Tenjin Banked Slalom, Japan’s premier banked slalom celebrated 10 years of bringing the snowboard community together
Preface: Since March 1st, the global COVID-19 virus situation has escalated in a way that makes events like this untenable to hold. We thank the Tenjin organisers for taking every step possible to minimise risks at the time the 2020 TBS was held.
Against the backdrop of an international pandemic worsening by the day, and Japan experiencing its worst winter on record, the Tenjindaira Banked Slalom came through in the toughest of conditions. Driving up through Minakami town to Tenjindaira, it was more like end of season than the first weekend of March, and all props must go the course diggers for making the most of snowpack to build a respectable course.
Tenjindaira has a habit of ‘catching weather’, and even in this record-breaking low snow year the digging crew still had to battle powder in the days before race day. Saturday qualification runs in the sun were followed by riders waking to the sound of rain on Sunday, and being greeted by a snowstorm on the hill. Prayers were answered though, and the storm lifted right on cue for finals. The diggers crew somehow had the course looking immaculate with open bowled corners painted up for visibility. The icy death track of last year was replaced by a rhythmic snake run of smooth turns, starting tight and uncoiling into fast and open turns to the finish. While this looked easy and ripe for railing, the variable snow rewarded only those who really pumped speed and knew how to generate speed from carved high lines.
As the ongoing Corona virus situation shuts schools, and keeps people in self-imposed isolation, the importance of gatherings of like-minded snowboarders at events like the Tenjin Banked Slalom in Corona-free times stands out even more. While nobody knows how this pandemic will play out, with international riders rushing to make it home before potential travel bans could leave them living out their board bags, one thing is clear: the Japan shred scene is healthy and the next generation of all-mountain rippers are being well educated in the art of the turn.
The Shinto priest’s blessing, asking the mountain spirits for the safe passage of all on mountain – whether alpine climbers or snowboarders – marks the opening of the event.
Race day reparation takes many forms. For some it’s talking turns and getting that base prepped to perfection, for others it’s a relaxing adult sports drink:
Race time in the Women’s open. Wakana Hama dropping in and hoping to make it down to that finish area in less than a minute:
Wakana had a breakthrough year last season on the Freeride World Tour. She was looking strong in qualification but blew up in the finals going all out for the win. The agony of a crash and wait for redemption next year is all part of the fun:
Rossignol Japan rider and trainee guide, Saeko Kimura, navigates the final section:
Miyuki Shiga poised in attack mode through the final corner…
…and then experiencing the mixture of elation and lack of oxygen that awaits at the finish line after a good run:
Tohoku native Yuka Nakamura stayed low and powerful all the way to second place:
Yuki Furihata travelled down from Sendai to hold it down for Volcom, crushing turns and more beers than most of the men’s field combined:
Salomon’s freeride queen, Yoko Nakamura is no stranger to taking top spot at Tenjin. She didn’t quite nail it this time to claim the treasured place at the Mt Baker LBS but she always leads in her own way: as well as dropping fast runs, she spent the weekend working shovel-in-hand with the course maintenance crew:
Turning around after your run and seeing your name, a fast time and ‘Rank 1’ next to it is a great feeling. Ride snowboards Japan rider, Emi Sudo, enjoyed the moment…
…but it wasn’t to last as Yumi Okubo (below) laid down a scorcher to take the win, and the hugs of congratulations from the shred sisterhood:
Tent village: Gear, beer and cheers
As always there was a whole host of 2021 gear to take for a spin in between race run from all the supporting brands. The tents village around the finish serves dual purpose as both demo booths for next season’s boards, and pit stops for their team riders to chill and brush their race boards to shiny perfection.
The 2021 K2 Manifest Team and the Japan-influenced Salomon Hillside Project quiver, both looking good. From next year’s K2 boards, the Manifest Team is good for those looking for a stiffer freestyle scalpel, and the more freeride-orientated Pat Moore Alchemist looked so nice, it was swiped by K2 rider Ryuji Takai for his finals runs.
Mike Basich comparing board shapes at the Nidecker tent. Mike pulled a 2021 Nidecker Mellow out of the demo fleet – an evolution of the already hard-turning Liberty shape…
…and powered his way to the win in the Men’s Masters for the second year running, against a fast field of over-40s:
Jones rep Aki Matsumoto (below left) puts in a shift every year with the course crew as well taping on a number himself. Nidecker team lensman Sam McMahon (below right) was also on trend with the ‘red jackets for people doing important jobs’ in the photographers’ line up, as all eyes turned to the Men’s Open finals…
K2 rider Daisuke Watanabe letting it all flow in banked party mode from turn one. His blend of good-times enthusiasm and aggression bank-wrangling took him all the way to second place:
Gentemstick rider Kazushige Fujita dipped into his quiver and switched up from a his usual Independent Stick board on qualifying day to a big 168cm Magic 38 for his finals runs, looking for extra speed. A top ten finish was his reward for hanging on for the ride on his big gun:
Horizontal or vertical, Rome rider Naoki Ito is always stoked:
The wild freeriders were tamed by a slightly mellow course this year which favored the carvers. Takafumi Konishi is usually found beasting big lines, but here gives his Rome teammate Naoki a run for his money in the unofficial ‘having fun while shredding face’ comp:
As if riding gates against a field of some of Japan’s best shredders wasn’t enough, gusting winds created mini-tornadoes (snow-nadoes?) on course. 2018 champ, Kohei Motoki stays low in the eye of the storm:
‘Dogs of Tenjin 2020’ calendar coming soon? What better way to relax than chilling with your buddy who doesn’t care if you crash on the last turn:
Minakami local Hikaru Taira has showman style as well as speed. The wall of the first turn felt almost vertical as you went in, but Hikaru posted up a classic layback slash right out of the gate, on his way to qualifying in a very competitive field:
On finals day, Hikaru’s run didn’t go to plan but that didn’t stop him expressing himself with a high speed layback through the finish line…
…and TJ Brand rider Hisanori Katsuyama doing the same, sending a perfectly cross-boned frontside grab out of the course after a crash up high:
Mathieu Crepel was back in Japan and made the journey down to Tenjin from Hokkaido to defend his crown in the Men’s Open division. After scorching the field last year all eyes were on him from qualifiers onwards, with a lot of Japanese riders stoked to test themselves against him. Mathieu took it all in his stride, happily blasting side hits into chop until his runs – and powder laps after.
While Mathieu didn’t quite pull off the repeat win, the drama of his presence gave everyone in the Men’s Open field the extra challenge of knowing they were up against him. The cheers for his qualifying day masterful run were only matched by the cheers for the runs that bested his time on finals day. This competitive camaraderie, complete with friendly heckling from the MC’s all day, kept everyone on their toes (…or heels, depending which bank) and added to the start-gate atmosphere.
It wasn’t Gentemstick young gun Rei Igarashi’s year, but look at his track and you can see it’s only a matter of time:
Goofy footers are a rare breed in Japan. Go Biyajima holding it down for the right-foot-forward peeps and besting big brother Shin for the first time at Tenjin in the process:
Keita Yamazaki appreciates the simple pleasures in life and always brings his own fluid style. Whether in banked slaloms or Freeride World Tour competitions in his native Hakuba, he’s not one to sacrifice style for points or hundredths of seconds.
It’s safe to say that a Japanese national team boardercross rider knows how to rail berms around gates. Shinya Momono’s race pedigree was evident as he put down the the fastest time of the day…
…but more impressive was his humility and genuine happiness at taking the win. Let’s hope he carries the same stoke and speed next year at Mt Baker where the likes of fellow boardercross racers Nate Holland and Seth Westcott await!
Men’s Open Division extended podium:
The top six in Women’s Open Division:
Winner’s stoke all round…
The Tenjin Banked Slalom builds its artistic, as well as riding, link to the Pacific Northwest every year with Mike Cummins’ ceramic art prizes:
It wasn’t just the podium people getting prizes. To mark the tenth anniversary of the Tenjin Banked Slalom, everyone who entered got some unique gear from Coal Headwear and 241 Clothing – a nice cap and riding socks with the commemorative 10 year TBS logo on. A big shout out must go to all the brands who support core snowboarding events.
An event like Tenjin Banked Slalom passes in a blink of an eye for the excited competitors, minds full of moments of speed and shaving seconds but holding it all together are a team putting in a marathon effort. From the MC’s keeping it light-hearted on the mic (aided by a significant number of adult beverages), to Kenji Kato running the queue to the start gate, to the assembled media, and course digging crew, ‘otsukare beers’ were well-earned all round. And just like that, as last runs were taken down the mountain into an uncertain virus-ridden society, the community that is snowboarding said their farewells to Tenjin Banked Slalom 2020.
Huge thanks go out as always to Taizo Fukushima and the Tenjin Banked Slalom crew for putting on such a well run event. Full results are on the Tenjin Banked Slalom official site (in Japanese) here.