ALPINE MEADOWS, Calif. — In the past two and a half weeks, Daron Rahlves has gone from apprehensive event organizer to emboldened promoter of his second annual Rahlves Banzai Tour.
“That was awesome,” Rahlves said after the second of four stops on the big-mountain, skiercross-style tour, which took place under bluebird skies at Alpine Meadows this past Thursday and Friday. “I think it was hands down the best one we’ve had. I’m lucking out with these low snow conditions, because the resorts have been great about allowing me to come up with alternate venues, and they’ve worked out great.”
Due to the sparse snow cover in the Tahoe area — which, along with low registration numbers had Rahlves nervous before the Banzai Tour kicked off at Kirkwood on Feb. 11 — the original course down Beaver Bowl was moved to Wolverine Bowl.
The new course proved challenging, as the increasingly sun-baked snow and ruts made for a bumpy, leg-burning ride that claimed many competitors in Friday’s four-person heats. Tougher yet, the course sent skiers and snowboarders down a large mogul field on the Face, just a couple of hundred yards from the finish chute where they were most fatigued.
“It’s intense, bumpy. That bump field is crazy,” said second-place men’s ski finisher Jesse Maddex, a Colorado native who now calls Sugar Bowl his home mountain. “There are some good skiers out here. Guys are going fast.”
“The moguls were challenging,” said men’s skier Greg Lindsey, “but the top of the course may be even tougher because everyone is bunched together and people are sliding, and that’s what happened to me.”
The men’s ski winner from the Kirkwood stop, John Bochenek of Squaw Valley, again seemed destined for victory after posting the fastest time in Thursday’s individual time trials and then speeding through his first three heats Friday.
In the final, however, where he squared off against Maddex, South Lake Tahoe’s Kyle Smaine and Marcus Caston of Utah, Bochenek lost control while straight-lining the moguls on the Face and crashed into the fencing. Smaine, who was hot on Bochenek’s heels, blew past the carnage to take the win.
“I got the hole shot, and then Johnny came down and got me on the moguls. But he just couldn’t quite hang on and fell,” said Smaine. “… That’s the fastest I’ve ever tried to send that section, so luckily I stayed on my feet and made it down.”
Rahlves said there were about eight top-flight men who were capable of winning, including Lindsey, who wound up seventh overall after competing in the small final.
“I get more and more impressed with the men’s skiers. There are a lot of fast guys who don’t even make it into the final,” said Rahlves, who got in on the action by chasing one of the earlier heats with a helmet cam.
As it stands after two stops, Bochenek leads the men’s ski standings with 150 points, while Maddex and Caston are tied for second with 120 points apiece and Smaine is third with 100 points.
The racing was just as hotly contested in the other divisions.
In a competitive men’s snowboarding final, Chelone Miller — the brother of U.S. Alpine ski racer Bode Miller — held off Jayson Hale of Sugar Bowl and Squaw’s Chris Galvin and Keith Davis to capture the win.
The closest snowboard heat came in the semifinal round, however, as Kirkwood winner Sylvain Duclos was aced out of the final by Hale and Miller in a photo finish involving all three. Duclos ended up winning the small final for a fifth-place finish overall. He leads the season standings with 145 points to Miller’s 100, while Davis is third with 82 points.
With the mogul field near the bottom of the course, the women’s ski final played into the hands of Olympic freestyle skier Shelly Robertson of Reno (formerly of the Squaw Valley Freestyle Team). Robertson, who finished runner-up to Keely Kelleher on the first stop, hammered through the moguls on the Face to pull away from Shannon Rahlves for the win in the women’s ski final. Hannah Jermstad came in third and Kelleher fourth.
“That was crazy intense,” Robertson said. “The first turn we were all hitting skis and it was just super crazy on the first two or three turns. And then we started separating a little bit, and I just tried to make it through the moguls smooth and go fast. It was crazy.”
Robertson now leads the season series with 180 points to Kelleher’s 150, as Kelleher crashed in the final heat Friday after taking an early lead.
Casey Lucas earned the win in the women’s snowboard division, finishing ahead of Carrie Hall, Marguerite Cossettini and Rose Marie Daiek in the final. Mallory Olney, who won the Kirkwood event and was sixth at Alpine, still leads the season standings with 140 points to Daiek’s 130. Lucas is third with 100 points after her win.
Men’s skier Danny Graebel won the Popchips award, which is given to the competitor who pulls off the most impressive air on the course. After falling behind the pack in the semifinal round, Graebel threw two backflips and a 360 during his run.
South Lake Tahoe snowboarder Shaun Palmer, who was second at the Kirkwood stop, and Olympic skiercross racer Errol Kerr both were slated to compete Friday but were no-shows.
The Rahlves Banzai Tour now swings through Squaw Valley for the KT-22 Banzai on Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4. The event wraps up with the Silver Belt Banzai at Sugar Bowl on March 10-11.