If you've ever talked to Daron Rahlves, you know two things: He'll talk to you until your iPhone battery dies, and you'll be motivated to do pretty much anything, especially ski. So it was disappointing to hear that the founder of the Rahlves Banzai Tour dislocated his hip for the sixth time on March 2, in qualifying at the Squaw Valley tour stop.
Yet the 39-year-old former Olympian and Hahnenkamm champ isn't one to stay down and out. Within a few hours of his injury, he fielded phone calls for the tour he founded, ensuring the Squaw event and tour finished in grand fashion. Running four event weekends with four competitors in ski and snowboard per heat, racing down a course in about one to two minutes, vying for an $80,000 purse, the Banzai Tour starts at Kirkwood, heads to Alpine Meadows, hops over to Squaw Valley, and finishes off at Sugar Bowl with the Super Final.
Fresh off an elective surgery to his hip, where a Reno doctor repaired his capsule and labrum plus shaved bone to eliminate a cam lesion, Rahlves was eager as ever to share his thoughts on the third year of the tour that bears his name.
POWDER: First off, how's the hip and how are you feeling?
Daron Rahlves: I'm feeling good. No pain, but limited with what I can do for now. I found a great doctor in Reno after a lot of research for the best approach. Instead of risking it in Alaska with TGR and jeopardizing my safety and the crew, I decided to get surgery on this thing.
Are you walking?
No, I can't put full weight on my right leg for four weeks, so I'll be crutching around a little longer.
Tell me about the third year of the Banzai Tour? How did it fare in your estimation?
It was great because I was the worse crash that happened, which is a good thing [laughs]. Nah, it was awesome because of the challenging courses, good weather and snow, full tilt skiing and fired up competitors.
How do you see the Banzai Tour fitting in to the ski competitive landscape with ski racing and Freeride World Tour events?
The Banzai is unique and stands out on its own. Skiing and riding natural terrain, top to bottom is what I call the most pure form of racing. It's how I grew up: bombing down the hill, hitting jumps, and racing friends to the bottom, yelling, "Last one down is a rotten egg." I look at traditional ski racing on TV and it's missing excitement. It was fun for me, but 90 percent of people watching just wait to see the clock. Ski/Boarder cross is exciting, but the confined space between turns is tight and limits clean passing opportunities. And then you have the manmade features that cause a lot of injuries—way more than Banzai or ski racing. It's cool to see the FWT have both tours under one now, and they do a great job exposing the event and giving the competitors awesome venues to ride. It's different with judging but demands a high level of execution and skills to come out on top.
What about Banzai?
On Banzai, you have this super fun course to ski with all the natural features and flow for a fun roller-coaster ride. You win the Banzai? You're the fastest skier on the mountain, hanging on in any conditions. Plus, Banzai seems to be the easiest to understand as a viewer. For those watching, it's easy to relate to 'cause it's held on public runs at mountains that everyone gets to ski. The 'wow' factor is unmatched.
Have any FWT athletes entered a Banzai event?
Ralph Backstrom, the 2013 Freeride World Tour snowboard champion, came out for the first event in Kirkwood and got seventh. Canadian skier Laurent Gauthier on the FWT was eighth at Squaw. Right now, the tour is still growing its reputation, so to draw the big names is difficult. The Freeride World Tour has live TV, so those athletes get more exposure. We need time to grow, brands to come on board, fan and competitors to believe in it, and more cash on the line. Obviously I'm biased, but Banzai is much more fun to watch—both live and on TV.
So how do you see the tour evolving next year and beyond with what you've learned?
For 2014, a bigger prize purse, better exposure, and well run events. I want the RBT to become a well recognized and credible tour. Tahoe is home, but I've put thought into expanding to new locations. Right now, I have these four venues wired and the goal is to draw athletes to come out and pressure the Tahoe locals to defend home turf.
You've mentioned before how imperative it is to find the right track or course elsewhere if you were to grow it outside of the Tahoe venues. Any update there?
Yeah it's tough because it has to be wide open with unique terrain. It's not ideal to have tree-lined runs that flush straight down the mountain. A good base area to finish in is important, too. I look for top to bottom runs with stacked terrain and an area that has a strong pool of potential competitors. I've got my hands full with a four-event tour, but keeping the thought open of adding an event in the future is possible. Events in February and March are ideal. Plus, I'm trying to balance this with my own career, which includes filming, sponsor obligations, and helping a few athletes on the World Cup. I look forward to scouting some resorts next winter for a potential new venue.
Talk about the challenges you've had as both a competitor of the tour and the event organizer.
As a competitor in the past I've only competed in the Super Final, taking on the winners from each event in a five-man battle for $10,000 winner takes all. The four guys who earn a spot in the gate are hard charging competitors, so it's a lot of pressure. Up till now, I haven’t been beat. As event organizer, there's so much going on and I oversee everything with help from an event team. We faced timing issues in qualifying at Squaw. That was a mess. After my crash, I was in the hospital, then back home that night on the phone talking to my event guys trying to figure it out. That went into the next day and to make it more difficult we had nasty weather on Sunday threatening our event. Not ideal and we had a few competitors that were telling me it was bullshit, but I'm trying to be fair and looking out for the safety of all.
You probably never thought back in your racing years that you'd be on that end of competition, huh?
No way. I'm a competitor, but have slightly morphed into a promoter. As a racer, I worked hard and then put it all on the line. Events I did were all set up and the plan was to show up and go. I gave props to the organizers and thanked the officials, workers, and sponsors and fulfilled my media opportunities, but running an event series like this takes endless effort and working with good people to pull it off for others. Looking back I appreciate all the events I've done more than ever.
Talk about an instance that transpired this last year that represents the evolution of where the RBT is at moving forward.
Our men ski final at Alpine, Jesse Maddex won by inches at the line over John Bochenek. Some disputed the human call, but at the time all we had was that. Luckily we found photo and video images verifying our call. Learning from that, we installed a Finish Lynx camera at the next two stops. It's amazing that it can come down to inches in a Banzai. On top of technology to help us, I'm looking to hiring a key person as a Technical Delegate to look after on hill event operations. On event weekends, I've been the guy floating around keeping tabs on everything and needed to have all the answers, so that would certainly help.
For more information on the Rahlves Banzai Tour presented by Bank of the West, go to RahlvesBanzai.com.