SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — With three of four stops on the Rahlves Banzai Tour in the bag, a decided trend has developed atop the leaderboard of the big-mountain, ski-cross-style race series.
In warm, spring-like conditions Sunday, Squaw Valley skier John Bochenek captured his second win of the tour on familiar terrain in the KT-22 Banzai at Squaw, extending his series lead.
Frenchman Sylvain Duclos also claimed his second victory in the men's snowboard division to maintain his overall lead, while Shannon Rahlves beat out Shelly Robertson in the women's ski final to set up a first-place showdown in the final event, and women's snowboarders Carrie Hall and Casey Lucas swapped 1-2 positions from the previous event and are tied for second on the season.
“We got lucky again with the weather, and it (the course) was in the right spot,” said Daron Rahlves, a former Olympic alpine ski racer and the founder of the second-year Rahlves Banzai Tour. “We had a pretty good crowd on Powderhorn and along the course here and there, so that made things a little more exciting.”
Rahlves, who was forced to create alternate courses on the first two stops at Kirkwood and Alpine Meadows due to a low snowpack, designed yet another challenging race venue for the KT-22 Banzai.
The course — covering the longest distance yet — started at the top of West Face off of the KT-22 chairlift, sending skiers and snowboarders in heats of four down along a ridge before hooking right into GS Bowl. It then followed the lift line to Schimmelpfennig Bowl and dropped into a gnarly section before depositing competitors onto Easy Street, and eventually the finish line just above the Funitel.
“I was a little impressed with that track. I like it. It was long and demanding,” Rahlves said, adding that top finish times in Saturday's qualifier were more than 15 seconds slower than on the first two stops. “There was a little more time on the hill, and it was pretty rough. There was really nothing smooth about it.
“There were a lot of decent skiers who were backing off because they didn't have the power in the legs.”
Bochenek was not among them. After winning the Kirkwood stop and crashing in the final heat at Alpine, finishing fourth, Bochenek skied conservatively through the first two rounds before winning a competitive semifinal over Kyle Smaine, Marcus Caston and B Devine. He went on to defeat another competitive heat of skiers in the final, including Smaine, who popped to his feet after a crash to still finish runner-up. Todd Disbrow came in third and John Lang fourth.
With his second win, Bochenek took a commanding lead in the series standings with 250 points to Smaine's 180 and Caston's 160.
In the women's ski division, Shannon Rahlves finally topped the podium after knocking on the door with a third-place finish at Kirkwood and a second at Alpine. She claimed first place ahead of Shelly Robertson, who won the last stop and was runner-up in the opener, while Hanna Jermstad took third and Tara Hines fourth.
“I was impressed with Shannon,” said Daron, her brother. “She threw it down. She wanted it bad. She hammered from top to bottom. She was tucking at the finish line and didn't let up anywhere.”
Shannon Rahlves narrowed Robertson's lead to just 20 points in the standings, 260-240, with the win, and Jermstad is in third with 165 points.
Sylvain Duclos, the top men's snowboarder at Kirkwood, made amends for missing the final on the last stop with another first-place finish. He defeated runner-up Chelone Miller — brother of Olympic alpine skier Bode Miller — and Dave Brumm and Chris Galvin in the final. Duclos now holds a strong lead over Miller, 245-180, in the standings while Galvin is third with 110 points.
In the women's snowboard division, Carrie Hall finished first ahead of Casey Lucas, swapping positions from the Alpine stop. Marguerite Cossettini placed third for the second straight event and Grace Dalman was fourth. Mallory Olney, who won at Kirkwood and was fifth at Squaw on Sunday, holds a slight five-point lead, 185-180, over the deadlocked Hall and Lucas.
Lang won the Popchips award for the most impressive air on course.
“It's nice to be able to tie it all in. It all started at Sugar Bowl with the Silver Belt being a traditional race, but what's cool with KT is that it's just so iconic,” Rahlves said. “Hitting the lines that the world's best skiers have been on for years is pretty cool.”