The Tenjin Banked Slalom is the highlight of the snowboard calendar in Japan for many, and a sure test for all the riders taking its turns. The winner from the Men’s and Women’s Open races claims a well-earned entry spot in the Mt. Baker LBS, and the event acts as a celebratory meeting of the snowboard tribes in Japan. We also can’t overlook the work that goes on to make it happen each year. Tenjindaira is a wild mountain and catches a lot of weather. We all love this when it brings the powder but it can play havoc with an event like a banked slalom. The course had been completed by hand during the week but high winds had shut down the mountain on Friday. As the Tenjin crew took the first gondola on Saturday morning, nobody knew what condition they would find the course in. It’s testament to the work of the volunteers and staff that the event was ready to go on Saturday after only a short delay, while the diggers worked super hard to rebuild the bottom third which had been filled in by the wind.
The challenging technicality makes the Tenjin Banked Slalom more than just a wax race. It’s both an unforgiving test of your all-round board control, and a super fun roller coaster at the same time. Although the course this year was shorter in vertical drop than previous years, it took longer to finish, showing how technical its twists and turns were. A minute and half of trying to tread the fine line between the potential of your fastest turns and your most frustrating crash is the challenge that keeps snowboarders coming back to the joys of banked slaloms:How many turns till your legs burn? Making this… …takes a lot of this. Event organizer Taizo Fukushima staying hands on with the Tenjin diggers crew:The opening ceremony of the event features the blessing by the local priests, with prayers not just for the event and competitors but for the safety of all people on the mountain and the relationship between humans and the mountain. It’s a moment of perspective that our day of sliding down the snow is small in the grand scheme of things, and gives a chance for feeling thankful for the fun ahead.
The prayers may have been answered as the rain that was forecast for Sunday turned to sunshine, and the event went off in perfect conditions. One of the great things about the Tenjin Banked Slalom is that it’s like a session in a skatepark, with different generations riding together on the same features but at their own levels. Wildcat legend and Now Bindings owner, JF Pelchat was riding the event with his daughter, and could be found shovel-in-hand with the diggers crew getting the corners dialed.Everyone was excited to test what serpentine delights the shapers had created – that’s a lot of riders waiting for the lights to turn green* for course inspection (or turn blue, as in Japan the word for blue and green was the same long ago, and the linguistic remnant of this is “blue traffic signals”).
There were a host of vintage boards on display, and Green Clothing owner Kats Taguchi took it to the next level by riding this Avalanche Kick in the Grand Masters division. This board was a hefty chunk of snowboard history: Damian Sanders used hard boots to bend it to his will, so the challenge was on for Kats Taguchi to make it down the twists and turns alive, let alone fast!
When you are racing on vintage boards older than most of the competitors, you need all the help you can get – they don’t get faster with age!
Yatto Yoshino was a forerunner rider down the course, and set the bar pretty high for style through the lower banks of the final turns that caught out many of the field that came after him:Gentemstick rider, Hayato ‘Bubbles’ Maruyama made a clear statement about the course he wants Japan to follow with his mountain tools…
Flux Bindings rider, Kohei Motoki, was also making statements – of intent – with his smooth and powerful riding:
The Tenjin Banked Slalom is more than a race. Like the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, it’s also a gathering. Koji Mikami was riding his own handmade board, pressed with horizontal laminates like a skateboard. Standing in front of the terrain that inspired its design, he described the feeling of riding something you have made yourself being a much more satisfying version of snowboarding. He then proceeded to put down the second fastest Grand Masters division time, bar Matt Cummins, on a board with no edges!
When it came to race time, although the stakes are high for those vying to finish at the head of the field, at the top of the course the atmosphere is always friendly and inclusive with blocks of wax and thoughts on which corners will be tough being shared. New addition to the Jones Snowboards Japan Team, Ruiki Masuda, giving his wax job a final scrape and brush:
All ages welcome – Grommets winner, Daisuke Muraoka drops in: Matt Cummins was fresh off a Baker Legends division win, and was looking powerful and composed as ever:Equal opportunities… to make fun of people crashing! The Sato sisters took over the MC duties for a while and kept the good vibes flowing while not letting any big names missing turns off the hook:
Staying low and looking fast straight out of the gate. First turn and a long way to go, but K2’s Daisuke Watanabe held it together all the way to 3rd place on the podium:Go Biyajima has smooth style out of the Nagano forests and peaks. You might have seen big brother Shin riding with Travis in The Fourth Phase, but Go is blazing his own trail too – this time to sixth place.
Minakami local Naoto Morota was hard to miss as he blazed down:
Gentemstick rider Shinji Sato navigating the turns:
When he puts his camera pack down, watch out. Photographer Tsutomu Endo was faster than half the riders he shoots.
It started well for Deus rider Yusuke Toyoma…
…but when he DQ’ed, he pointed it straight and ollied the course:
Age is just a number, and not as important as your start number. Goro Komatsu, riding for JF Pelchat’s NOW bindings, is just one of the Japanese riding legends who would be in the Masters division if he went by age instead of his riding status, and is always around the top end of the Open field.
At the other end of the age spectrum is 241 outerwear rider, Rei Igarashi. The 15-year-old prodigy has mastered the art of the turn way beyond his years and no matter how tight the course, he seems to have fun threading his lines together:
Low and clean – Rei was in in form all weekend. Lying in second after Sunday’s finals, he slipping to sixth with a fall in the Super Final. He has time on his side and will be back though:
Rome veteran Takafumi Konishi is usually found slaying big mountain lines, and with his beast-mode strength and experience, he’s always a threat to the podium in any banked slalom he enters. Konishi might have turned 40, but he is keeping the next generations honest – if they want to keep him off the top spots they really have to earn it. This year he tied for fourth spot with Burton’s Ryusei Takahashi, almost half his age. The corners don’t care how old you are, so we fully expect to see Konishi in the mix at the sharp end of the field again next year.Volcom and Jones rider, Ruiki Masuda took his trademark powerful style all the way to 2nd place:Ruiki’s power tamed the turns but wasn’t enough to catch Motoki Kohei who really owned the course. You can’t make a stronger statement than putting down the fastest times to lead the field in Saturday’s qualifying, repeating that feat in Sunday’s finals… and then smoke the field by over two seconds in the Super Final! Kohei Motoki was an unstoppable force over the two days, and all eyes were on him as he took the top section of the course: We’re not sure how you can look so relaxed when you have just slain a course like this, but that smooth flow is what made Kohei Motoki the 2018 Tenjin Banked champ!
This is what controlled destruction of a banked slalom course looks like:
The women’s field was equally competitive, with strong riders of all styles. Patagonia and Gentemstick rider Haruna Kito takes her trademark smooth style through the turns:
Smiling while ripping – this shows how much fun it is when you rail a bottom turn and attack the next bank:
The older Sato sister, K2 rider Natsuki Sato treading the fine line between speed and control, and taking 5th in the women’s race:
The ‘super final’ format can be cruel. After the times were all in, the top three women advanced to a final showdown. Rome rider and freeride slayer, Naoko Araki was second after the two final runs, but dropped down to third after the super final – despite rocking her Airblaster base layer for extra speed!
Aya Sato has the younger sibling’s burning drive to beat her older sister, and was looking to top it off with the win.She had her sister beat – and everyone else along the way – on the way to the super final, where she put down another smooth run:
It wasn’t enough though, to tame the women’s winner, Yumi Okoba:
Yumi Okaba embraced the ‘all or nothing’ nature of the super final. She laid down a scorching run over four seconds faster than her third-place run in the finals to take the win! This is what an ‘on fire’ run looks like:
The bottom of the course was like a summer camp village from the shred industry in Japan, with plenty of new gear to check out and beers to share:
Suntanned and smiling, it was time to head inside for the prize giving. Showing the international bonds and roots of the event, there were some sweet custom sticks on display. The unique Mt. Baker Winterstick had been given as a special prize to Tenjin event organizer, Taizo Fukushima, at this year’s Mt. Baker LBS, where he volunteers.
Every year Mike Cummins hand crafts ceramic art prizes for all the category podium places. This year the ceramic plaques came with an extra prize to get you up to speed another day – coffee from the local temple:
Kohei Motoki was a popular champion. Like Josh Dirksen at this year’s Mt. Baker LBS, he had come close in previous years and was super stoked to finally take the win!
The Men’s top six on the podium, in descending order from winner Kohei Motoki on the left:
The top of the Women’s field:
Old guys rip too! The Masters pick up their prizes:
Mike Cummins was honored for his contribution to the event with a special TJ Brand board:
In a side story anyone with children can relate to, JF Pelchat’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Juliette, posted a faster time than him in the qualifying on Saturday. When asked, “How does it feel to have beaten your Dad?’ she replied, “Pretty good!” with a huge smile. Come Sunday’s finals, she followed up her win the Junior Girls division at Baker this year with the top spot in the Junior Girls here too, but dad stepped up too and stayed a few seconds ahead of her to take second in the Masters:
The masters of stoke, looking remarkably fresh after a two whole days on the mic, beers, some snowboarding, and hosting the entertaining prize-giving ceremony. The fountain of youth is somewhere out there in between the sun and snowboarding: Last but not least, Taizo Fukushima, the driving force who makes the whole thing happen each year – fittingly still in his straw hat and radio harness, bringing the proceedings to a close for another year of the Tenjin Banked Slalom:
Check the full results on the Tenjin Banked Slalom page here.
Want more Tenjin Banked stoke? See what went down here back in 2017 and 2016 too.
Special thanks to Taizo Fukushima, and the Tenjin Banked Slalom crew.