Events: Tenjin Banked Slalom 2016

Tenjindaira ski resort sits at the top of the Tanigawa ropeway, giving it an alpine feeling above the treeline and making it a stunning venue for a banked slalom. Now in its 6th year, the Tenjin Banked Slalom has become “The Baker of Japan” in banked slalom terms, with the winner getting a place in the LBS the following year.

The Tenjin Banked Slalom has grown out of a direct connection between the Pacific Northwest and Japan. Riders from the Pacific Northwest have been travelling to Japan and riding at Tenjin, and the local Japanese shred community recognised the importance of roots events like the Legendary Banked Slalom(LBS) in Mt. Baker. Events like the LBS keep and an element of simplicity in snowboard culture in an age of Olympic and X-Games. Pro or amateur, it’s just you against the clock, in friendly competition.

Baker has “Say your prayers” but Tenjin has actual blessings from Shinto priests (left) while the start hut sits below the impressive peak of Tanigawa-dake (right): 


Once you drop in, it’s about a minute-and-half of intense focus. Haruna Kito (above) drops in for Patagonia and Gentemstick in the Women’s. The Legends category was stacked with industry stalwarts. Green Clothing boss, Taguchi-san (below) on course, ear-flaps ready for flight:


Despite the fact they have starters, gates and timed runs, banked slaloms are among the most fun snowboard events to take part in. You get to test your all-terrain board skills against others, but really you are riding against yourself – “Can I put down a line as good I think I can, when the pressure is on?”

Matt Cummins usually makes the trip to set the course (and shred powder with his friends here) but he had just become a father, so couldn’t make it this time. Based on his performances here in previous years, I wouldn’t bet against him being back and winning with young one strapped on his front next year. (Safety note: Not strapped on his back, of course – that would be dangerous!)  It was left to big brother Mike Cummins to uphold the family name, and he barged to 9th place in the Legends category as well as setting the course and making the trophies. A solid showing, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The kids or “Next Generation” as they are called here, ripped. Plenty of the assembled watching adults were relieved that these mini rippers were penned off in their own class:Tenjin6172

You wouldn’t think that a minute-and-a-half of simply turning left and right would leave you gasping for breath at the end, but banked slaloms when done right are both fun and a ruthless test of your board control. The course this year was no exception – hitting the finish line with speed was a rush and blessed relief:Tenjin6112

Pumping and railing a turn at the same time is one of life’s treats. The Trapper Ursa Major in action in the Men’s open class:tenjin2096If you get to this point having nailed your lines, glory beckons… yet many fell foul of the remaining turns. The bottom half was beguilingly fun but had some uphill switchback surprises that burning thighs didn’t appreciate: tenjin1919-2

Making the trip all the way from Hokkaido, Amagai Yo, was ripping on next year’s K2 Party Platter board, until he was snagged of one of those lower corners. He then spent the rest of the run throwing out epic laybacks much to the delight of the MCs:

It’s fitting that the “Baker of Japan” is at Tenjindaira. Tenjin has long been a favourite of visiting pros. The first time I saw Japan in a snowboard magazine was in 1999 – with Michi Albin jibbing over ropes into powder. Known for epic amounts of powder, the deep snowpack makes a good base for springtime gatherings like the TBS. It also makes it prone to getting hit hard by storms. You can be sitting in the sun for this event or you can be huddling in the lodge while storms rage, riding powder when it’s called off. This year it was sunshine and spring backcountry lines on Mt. Tanigawa-dake. Cool your board in the snow, or warm in the sun? Opinions differed:tenjin_banked_slalom_2016-3132

You could get over the disappointment of DQing by testing some boards or perusing next year’s gear:

A big shout out must go to the organisers, headed by Taizo Fukushima (below left) and the MCs (below right) who kept everyone both informed and amused. It was long days in the saddle for all the diggers and announcers, keeping the course in good shape all way to the final runs. As it was such a well organised event, riders could take hotlaps knowing when they were needed back at the start.

The prizes were unique ceramic trophies made by Mike Cummins, who is making a name as a potter and ceramic artist in Gig Harbour, Washington:


Gentemstick guru, Taro Tamai was a special guest rider in the Legends class and did the honours handing out the prizes:

The winners, (clockwise from top left) in ‘next generation’ boys,  ‘next generation’ girls, amateur women, challenge class men, amateur men, and legends men:

The Women’s open class was taken by a suitably stoked Aya Sato (Gnu, 686) in a time that would have landed here about half way up the men’s open final:

Men’s Open class was heavily stacked with pro and ex-pro talent. The Open nature of the event means that anyone can pit themselves against them, but this year didn’t throw up any surprises – the top six were all heavy hitters, with riders like 2013 winner Ryuji Takai (K2) in 6th, Nagano legend Goro Komatsu (Replant) in 5th, and 4th place taken by Burton’s Shota Suzuki who has moved from World Tour freestyle to powder freeriding in recent years. Two riders had smoked everyone by a second or more… Volkl’s Yuki Motoki, and veteran Rome rider, Takafumi ‘Konitan’ Konishi. Thirteen years separate them in age, but this time only one second in time… United in their hope, they waited for Mike Cummins to announce the winner:

Takafumi Konishi got the tap from Mike! As well as the ceramic art trophy he took home a hand-shaped board from Matt Cummins… and a place at next year’s Mt. Baker LBS. A hugely popular winner, a snowboarder’s snowboarder who takes time out to put on fun events for others like his pumping derby, everyone in the place was stoked that he will carry the torch from Japan at  Baker.


The Men’s Open class top 6:

See you again next year, Tenjin Banked Slalom! For full results, visit the Tenjin Banked Slalom homepage.