Rahlves’ Banzai Tour ends with high-intensity racing at Sugar Bowl

Sylas Wright
Sylas Wright / Sierra Sun

What is the Silver Belt Banzai?

The Silver Belt Banzai and Super Final marked the fourth and final stop of the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour, an annual race series that sends skiers and snowboarders down a resort’s natural terrain in four-person heats. The series is a spinoff of the historic Silver Belt, a giant slalom race that attracted the world’s top alpine ski racers from 1940 through 1975. Sugar Bowl revived the Silver Belt in 2004, using the same historic course down the belly of Mount Lincoln, but adding the exciting element of skicross and boardercross. After running the new Silver Belt Banzai in 2004 and again in 2008 and 2009, Rahlves expanded the event into a multi-stop tour with big-name sponsors and a total prize purse worth $80,000.

SUGAR BOWL, Calif. — The Rahlves’ Banzai Tour was due for a pleasant day of racing.

After two straight years of foggy, low-visibility conditions in the finale of the four-stop event — and just one week after the first-ever weather-shortened stop — the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour concluded Sunday under sunny skies at the place it originated: Sugar Bowl’s Silver Belt Gully.

“We got lucky with the weather, and all the resorts put on a fantastic series. The only thing I would have changed was to be on my feet and battling with these guys,” said event founder and Sugar Bowl Ski Ambassador Daron Rahlves, who oversaw the action on crutches after dislocating his hip last week, which took him out of the running to defend his title in the Super Final.

Without the former Olympic downhiller in the mix, Squaw Valley skier John Bochenek appeared destined to claim the victory and $5,000 cash prize in the Super Final, which is reserved for the men’s ski winners from all four tour stops (or the next-highest finisher in the case that the winner had already secured a berth).

Bochenek, who won the men’s ski division at Kirkwood and Squaw Valley and was second at Alpine Meadows, captured his third tour victory at Sugar Bowl, as he finished ahead of Kyle Coxon, John Lange, Chris Stiffler and Jesse Maddex in the final heat.

But Coxon, a Utah skier who also finished second behind Bochenek in the KT-22 Banzai at Squaw, beat Bochenek, Maddex and Lange to the finish line in the Super Final to earn the substantial cash prize.

“It was a tough day,” said a beaming Coxon, his face lined in a goggle tan. “The actual Silver Belt (Banzai) was really stacked; we had everybody out here, and they were all out there sweating it. And then we had to go out and do it again (in the Super Final).”

Coxon said Maddex jumped out to a slight lead in the Super Final and held it until about halfway down the course, when he hooked a rut near the “keyhole” section, which allowed Coxon to swoop past.

While it pained him to sit back and spectate, Rahlves said he enjoyed watching the high-intensity racing, as well as the upset in the Super Final.

“It was a dominating series by Bochenek. He’s proven that he’s the best guy in the whole series. But he got beat by Coxon, and that just goes to show that there are other guys out there who can make it happen,” Rahlves said. “I love to see the competition. It’s awesome.”

Before the top men’s skiers duked it out, Banzai athletes raced in four-person heats from a round of a 16, with the top two finishers of each heat advancing to the next round.

Conditions were prime for racing, with chalky snow at the top of Mount Lincoln turning to firmer base near the bottom of the course, where fans gathered in a festive scene.

“Today I think was the best Banzai conditions we had all year. It was really good snow,” said Chelone Miller, brother of Rahlves’ former Olympic teammate, Bode Miller.

Like Coxon and Bochenek, who was crowned the overall tour champion in the men’s ski division — which was worth $3,500 on top of his other winnings — Miller left with his pockets fat.

He blasted past Sylvain Duclos at the top of the last pitch in the men’s snowboard final and held on for the victory, which secured the overall men’s snowboard championship and $3,000 prize. He also took home $2,000 for his Silver Belt Banzai win, and the same amount for winning the Alpine Meadows tour stop.

“I got a bad start and was in third right out of the gate,” Miller said of the final heat, which included Duclos, Lucas Dehmlow and Jason Kosich. “Then I got right on Lucas and he blew out before the keyhole there, and I barely made it around him and was right on Duclos when I came over that keyhole jump. I just pointed it straight down there, because I was thinking I could get Duclos on the bottom pitch, and it worked out.”

The women’s ski final came down to two familiar rivals, former Olympic moguls skier Shelly Robertson and Shannon Rahlves, sister of Daron. The race was tight from the start. Hannah Jermstad went down on the first turn as Robertson and Rahlves flew down the course one-two, ahead of Chelsea Boone. Robertson came over the final pitch in the lead, but Rahlves crept up from behind and made her move in the final 10 yards to capture the narrow victory.

“I just never gave up until the end, because there’s always something that can happen,” she said. “I was just watching Shelly and trying to figure out where I wanted to go. I was behind her, so I was able to draft a tad. There was a lot of luck there.”

The women’s snowboard final was closely contested as well, as Kiana Putman, who traveled from Alaska to compete, avoided a crash just above the finish line and managed to regain just enough speed to hold off Macy Price for the win. Carrie Hall finished third and Anna Weber fourth.

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