The Tenjindaira Banked Slalom continues to be one of the most important events on the shred calendar in Japan, and at the same time a refreshingly simple and down-to-earth connection between roots snowboarding in Japan and the Pacific Northwest. With a place for the top man and woman at the Mt. Baker LBS on the line, there’s always drama. The 9th Annual Tenjin didn’t disappoint there, with young guns challenging the big names. The youth are coming up… fast!
The Shinto priest perform their blessings and prayers for the safety of everyone on the mountain. This is a special moment every year, for reflection on how lucky we are to be in the mountains, doing something we love. With the steepness of the top section of the course this year, their blessings for the safety and health of all the riders seemed apt!
Tenjindaira has some steep slopes and this year the course was held on the steepest run in the resort, making it possibly the steepest banked slalom ever held. Course designer, Mike Cummins said, “We’ve looked at that face many times before, but this year was the least steep it’s ever been, so we decided to try it out”. The fickle Tenjin weather had made digging the course even more challenging, with powder giving way to rain in the run up to the event. This had left the diggers with a soaked then frozen snowpack to build with, making their achievement of shaping a banked slalom down this slope even more impressive.
It’s not just serious race face time at Tenjn. The tent village of brands and sponsors at the bottom of the course always has a good vibe, filled with shiny new gear to check out. If the powder gods had been generous, that sweet Asmo / Salomon colab powder surfer would have seen some action…
Patagonia were back handing out samples of their tasty Provisions energy bars for a healthy boost. This year they also manifested the ‘Repair is a radical act’ tagline of their Worn Wear initiative literally, bringing live on-hill gear repair to the base of the Tenjin Banked Slalom.
Mike Basich took a break from creating DIY beer-serving powdercats to head over to Japan for the event. Never one to take the easy road, he pulled out a 171 powder gun from the Nidecker demo tent – a board typically thought to be for going fast and straight in open terrain, and proceeded to demonstrate that it can go around corners too. He was carrying so much speed that he had to throw it completely sideways at one point – a risky move on a board that long – but it paid off as he powered to the win in the Masters division.
This year a new vintage board category was introduced following the brave challengers who took on the course last year on boards older than many of the riders. Green Clothing boss Kats Taguchi brought out his beloved t-bolted Avalanche Kick – this year upgraded with a base grind, but still with the flex pattern of a solid 2×4. The category was marked by a desire to get down the course in one piece, but the times were respectable given the age of boards, with local legend and TJ Brand shaper, Yosuke Nishida, taking the win on his first board, a 1988 Barfoot.
At the other end of the lifeline of snowboarding, youth and the next generation coming through was a theme of the weekend. 16-year-old Rei Igarishi is already a seasoned podium threat, and made the final again here. He has been joined by 13-year-old Zenta Muraoka in terrorizing the Men’s Open division. Zenta came second, in with the pros of the adult Men. Yes, you read that correctly: a thirteen-year-old beat every pro in the Men’s open apart from one of the most experienced international riders out there.
Zenta is one to watch… and sooner rather than later. He might only be old enough to… er, do some slightly more difficult homework by the time next year’s Mt Baker LBS is held, but it’s highly likely he’ll be taking scalps. This result was no fluke: at the 2019 Mt Baker LBS, he took the Junior Boys title with a time that would have put him in the top 20 in the Pro Men’s, right between Austin Smith and Gigi Ruf!
Very few have won the Mt Baker LBS as both a Junior and Pro. With speed like this, would bet against Zenta adding his name to that rarified list. Time is on certainly on his side:
Mathieu Crepel had been filming pow in Baldface and could only make it to Tenjin to join the Nidecker crew on Saturday night. Luckily for him, the organizers had decided at the last minute to run both the qualifiers and finals on Sunday to give people more practice on the on the icy course.
On Sunday morning, still in the jet lag twilight zone and with just a powder board that was a bit short for this course, Mathieu went up and sideslipped beside the course to try and get a look, but couldn’t see into the deep banks. After that ‘warm up’, he was called for his run and sent it blind. Things were going well on instinct until the fastest corner, mid-course. Hesitant to speed check, what looked like a smooth bank turned out to be harbouring a kinked wall that spun him out over the lip. A mixture of break dancing and wrestling the edge of the bank carried him around the bend until he was flipped fully across the course… then picked himself up and scrambled back on his way.
After the run he had a laugh with the Nidecker team, “Oh well, I guess I flew around the world for nothing!” This realization was still sinking in, when the top 15 names were called for the Men’s Superfinal, with Mathieu in 11th despite the crash! With only a corked-in quick wax refresh, he showed his class in the final, powering through the treacherous spots without hesitation and leaving a heavily stacked field in his wake by over 2 seconds!
Having seen his younger sibling Go Biyajima put down a contender’s run, big brother Shin pushed too hard and skidded out on an early corner in the final. Not content to go out like that, Shin took a few more turns then blasted out of a corner bank with a back 3, clearing the roller that the assembled media had made into a filming gallery, and landing perfectly into the tranny on the back side. He later said, “If I wasn’t going to be first, I was going to be last – no in between!”
Mike Cummins let on that the diggers had been eyeing up that particular corner… “That looks like goes, if you air all the way out and over…” Shin turned his frustration into an expression of that line, and stoked out everyone in view.
In the Women’s open class, powerful and smooth runs in qualifying put a list of familiar names in the super final. As the light faded for the final runs, Sayaka Kato, Natsuki Sato, and Yoko Nakamura all sent it a bit too close to the ragged edge in the chase for the place at Mt Baker.
The speed of youth continued as the theme in the Women’s race with young gun Karen Muneno and the always fast Aya Sato being the final two called for the title, and eighteen-year-old Karen taking the win – much to her own surprise!
It was Mathieu Crepel’s turn to be stoked and surprised next, receiving a special hand-shaped board from Sunrise Shred Service – presented to him by Master’s winner Mike Basich. For a rider who has won countless comps over the years, this emotion sums up the special atmosphere of the Tenjin banked slalom.
Another example of the cultural exchange here, Mathieu even found time to take check out Hand, a roots snowboard magazine produced by Goro Komatsu to be passed hand-to-hand, and take a copy back to France with him alongside his trophies:
Check out the full Tenjin Banked Slalom 2019 results here.
Big thanks and respect to Taizo Fukushima and all the Tenjin Banked Slalom organizers, and course diggers for another epic event. We can’t wait for the 10th Anniversary edition next year!
Not enough Tenjin Banked stoke? See what went down here back in 2018 and 2017 too.
Thanks to Nidecker snowboards for the Mike Basich winning run & Mathieu Crepel crash footage.