There are no style points in the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour. You won’t see grabs or rotations or flips. Banzai, as the name indicates, is all about pure, unadulterated speed.

Coming back for its fourth year in an expanded format that includes four races on some of the most challenging terrain in Tahoe, the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour is growing, and representing Tahoe on the national stage. This year, the race that started at Sugar Bowl and continues to hold its finale at the Donner Summit resort’s Silver Belt gully, will also make stops at Alpine Meadows’ Beaver Bowl, Kirkwood’s Eagle Bowl, and Squaw Valley’s KT-22.

The format is simple. Following qualifying runs, racers line up four at a time at the top of the mountain and race to the bottom. Competitors have to be creative enough to pick the fastest line, fast enough to out-ski the competition, and strong enough to jostle for position with their fellow skiers and snowboarders.


‘One thing that is cool about Banzai, it is pretty wide open. There are a lot of lines that you can take,’ said Daron Rahlves, Banzai race director, local Olympian, and celebrated World Cup racer. ‘In Alpine racing there is one fast line.’

This year, Rahlves is creating split courses at some of the venues that give racers options to judge the fastest way down the hill on their own.

Banzai has become known as a pure form of aggressive skiing where pride is on the line, and an action-packed, spectator-friendly sport that draws large audiences at each stop.

‘The Banzai Tour is incredibly unique,’ said John Monson, director of marketing at Sugar Bowl. ‘The closest thing to it might be the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom.’

With $80,000 in prize money up for grabs, and the coveted exposure that can land an aspiring skier prized publicity, the tour draws participants that range from former Olympians and X Games stars to obscure local rippers.

Part of the draw for both skiers and ski resorts is Banzai’s growing media coverage. Last year’s event was featured in a Warren Miller film. Rahlves estimated that over 1 million people saw Banzai footage last year. This year, that number is expected to rise dramatically as the Banzai Tour will be part of a one-hour NBC show about the Red Bull Signature Series.

‘A lot of eyeballs have seen Banzai,’ said Rahlves.

This year’s Banzai has been made more complicated by a spotty winter, which has already forced the postponement of the Alpine Meadows event from Feb. 4 and 5 to Feb. 23 and 24. The Kirkwood race, slated for Feb. 11 and 12, will go off as scheduled.

The new Squaw Valley stop is scheduled for March 3 and 4, and the finale at Sugar Bowl is set for March 10 and 11.

The Sugar Bowl stop is a journey back to the roots of the race, harking back to the epic ski battles down the Silver Belt Gully in the 1940s that featured racing legends like Billy Kidd.

Rahlves, who is Sugar Bowl’s skiing ambassador, will click into his skis for the Banzai once, at Sugar Bowl to race the winner of each stop of the tour in an epic, four-person heat that will determine the Super Final winner for a $20,000 cash prize.

Last year, despite some competitive banter from fellow racer Greg Lindsey, Rahlves took the Super Final title.

This year, Rahlves knows the competition will be up to the task, and he’ll have to get into the same focused mindset he used to win so many World Cup races if he is not going to be dethroned on his own tour.

‘When I get in the gate, it all changes for me. It’s like flipping a switch,’ said Rahlves.

~ To learn more about the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour, or to register for the races, visit Comment on this story below.


  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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