calls for a chance of snow in the Tahoe area Saturday and Monday.

As for Kirkwood’s Eagle Bowl Banzai this Saturday and Sunday, the venue was moved to the Snow Snake Gully due to the sparse snow conditions. Rahlves said the new course, which features rolling terrain and natural banked turns, is more technical and longer than last year’s steep, wide-open bowl. It’s also a bit slower and more of a burner to the finish.

“The snow is looking good at Kirkwood, and it’s a really cool track on this banked gully. It’s really unique,” Rahlves said.

But more athletes are needed. Rahlves said he had only received about one-third the number of registered men’s skiers he hoped for as of Wednesday, while only eight women had signed up between the ski and snowboard divisions – up slightly from the six in his e-mail blast. Last year a total of 111 athletes took part in Kirkwood’s Eagle Bowl Banzai.

“The athletes make the event, so we need them out there,” said Rahlves, who admitted he’s a bit puzzled by the low numbers, particularly with the amount of prize money on the line – $80,000 in total, with $15,000 at each stop. “The swag bag is worth more than the entry. I’m almost getting on my knees at this point and saying, ‘Hey, come on out and play.’ Last year was pretty successful, and so it’s surprising how little numbers we have right now.”

Registration is available on the event website, http://www.rahlvesbanzai.com, until Friday night, Rahlves said, while people may register on-site Saturday morning for a $10 late fee. Cost of registration is $105.

Regardless of how many more sign up, the Rahlves Banzai Tour is set to kick off at Kirkwood with individual time-trial qualifiers on Saturday. Skiers and riders will then be placed in heats of four for Sunday’s finals based on their qualifying times.

“I’m trying to stay optimistic. I’m just trying to focus on Kirkwood right now. That’s what’s up next, so we’re trying to make the most of it,” Rahlves said. “Who knows, though? This could be the only one. I don’t know. This is a call to action. Don’t be scared. It’s just skiing, top to bottom. You’re just racing your friends down the mountain.”