Japan Grabs made the journey into the hills above Takayama, Gifu for the 4th annual Nagareha Banked Slalom. A local event that is spreading its wings …all the way to Mt. Baker.
Getting up in the dark at 4am to drive to a “race” doesn’t seem like a good idea. Certainly not what I got into snowboarding for, anyway. When the event in question is as fun as the Nagareha Banked Slalom, I’ll make an exception. If you are in Japan, search out some smaller events. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing: You can make friends, see new places and push your riding at the same time.
Banked slaloms connect people. This slash and turn party is thrown by brothers Ryuji Takai (K2) and Shogo Takai (Slash) and supported by local core shop, Piledriver. They were fresh off the plane from Mt. Baker itself, having put down respectable times in the 30th annual Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, and were keeping the good vibes going with this welcoming and fun event. It was announced that the winner of the Nagareha Banked Slalom gets a place in the Tenjin Banked Slalom… and the winner of that gets a place in the Mt Baker LBS! Plane ticket not included, but given that chance who wouldn’t make the trip of a shred lifetime to take part in that historical event?
Nagareha resort is just outside Hida-Takayama, a cultural town nestled in the mountains. Famous for onsen and high quality local beef, it also boasts a healthy local snowboard scene. Although the resort is small there’s a lot of fun to be had. There are natural hits and features dotted around and the locals were charging them hard right until they were called to take their runs.
Snowboarding is as much a cultural activity as an athletic one, and Piledriver has played a strong part in keeping the snowboard scene wild and free in this part of Japan, passing down the torch of shred culture from one generation to the next. At this event the older shop riders and current rippers rubbed shoulders with the next generation of kids.
Due to lack of snow this year, the course was up on the back side of the mountain. The course lift had a really fun hotlap with drop off, tranny-finder hits, a banked gully and even bits of powder. Props to the organizers for getting the DJ booth and sound system up there to keep everyone relaxed with ska and classic Japanese sing-along punk pop, the Bluehearts. If that wasn’t enough to keep the serious race vibes away, there was some solid heckling on the mic from Piledriver’s head honcho, Maesaka-san, in good voice and fine winter plumage:
Every banked slalom course is different. styles and abilities of rider can attack the course in their own way. While any course can be a test of all-round riding ability and board control, the amount of FUN you have riding it really relies on the skill of guys laying out the course in the terrain. A good banked slalom course feels much more like freeriding at high speed and dealing with what’s in front of you than racing gates, and this one didn’t disappoint. The Takai brothers and the team of diggers really nailed it this time, and their hard work was clear in everyone’s big smiles.
Dropping in, the course flowed through a rhythm section of sculpted banks, before picking up speed into the crux – a compression into a pair of turns high on the banks, after which the course funneled you through the guts of the gully, before spitting you out into high speed turns to the finish. Not being able to see what was coming in the tight valley bottom added to the fun. The feeling when you shot out into the fast section was like the jump to light speed in Star Wars – tunnel vision on the next corner and scenery streaming into a white blur. Getting to the finish line, you realize that you were letting out whoops and hollers while trying to “stay low and be powerful”.
Getting high on the “crux corner”…
…then getting low riding the wave into the gully…
…before putting pedal to the metal (edges) to the finish line:
So who took the honours when the dust had settled? Most importantly (sic), I didn’t get beaten by the winners of the Women’s and Kid’s divisions – no small feat, as both had some really fast rippers in there. Women’s was taken by Akiko Furukawa, with a time so fast she would have come a respectable 49th in the Men’s division. Keep an eye out for Seigo Sato, the ‘Future Generations’ champ. He put down a really fast time and was refreshingly animated and stoked at it all – and was spotted behaving like a proper 12 year old; picking his nose with the antler trophy! The kids are alright.
The Men’s division had a strong mix of locals and visiting pros with Charmant local and banked slalom wizard, Shuichi Kumaki, dominating with 58 and 57 second runs – while everyone was else over a minute. The odds are against him, but there is a real chance he could do the double and smoke Tenjin all the way to Baker next year!
The winners soak in the glory. Mild-mannered carve assassin, Kumaki-san (centre) probably already thinking about winning his next race:
Shogo using his “younger brother licence to not act all grown up” during the prize ceremony. This expression sums up the event – good times:
Thank you to Ryuji and Shogo Takai, Piledriver shop, the course diggers, Nagareha resort and all the riders for a good day!