BANZAI! Skiers, snowboarders brave whiteout conditions on Silver Belt Gully
Tribune News service
SUGAR BOWL – As if the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour wasn’t challenging enough, Mother Nature stripped participants of their visibility for the series finale at Sugar Bowl on Sunday.
“It’s even gnarlier,” than it looks, said snowboard competitor Bob Findon of Sugar Bowl, who was asked to describe the conditions during the Silver Belt Banzai. “There’s zero visibility at the top, so you’re really just relying on muscle memory from whatever you remember on the course.”
Others could attest to Findon’s observation as they navigated in four-person heats down the snowy, fog-shrouded Silver Belt Gully in hopes of earning a piece of the $30,000 total prize purse.
“It was really foggy and snowy and bumpy. You just couldn’t see, so you had to kind of ski with your feelers out there,” said Truckee Olympian Errol Kerr of the Jamaica Ski Team. “You couldn’t go full speed. You had to take a little bit off.”
Kyle Smaine of South Lake Tahoe agreed, although he didn’t hold much back after leading all qualifiers in Saturday’s individual time trials.
“It was so intense today,” said Smaine, who had knee surgery just seven weeks prior. “There are such great athletes out here and the conditions are so tough. Luckily the snow’s soft, but the visibility was just obscene. It was really hard to deal with.”
Greg Lindsey of Tahoe City, who qualified third in Saturday’s time trials, battled through multiple heats before capturing the win in the men’s ski division. He edged a competitive field in the final, finishing just ahead of Smaine as Kerr took third and George Hjelte fourth.
“It was pretty tough to see, but it was fast and fun and everybody had a good time,” said Lindsey, feeling confident after his impressive victory. “I always enter a contest expecting to win, although it doesn’t always happen like that. But I’m just so fired up right now. I want (Daron) Rahlves in the Super Final, so I’ve got one more on my mind.”
Lindsey got his wish, as he and the winners from the other two stops of the tour squared off against four-time Olympian Daron Rahlves in a one-run, winner-takes-all Super Final. The winner’s prize was $10,000.
But it was Rahlves who came out on top, as the organizer and promoter of the inaugural Rahlves’ Banzai Tour took the hole shot at the top of the gully and held on until the end as the cloud finally lifted off the mountain. Lindsey came in second, followed by John Bochenek, who won the Kirkwood stop, in third and Marcus Caston, who won at Alpine Meadows, in fourth.
Rahlves conceded he wasn’t sure how the Super Final would turn out given the caliber of competition.
“Yeah, I was just holding off watching these guys the last few stops, and I was really impressed with how aggressive they were,” Rahlves said in the finish chute. “Watching all those guys battling, I was like, ‘Man, this is gonna be tough.’ I knew from the first day it was gonna be a battle.
“I got a little lucky with the visibility up there, because I wasn’t very comfortable going that hard when you couldn’t see a thing. I took every round with the guys, and I actually crashed in one of the heats into the fences. It was full carnage.”
Rahlves’ sister, Shannon Rahlves, won the women’s ski division, narrowly beating out former U.S. Ski Team racer Keely Kelleher of Salt Lake City. Locals Hannah Jermstadt and Quincy Young rounded out the field in the women’s final.
“I got more chills today watching my sister, Shannon,” said Daron. “She was in second, behind Keely Kelleher, who was on the U.S. Ski Team, so I was like, ‘Oh, she’s gonna have a really tough time getting by her.’ But she made the pass. She’s got it in her. She can dig deep and pull it out. She’s not afraid.”
In the men’s snowboard division, Tahoe City resident Sylvain Duclos of France took top honors just ahead of Sugar Bowl’s own Jayson Hale, while Dan Krenicki and Keith Davis rounded out the field.
Kirkwood’s Erin Wilson won the women’s snowboard final as Rose Daiek finished runner-up and Jennifer McReady and Carrie Hall took third and fourth, respectively.
“That was hardcore, raw skiing and snowboarding right there,” said Daron, adding that he hopes to expand the tour to include more resorts and competitors in future years.
In the overall tour points series, Caston earned the cumulative win among men’s skiers. Shannon Rahlves took the overall win among women’s skiers, while Duclos was the top male snowboarder and McReady the top woman snowboarder.
A total of 111 athletes competed in the Silver Belt Banzai, which followed the course of the original giant slalom race that dates back to the 1940s.
For more information about the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour, visit the official website at http://www.rahlvesbanzai.com.
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