KIRKWOOD, Calif. - Originally, the word banzai meant, may you live 10,000 years. In the case of the Rahlves' Banzai Tour, that sentiment might not apply.
More than 80 skiers and snowboarders gathered at Kirkwood on Sunday, attempting to survive a minute and a half of hair-raising, four-at-a-time competition down the infamous Wall.
"This is the first year we've had enough snow to run this from the top," said Rahlves, who as a four-time Olympian knows snow. "I've always wanted to run it this way. Starting right at the CEP compression is some of the best natural terrain anywhere. And the gully is pretty interesting too."
That was a small understatement, since most DNFs were a result of that same gully.
Multi-Banzai winner John Bochenek made it look easy. The 22-year-old Truckee resident once again took the top prize in the men's ski category. He tidily won all four of his heats, earning the nickname "Johnny Banzai."
"I like the new course. It was a lot more open, fast and fun," Bochenek said. "Kirkwood's like a second home for me now - three times here, and now three times I've won."
Earning second place was Kyle Coxon, who, along with women's winner Tara Hines, drove out from Salt Lake City just for the event.
Experienced Banzai racer Kyle Smaine of South Lake Tahoe claimed third in his first year on the Kirkwood course.
"I'd always been out of town for the Kirkwood race," said Smaine, winner of last year's Alpine Meadows stop. "The course was super smooth, great conditions, beautiful weather."
Last year the women's ski division came down to former U.S. Ski Team member Shelly Robertson and Shannon Rahlves, Daron's sister. This year, though, it was Tara Hines, who moved up from her fourth-place Kirkwood finish last year to claim the title. Shannon Rahlves took second and Robertson third.
While the top skiers used stiff race skis, the firm Banzai course made for a tough ride on a snowboard.
Representing South Lake Tahoe and Kirkwood, snowboarder Adam DeVargas parlayed his North Face Masters and World Heli Challenge experience into first place. Chelone Miller, brother of Bode Miller, drove up from Mammoth to grab second place. Matt Clark rounded out the podium in third.
In the smallest field of the day, the women's snowboarding crown went to Kirkwood rider Casey Lucas, who was just off the Freeride World Tour in Chamonix. Some fresh faces were added to the podium mix with Marissa Krawczak in second, despite a gate panel to the chin, and Zephyr Cove resident Brithany Thomson taking third.
The Rahlves Banzai Tour will swing through Alpine Meadows this Saturday and Sunday before heading to Squaw Valley on March 2-3 and Sugar Bowl on March 9-10.