Event: Tenjin Banked Slalom 2021

The Tenjin Banked Slalom takes place in Japan every March, and 2021 was no exception. The pinnacle of a booming pyramid of banked slalom events across Japan, it attracts a full spectrum of riders from industry veterans to kids, all-terrain freeriders to boardercross racers.

Last year we were at Tenjin just as the COVID19 drama was unfolding in Japan, with visiting riders unsure if they would make it make it back to their home countries. Over the twelve months since then we’ve gone from snowboard events being out of the question, to being cautiously grateful that ski lifts were turning in Japan and events like the Tenjin Banked Slalom could go ahead.

Despite the absence of the usual PNW crew making the trip with Matt Cummins to help shape the course, the event continues to connect the international shred scenes with coveted places in the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom awaiting the Men’s and Women’s Open winners – whenever such travel opens up again. 

The new normal for banked slaloms: temperature checks and socially-distanced picking up of your numbers:

Event head honcho, Taizo Fukushima (and MC Nobu in a rare moment of silence!) keeping everyone in the loop and aware of the course conditions:

Japan Grabs Tenjin Banked Slalom 2021 Taizo

The Shinto priest’s blessing ceremony marks the opening of Tenjin Banked Slalom each year, asking the mountain spirits to protect all the people on the mountain from the riders in this event to the mountain climbers heading up to Tanigawa-dake peak:

Ceremonies completed, it was race time. As always the digging crew had created a varied and challenging course. Massive fall-line banks on steeper sections mixed with sharper turns, varying the speed and tempo for a challenging test of board control and flow. 

What a difference a day makes: Storm conditions on qualifying day adding an extra layer of challenge for the riders, before a sun-blessed finals day:

The kids are here …and they’re fast

One thing was clear from qualifying day: the rise of the kids. Over past years‘ Tenjin Banked Slaloms we’ve seen an ongoing trend of younger and younger riders getting the whole banked slalom thing dialed. The whoosh of spray as pint-sized ripper slays the course.  “Hang on a sec… How old was that kid?!” “Won’t be long ’till they are fast as the Open class guys!” Yeah, that last one is now close to “Won’t be long until phones can take decent pics”. The kids are already here, and they are fast.  

Qualifying day is stressful anywhere, but especially so at Tenjin. Riders have just one run to make it above the cut into the top half of the field for two-run finals day. Just like a banked slalom course, it’s a ruthless test of consistency. This is usually a format that favors experience, so when the results were pinned to the socially-distanced digital board of social media, it was even more  impressive that a high school kid topped the Men’s Open times! In a field stacked with many of Japan’s top riders from all genres of snowboarding, it was a 18 year old Takuma Aoi in the hot seat. 

Takuma Aoi, more than ready to drop at the top of the order on finals day (above). Although he couldn’t repeat the feat on day two, it looks likely the 2018 Junior division winner will be troubling the Men’s Open podium soon enough. 

Back in their own divisions, the kids were ripping too::

The rise of the kids is also part of another trend. The success of the serious racers. With a spot at the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom up for grabs, it’s no surprise riders are taking them seriously.

Progression is natural, and as banked slaloms have become more popular, riders are getting faster as they get them dialed. One of the joys of a a good banked slalom course is that it still gives an even playing field for all kinds of riders – whether they are on BX race boards or park twins – especially in dealing with the uneven challenges of rutted course over a weekend. As the ‘carving revolution’ has got more people into the joys of turning their boards, perhaps in return the banked slalom boom has got more boardercross racers into the joys of more enjoyable terrain. 

Theorizing aside, it’s clear that that the riders who spend their winters focused on turning and speed are, unsurprisingly, fast in banked slaloms. Just like the Mt. Baker LBS pits the likes of Nate Holland and Seth Westcott against the Dirksens and Crepels of the shred world, this same story is played out at Tenjin, from the kids divisions upwards.

Tenma Tamai, son of Gentemstick founder Taro Tamai, bringing his appreciation of the turn to 3rd place in Junior Boys:

Turn training came to the fore this time, as Next Generation (elementary school age) boys winner, Renosuke Ota (above) powered down in what would have been a respectable time in the Men’s, and the Junior boys (aged 12 to 15) winner Furuya Masaya (below) crushed it with a time that would have landed him a top ten finish in the Men’s Open!

Masters class: kids forcing the level up for the old guys too!

With the kids raising the bar and lowering times in the Open class, the Masters is becoming a place for older freeride pros to take refuge! Plenty of old pro racers in the mix further added to the high level of riding in the over-40s.

Volcom Japan filmer Hiroaki ‘Yone’ Yonekura dropping in to a top ten finish in the Masters:

Junichi Ito took time off from running the Cardiff Snowcraft booth to tap into his halfpipe edge control experience from the early 2000’s and take 6th place in Masters:

At the sharp end it was battle between backcountry freestyle legend Goro Komatsu (above) and ex-pro BX racer turned weekend warrior banked slalom destroyer, Kumaki (below). Goro had been working (and by his own admission, riding!) on the course all week with the digging crew, but in the end it was Kumaki’s uncanny ability to crush any banked slalom course on sight that prevailed and he took home an amazing hand-crafted snowboard for his efforts.

In the over-50 Grand Masters there was a nice back-story to TJ Brand main man, Yosuke Nishida (below), taking the win. The Grand Masters class is thick with industry guys from an era when snowboarding was a small tight-knit community. One of those is Toshiki Sakabayashi who runs longstanding Gumna shop (and skatepark!) Trickstar. Yosuke Nishida had given him a rare Lib Tech Shalom for his board collection, so in return he gave Yosuke this specially made ‘Trickstar edition’ Lib Tech Birdman. Yosuke Nishida was so stoked, he joked that he’d win Tenjin on it. Come finals day, that was exactly what happened. Manifesting or just being fast, it was a nice touch! 

Bringing back the fun on boards older than you

The Vintage class was a highlight of Tenjin Banked this year. It was like a ‘history of snowboarding’ exhibit in action. Big smiles and old boards combined, and it and felt more like the early years of the competition, where surviving a wild course was half the goal.

While the race types vying for the Open title were tuning to win, in the Vintage class the pre-race roto-brush was just to get these t-bolted relics to slide!

Goro Komatsu (above) heads up Protect Our Winters Japan, and was on the oldest board in the Vintage race – a 1988 Crazy Banana! Before dropping in he said it was almost impossible to control on piste… but the banks helped get it round  the corners! He didn’t seem to have too much trouble though, and squeezed in this layback slash near the finish:

When the t-bolts had held all the way to the finish line it was Aya Sato who took the Vintage class win on this 1990 Burton Air. With boards from 1986 to 1990 on show – some of which looked like they barely flexed – the good-natured start hut banter was that the newer boards had an advantage. The Vintage race was generating a lot of stoke, so maybe we’ll see multiple Vintage class races in the future divided by the era of boards! In the meantime there was no question who had the most fun – the men and women on the least easy to ride gear!

Green Clothing boss ‘Kats’ Taguchi celebrates surviving another run on his vintage Avalanche Damian Sanders!   

Tenjin is always about more than just the racing, with brands big and small supporting the event with demo gear to try out and take your mind off the fact that you might have just crashed on the first corner: 

Alongside the bigger names there were some sweet shapes from Cardiff and new Japanese brand Maverick Figures:

Men’s and Women’s Open Class: The battle for Baker spots

Good vibes in the Women’s Open start gate with Saori Mizuma, joking about trying to beat her husband Daisuke’s time!  A true shred family who also put on the Gokuraku Banked Slalom at their local hill in Toyama prefecture:

Gentemstick and Patagonia rider, Haruna Maruyama (above) staying poised in the falling snow of qualifying day. 

Gnu’s Aya Sato (below) has been pushing further into the backcountry in recent years, and is one of the few whose freeride skills can take on the the boardercross specialists. Aya looks set to dominate… if she can just tone down her usual all-out-attack mode just a touch! She had to settle for 3rd this time – alongside the Vintage class win! Not a bad haul.

apan-Grabs-Tenjin-banked-slalom-2021 Emi Sudo Ride

Ride snowboards Emi Sudo (above) took 5th, while Japanese national team boardercross rider Asami Hirono (below) couldn’t break the top ten this time, showing the level in the women’s final:

Slopestyle rider Rina Kawano cruising into 4th:

Last year’s winner, Yumi Okubo brought her boardercross skills to bear, and took 2nd place:

But in keeping with the overall trends it was another young gun – and another boardercross racer – 16-year-old Niigata native, Mio Noguchi who took top spot in the Women’s Open:

We hope circumstances allow her to make it to Baker next year – but even if it takes a couple of years for international travel to return, she’ll still be in high school when she takes her Tenjin winner’s spot in the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom!

The corners of death

Every banked slalom course usually has a some kind of crux. A corner lying in wait for the unwary. This year Tenjin had a few death corners, but this one was the pick of them! Here are some highlights of the the carnage…   

In the Men’s Open, Takafumi Konishi showing the mountain climbers a faster way down the hill:

Another young ripper, Tanto Hamaguchi was only 15 at Tenjin this year, but finished in 5th:

Minakami local Naoto Morota alternated shaping the course for everyone else, and laying down clean  runs for himself:


K2 rider Daisuke Watanabe is another with doesn’t tone down his own flair for race days. A smiling force of nature, he combines his own kung-fu style with plenty of speed.

Dasiuke fully commmited to the horizontal on his toesides. He qualified in 3rd but couldn’t quite lace it together on finals day. That didn’t dampen his spirits though, and he even shared his personal K2 Instrument board with us for a run, always happy to spread the stoke!

Dasiuke fully commmited to the horizontal on his toesides. He qualified in 3rd but couldn’t quite lace it together on finals day. That didn’t dampen his spirits though, and he even shared his personal K2 Instrument board with us for a run, always happy to spread the stoke!

Capita rider Ryosuke Abe’s riding style is something special. One of those riders who you can tell who it is from across the hill. While most are crouched, pumping (or flailing and hanging on for dear life) he’s cruising along relaxed and upright, with Tom Penny-esque sleepy poise. 

Yuki Motoki powering into 7th:

Muraoka Daisuke on his way down to 6th:

Jones powder freestyle destroyer Ruiki Masuda:

Minakami local Hikaru Taira is an entertainer at heart. He’s no slouch around the gates (above) but from tweaking out a layback slash right out of the gate last year, to hucking this crowd pleaser (below) mid-run on finals day, he keeps it style over split seconds! If you’re ever in Minakami, stop by his cafe-demo center-bar, Minakami Base and say Hi!

Salomon rider Wataru Okamoto can usually be found ripping around the park, but is equally at home tearing down a banked slalom course. He blazed into 4th place. 

3rd place went to Kota Sakurai, another young boardcross-trained rider… are you seeing a pattern here? Could we see a boardercross revival? 

Gentemstick rider Rei Igarashi  brings artistry rather than gate training. He knows about getting low and arcing turns like a knife, and took 2nd place (above and below):

It was Kohei Motoki who joined the select club of repeat winners of the Tenjin Banked Slalom, smoking everyone by over a second and leaving no doubt who is the guy to beat in the lefts and rights! 

Without the in-person international element, this year’s Tenjin Banked Slalom had a more home-grown feel. Homegrown prizes from local board-makers HT Craft and leather-crafter Tadpole Craft, sat alongside event support from Japanese tire brand Toyo Tires as well as good chunk of the domestic snowboard industry. Oh, and beer, lots of beer…

Congratulations to Women’s and Men’s Open winners, Mio Noguchi and Kohei Motoki (above) It will be interesting to see how these young turn and burn technicians fare when they can tape on their numbers in the Mt Baker LBS… whenever that will be possible! 

Extra congratulations and thanks go out to the Tenjin Banked Slalom diggers crew who created and maintained such a fun course through some pretty challenging weather – a big socially-distanced air-high-five to all of them!  

Special thanks to Taizo Fukushima and all the 2021 Tenjin Banked Slalom team. Here’s to hoping events  like this can keep  bringing the snowboard community together in the coming years too,

Full results (in Japanese) are on the Tenjin Banked Slalom website here.