The Tenjin Banked Slalom is an event that brings shred communities together, filled with individual stories that for one weekend are woven together. One of those is that of Colorado native, Shane Carrick. We noticed Shane riding the last two tears at Tenjin as a team rider for Japanese brand, Ogasaka snowboards. This seemed unusual enough for us to find out more, so we caught up with him to find out about his journey, literally and figuratively, to Tenjin, doing Japan by van, and carving his own line to ride for Ogasaka snowboards…
Hi Shane, first up could you do the intro thing and tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get into snowboarding?
I’m 36 years old, from Colorado and in the winter I snowboard for Ogasaka Snowboards and coach young snowboard competitors for Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club. The rest of the year I spend over in France, in Paris teaching skateboarding for Paris Skate Culture.
I was pretty much born with skis on in Aspen, Colorado. My mom was a ski patroller and my dad was a ski bum. I started snowboarding when I was 12 or so because my best friend did it. I learned to snowboard on a tiny little rope-tow near my house in Ouray, Colorado. I learned on my friend’s sister’s board and she happened to be goofy – so I ended up goofy even though I’m naturally regular (and still skateboard regular). Everyday I would run home after school and get my gear on as fast as possible and ride that little hill until dark. I never went back to skiing.
Heading off the beaten track brings its own rewards: Shane meeting the locals and picking up style trends for 2021:
How many times have you been over to Japan and ridden in the Tenjin Banked Slalom?
This is my fourth winter visiting Japan, and my second time to race in the Tenjin Banked Slalom.
How does Tenjin compare to banked slaloms that you’ve ridden in Stateside?
I’ve ridden in the Mt Baker LBS and some local ones out here in Steamboat and Aspen, and I feel like this year at Tenjin it was amazing. One of the most fun courses I’ve ridden. It just seemed really natural and the flow seemed really organic, it felt like turns you might make if you are just freeriding. They do an amazing job with the course at Tenjin.
Time for the big question. How does a snowboarder from Colorado find himself riding for Japanese brand like Ogasaka at Tenjin?
Well, in order to explain how I ended up coming out to Tenjin and Japan in general, we have to rewind to 2015. I was still snowboarding but just as a weekend warrior, no longer competing or sponsored or anything. I was mainly focused on my job at a TV station. My wife and I each lost close friends that year and we noticed that life is short and we should reassess our priorities and go have some adventures. So we quit our jobs, ended our lease and moved all of our belongings into our parents basements, and bought one-way tickets to Indonesia. I had always wanted to go to Japan for the obvious reasons as a snowboarder (lots of snow) but also as a traveler, it seemed like a different planet. Most of our travel plan was open ended and undecided. We were going to travel around the world until we ran out of money. The only planned thing though was that we wanted to figure out a way to spend a winter in Japan. We did that by living in a tiny camper van – my lawnmower at home had bigger wheels than the van’s. It was perfect though because it was cheap and we were able to really explore Japan and get off the beaten path. That winter we never even made it up to Hokkaido for the epic snow I’d heard so much about. We were too captivated by the lesser known ski areas on Honshu. We slept in parking lots and ate at 7-11 most of the time. It was an awesome way to see Japan.
That winter I got connected to Ogasaka Snowboards through a snowboard shop in Nozawa Onsen. I saw this crazy 173 shark-nose swallowtail beast of a board on the display rack and asked what the hell it was. The shop owner let me ride it and I was hooked. I reached out to Ogasaka to see how I could buy one. One thing led to another and they offered me sponsorship. At that point, I began focusing on my snowboarding again. I rode anywhere and anything I could – even if it was just a run or two here and there as we drove through the mountains and stumbled upon a random chairlift. By late spring, the snow was really nothing to speak of mostly and not every mountain is epic – but I cherished every turn I made. I didn’t give a shit about powder or perfect conditions on perfect mountains, I totally just reconnected with the love of riding my snowboard again.
The following year I came back out to Japan for an Ogasaka Snowboards demo tour and board testing event. I had heard about the Tenjin Banked Slalom from a friend. I was near Tenjin for the event with Ogasaka so I drove over and raced. After that, I was hooked. It was such a fun race, and unbelievable mountain …and the people were so damn cool, so I committed to coming back every year.
You have had a less typical career path in snowboarding. It seems like fate, or maybe making your path brought you to Ogasaka. You are also a yoga instructor and skateboard coach. Has that positivity shaped your journey to where you are now?
Yeah, it’s funny because I always wanted to be a professional snowboarder and to make it to the Olympics and all that… and I really tried, I had sponsors and traveled around competing and everything but I ended up burning out of that scene and going to college instead.
When I was in Japan with my wife she would work remotely from the van so I would often find myself on some random hill riding alone. Like I said before, a lot of the places weren’t anything too special, just a small hill with a chairlift or two, and I would spend hours riding these places. It’s like I spent all this time riding these awesome mountains but it wasn’t until I found myself alone in Japan in the middle of nowhere that I began to reconnect with why I fell in love with snowboarding in the first place – the sensation of sliding down snow. It sounds stupid but that’s it, it’s that simple. Sliding down snow on a plank is fun as hell – but it’s really easy to lose sight of that. I found myself alone in Japan carving, buttering and hitting small side jumps and giggling into my facemask like a little kid.
My yoga journey runs parallel to all of this. I attribute “my snowboard awakening” to yoga in fact. I don’t think I would have looked at it with such a different perspective had I not been practicing yoga. I was able to connect to the essence of snowboarding – the visceral sensation of sliding down snow on a piece of wood. Call it fate or whatever but the irony is that once I had let go of my ambitions in snowboarding and then reconnected with it in a pure way, a door opened for me to begin to pursue it in a serious way as a rider for Ogasaka Snowboards. I’m obviously not a big name or anything but I feel that I’ve “made it” in my own way. I laugh about it a lot – I feel like my whole experience in Japan was like a Zen Buddhist fable or something – the crestfallen warrior wandering alone in the mountains of Japan gains what he had never been able to get when he was grasping but as soon as he lets go, it comes to him! Ha ha! But seriously, it’s not by chance that I chose to veer my life off its course and pursue my passions – it was a conscious decision that I made.
Japan just experienced its worst winter on record, so we needed a bit of that positivity at times! It looks like you had a similar situation in Colorado in 2018 but made the best of it with your carving edit (above). Have you always been able to make your own fun on a snowboard?
Yes, for skiing my Dad has a saying – “When in doubt go.” He’d always say it when me or my brother didn’t want to go skiing. It’s not like he forced us to go skiing but he was just pointing to the fact that any day on the hill skiing is more fun than staying at home. I’m always the one who is still stoked after a cold, grey, windy day of riding ice and chunder. I’m not the guy who needs epic snow and mountains to have a good time.
2019 Tenjin was a gnarly one. Shane putting his racing background to good use taking a run on the painted up ice snake:
Racing was always the unfashionable cousin in the snowboard family, but recently at the whole ‘carving revolution’ and ‘snowsurf movement’ thing has put edge control and making turns back on the cool agenda. How do you feel about that, and do you see the same thing happening in the States as Japan?
I love it. Didn’t Jeremy Jones say something like “the hardest trick in snowboarding is the turn”? I mean turning has always been around ever since metal edges were put on boards in the 70’s. Racing was always a part of snowboarding from the very beginning – that part is undeniable. As an ex-snowboard racer who even used to wear a yellow skin-tight speed suit, I was that lame cousin. So I obviously support the carving revolution because that’s one of the things I enjoy most about riding a snowboard. Lucky for me it happens to be cool now but I’ll be OK when the pendulum begins to shift again. I often joke that anyone can ride pow and make it look good – put that same person on hardpack though and it’s hard to hide that shitty technique or style.
It’s really interesting to see the carving and snowsurf scene in Japan compared to the US. I’ve only raced at the Mt. Baker LBS once but I’m super aware of this niche “banked slalom style” in snowboarding that was born there at Mount Baker. From the way you wear your goggles to the way you wave your back hand when you slash – it’s a whole thing. I think it’s great because it emphasizes style above all else – style in clothes and style in technique. To me this is where Japan is lightyears ahead of the US though – style. Japan seems to have an interesting history of adopting things from other countries and then making them their own and then way better. Give it a google and you’ll find people arguing that the best burgers and pizza – even denim is to be found in Japan. I think it’s the same in snowboarding, some of the most stylish and cool riders (and brands) in the world are Japanese – especially the boutique brands. The passion, work ethic and attention to detail that is part of Japanese culture also spills over into their snowboard scene. It’s super interesting to me to see the cultural exchange in snowboarding travel back and forth from West to East and then East to West. It’s no coincidence that my car and my snowboard are Japanese!
You’ve journeyed beyond most of the big name resorts this winter. How was that as an experience of Japanese mountain culture?
It’s really easy to explore ski areas in Japan because they are everywhere. I’m told there are over 500 mountains in Japan. Some are like super resorts that you can get to within hours of Tokyo on the Shinkansen and others are just like a tiny one-seater chairlift in the middle of nowhere. It’s really cool to get away from the American and Australian tourist scenes where you’re more likely to see pow-hungry frat boys than any regular Japanese. I’d trade pow for a unique cultural experience and connection any day though so maybe I’m just weird. I don’t speak any Japanese (although I’m working on it) so the language barrier is a challenge. Once you’re away from the tourist hotspots, almost no one speaks English. While at times this can be hard, it’s one of the things that I love most. Feeling totally lost, confused, stupid and ashamed can be a very humbling experience. Needless to say, I rely heavily on the internet there to get through!
Without giving away too many hidden gems, where were your favorite spots?
I hear Niseko is great! (wink wink)
Good answer, let’s leave that for people to find out. Going off the beaten track in Japan in camper-van is probably on a lot of people’s bucket lists. What would be your tips for someone wanting to do that themselves?
I would say that for people looking to do something similar commit to at least a month if you can because Japan is unlike any country I’ve ever been to, the more time you spend there, the more unfamiliar and interesting it becomes. You have to have an international drivers license in order to rent a car in Japan – do that ahead of time because it can take weeks to process. And don’t drive on the freeways – they are way too expensive. Also, don’t be scared because there is no cultural disapproval of sleeping in your car – everyone does it! Also, the best plan is no plan!
You’re a tall guy compared to most domestic customers in Japan. Are there ever any issues with sizing or maximum stance widths for you?
No, not really because I’m able to choose my boards in person and I don’t ride a wide stance anyways or have big feet. Plus, I go out every year to a test event for the next year’s boards, with a handful of team riders and their engineering team. They basically line up a bunch of blank snowboards for us to ride and we give direct feedback to the engineers on the hill. I’m able to give really good feedback on the boards that I like every year, so they’ve always given me options to find a board that works for me.
Also, I’m pretty happy on any board. I’m a strong believer that it’s the snowboarder that matters, not the snowboard. A lot of shaped boards and ‘freestyle carving’ boards sometimes get sold as like “if you buy this snowboard, then you can ride this way, in this kind of style” but I think that you should be able to turn on your edges on any snowboard if you’re a good snowboarder.
Shhhh! Don’t tell everyone! You’ve got to buy a special carving board! What boards are you stoked on this winter and into next year?
Yeah. They have a board called the Sprout. I’ve got that board in a 164 and a 156, and the 156 Sprout is my favorite board that I’ve ridden in a really long time. It’s a powder board shape but with regular camber profile, and a bit of a softer flex. It is light and playful, and just a great all mountain board. I’m also really stoked on the Ogasaka Orca. It is a thick, wide “man’s board” with a twin shape. It’s also an all-mountain board but favors those knuckle draggers who like to carve because of the deep sidecut. There’s nothing fancy, no gimmicks, just a good old-fashioned snowboard the way it was meant to be.
What board were you on for Tenjin this year, and how do you go about selecting a banked slalom board?
With Tenjin it’s funny because I rode a board that is like 3 years old that they don’t even make any more. TheI only reason I brought it with me was I needed something to fill out my board bag. When I come to Tenjin, either before or after is also when I do the demo event with the engineers and that’s when they’ll give me next year’s boards. This year it was after Tenjn, so they shipped them directly to my hotel in Tokyo. I just grabbed the smallest, lightest board I could just to fill out my bag for the flight over, so I could bring the new ones back. I was traveling with my wife this time, and we were supposed to get in early on Friday, head up the mountain, ride the new boards, make some decisions about which one I wanted to ride or a least get comfortable on them. But… we got on the wrong train out of Tokyo, and we ended up not getting into the lodge until late Friday night. So on Saturday, I took one quick run on the first new board, switched my bindings and one run on the other new board… but then I just I didn’t know if I felt comfortable… so I made the decision, I’m just going to take the old one! It worked okay to start with as I qualified top ten on Saturday, but the next day it was just dragging and I was wishing I had ridden one of the new boards!
Moments that everyone who has made it to the end of a banked slalom can relate to: Shane hanging on through the final turn of Tenjin 2020 above… …then staying low, trying to keep that speed through the finish line… …before sucking oxygen and looking back at where you could have gone faster.
With your race background, what are the qualities you look for in banked slalom board, and what advice would you give someone heading into their first banked slalom, in terms of board and wax?
It does depend on the course I think. At Tenjin the turns are usually pretty short and quick, so a shorter board is good for that, but then this year it got more open and wide which favored a longer board. A short tail can be helpful. What tends to happen in super short quick turns is the tail can get catchy, and that can be problematic. So for a tight course, I like a shorter board with a short tail. For a more open course, obviously a longer board. I prefer a regular camber board for banked slalom so there is a lot of edge stability and contact to handle those heavy G-forces in the turns.
Wax definitely does matter. It depends how tech you want to get. I don’t get that tech with my wax, although I feel tempted to with my race background. Most times I’ll just put a general cold all-temp or a general warm all-temp and try to be okay with that. Then I’ll carry some rub-on so if there’s a big temperature change during the day or between your runs, you can brush off your all temp and put a new layer on. My advice for a banked slalom first timer would be to polish up and wax your everyday snowboard that you feel really comfortable on – ride that and have fun.
Shane doing what he loves, and putting some Japanese engineering to use in Colorado:
Talking of boards. Do you see your riding style evolving with shaped boards in general?
Yeah it’s funny because…. Freestyle carving seems to be more popular in Japan than it is in the US. And while you see shaped boards a lot here, you don’t see a ton of people actually freestyle carving, just on your average resort compared to Japan.
So having a freestyle carving board that is meant for that, it almost gives me permissions to just… f**king carve! Before I was like, yeah okay, I’m going ride some park, do some side hits, ride all-mountain. But now to me this is an excuse to do what I want to do, which is just carve!
Cheers to that, and doing what you want to do on a snowboard. The world is still still in COVID19 lockdown mode now, so it’s hard to make plans too far in the future, but looking ahead what are your future projects?
My plan is to keep having fun. And I’ll for sure see you again in Tenjin next year!
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Any other sponsors and thanks?
Special thanks to Mr. Sasoka and Mr. Kawaguchi and everyone at Ogasaka Snowboards for welcoming a weird gaijin into the family. Also, thanks to Bad Idea and all the friends and family in Colorado who have supported me following my dreams over the years.
Cheers. To finish off, here is Shane sharing his after-skate recovery routine. We appreciate all the help we can get to recover more quickly after a skate session. Do your body a favour with his yoga routines for skateboarding on his Youtube channel:
You can follow more of Shane’s adventures in France, Japan and Colorado on his Instagram and catch a recent podcast chatting with him here.
Miss the rest of the action from Japan’s top banked slalom? Catch up with the full Tenjin Banked Slalom 2020 photo feature: