As the Nagareha resort comes into view, the course shining in the morning sun, I remember why I made the three-hour drive from Nagano. Every year the Takai Brothers, Ryuji and Shogo, supported by Piledriver snowboard shop and a crew of local diggers, handshape a really fun course that keeps us coming back for more.
While it looks friendly and accessible, add in healthy dose of speed and it becomes intense. Any spare meters of space between turns are filled with pump bumps, making it into a skatepark style constant snake run of fun.While mentally challenging at warp speed, this layout also levels the playing field a bit – in a course like this, anyone can enjoy it and there’s more advantage from pumping and turning technique rather than running a pro level wax job or race board.
A good snow year brought the course back to the front of the hill. Old reggae and ska on the sound system and friendly hecklers on the mic – laughing when local rippers crashed, encouraging kids and pushing weekend warriors to go faster – complete the good times atmosphere. This sense of community brought riders from as far as Okayama – a 6 hour-drive away!
Drop in time: Everyone’s pre-race rituals are different. While some take the waxing and polishing to perfection, others preferred more traditional snowboard ‘sports drinks’ and keep it laid back:
Everyone likes a good rivalry narrative. In the Men’s division, this race was part of an ongoing friendly battle for bragging rights between good friends and fellow Heart Films riders, Takafumi Konishi, and Kazushige Fujita. Last year’s Tenjin banked champ, Takafumi Konishi was fresh from a respectable 31st place finish at the Legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom but Kazushige Fujita had just pipped him to top honours at the Japan Freeride Open a few weeks before. It was all laughs at top, but with pride on the line, it was Takafumi Konishi who lived up to his Instagram handle of @konythebest, milking every ounce of speed from the course to take the win:
Relaxed style and hands down on heelsides? Karen Iwadare turning like she’s Dirksen, and ending in 2nd place:
Local crew Norule was in effect, with Arbor riders Daisuke Itaya and Daiichi Matsushita killing the side hits… and posing for the camera before their runs. Hover-board tech coming next year?If you are lucky enough to have a quiver of boards, banked slaloms raise the question, “Which one to ride?” Winner Takafumi Konishi was on a 2018 Rome Mountain Division with camber through the rear for his aggressive style, while Kazushige Fujita was using a Gentemstick Indy Pool Deck with short minimal camber in the middle and rockered tip and tail. Like most pros, they both ride these all season for everything, showing familiarity breeds speed when it comes to boards.
The following two guys summed up the “anything goes” welcoming atmosphere: An alpine board with hardboots (and he was wearing his work shirt and tie under his fleece!) and a vintage Sims Neal Drake with duct-taped snowboots:
For the full results, check out their Facebook page here.
Local rider Masakaze Yoshida showed what dedication means by coming in 4th …despite breaking his arm on his second qualifying run! He had tried to pull too many G’s through the crux turn and looped out of the course, flying into a flat spin to body-check 540 rewind off a lift tower. He toughed it out in the final …before heading off to hospital.
No event is complete without some prizes, and this guy won the foot race to claim some new bindings… running in his socks as his bootlaces were broken:
If you want to get off the beaten track and ride a really fun banked slalom course, pencil in a visit to Nagareha next year. The resort is side-hit heaven with a refreshing commercialized atmosphere. As well as shredding away from the crowds of major resorts, you can get your fill of Japanese flavour. The nearby city of Hida-Takayama is famous for its beautifully preserved old town, local festivals and Hida beef. Organiser Shogo Takai hinted that they are looking to change up the game a bit next year. With banked slaloms popular all across Japan now, they want to keep it fresh and creative. Whether that’s more features like the Drink Water Rat Race or something new entirely, expect more fun next year!
Thanks to the Nagareha banked slalom organisers:
See you again next year!