Banked Slaloms are so hot right now, and with the season-ending Riksgränsen Banked Slalom set to open its gate for a third edition this coming weekend (May 7-9), we caught up with RBS organiser Anders Neuman for a chinwag about how the event has grown in its short existence, why turning is totally tubular, and the importance of remembering your roots. Read on, and check for a full report on this year’s incarnation next week…
2015 will mark the third edition of the Riksgränsen Banked Slalom. What motivated you to organise a banked slalom in the first place?
We were talking about stuff that we wanted to do, and we felt that we wanted to have an inclusive event where everyone could gather, hang out, ride, have a good time… plus all of us had been going to Riksgränsen for 20 years. When The Battle was held in 2004 it was so sick, but we also saw how much of a struggle it is to put on a super big event. So we wanted to have an event that was manageable but still fun, and that everyone that comes could actually try the course and feel the stoke after clearing the run, cause it’s a fun race. It’s a challenge for you as a snowboarder, and you still have the [timed aspect] – you can compete with your friends. Even if you have top pros competing and you’re not going to beat them, you can still ride the course and compete with your friends.
That’s one of the things I think is so great about banked slaloms. Pretty much anyone who can turn can get down them, and so you can just do it on your own level.
Yeah, and also time is so generic that everyone can understand it. In times like these when… especially now after the quadruple and the big debate on what’s style, what’s more fun, you know? I think it’s bad for snowboarding if we try to define fun. To define how people should ride is not a positive thing, I’m just happy if people wanna carve and have fun [laughs].
So the motivation was just to have something in Riks, and to get people gathering together having a good time?
Yeah, and also we had talked with the resort as well that we wanted to do something for snowboarding that was a little bit like in 96 and 97. So the first year we said ‘Let’s try it. Let’s see if we can do this,’ We were aiming for maybe 30-40 people and we got 80 I think. Riksgränsen’s in the far north of Sweden, it’s kinda hard to get to, but a lot of people came and had a super good time. The next year we had 160 people competing and everyone had even more of a good time. So we continued, got some new partners involved for this year – adidas and Sweet Protection – which is super cool, they’re super hyped on what we’re doing and share the same vision about snowboarding.
You touched on it a little bit just then, but why hold it in Riksgränsen? As you said it’s pretty far up north, but then Riks does have a huge history in both Swedish and global snowboarding…
Yeah, the ultimate goal for us was actually to make it an international event where people could come and ride but they can also come and go on their missions. It’s super good if people come and race, but it’s not the end of the world if people are there but not competing in the race, regarding pros and so on. Most of the pros who come, they come there for a reason – to probably finish off their video part. So for us it’s always nice to have an international flavour, we wanted it to be a little bit of a season ending and because in snowboarding [Riks] is such a historic place and we all had a connection with it, it seemed like a good thing to do.
What else has changed from the first year to now? Is the course the same, or do you change it each time?
The course changes depending on snow. This year we have more snow than ever. A couple of the features we had last year, like the wind pockets and so on, they look different. It’s in exactly the same spot but we have to follow the natural terrain and create from that. There are some turns that will be the same, there will be some new ones, but all in all you’ll recognise it. Your body will recognise it when you turn.
How long, and how many people, does it take to create the course?
I think we’re about eight people digging. Some days people come up and help out for an hour or two if we need it, and depending on how the windlips are we need to push some of the turns with a snowcat. But this year Riksgränsen has a lot of snow so it’s going to mean we have less wind pockets but we’re going to push a little bit more with the snowcat. Then it takes three days to dig out, and the last days we mainly get people to ride it so we have a good feeling for the course and we can move turns if it’s too narrow or the speed is fucked up or the [flow]. We want to have a technical course. The hardest part when you [build] it is from the start you set it up thinking ‘This is going to be fine,’ but after a while people are going so fast that you need to take down the speed a little bit and make it more technical, so you need to have a good push in your carve.
Unlike some other banked slaloms, you keep it pure and simple with “No jumps, no spins, no rails.” Why was this important to you guys?
To make it inclusive. Everyone can relate to making a turn, everyone can relate to time – it’s what a lot of sports are measured in. Snowboarding, the last 20 years, has been defining itself by saying ‘We don’t do timed competitions.’ But we thought let’s do it this way, let’s have the time define the winner. And also if you know how to carve and you know how to be fast, then you’re probably a pretty good snowboarder.
The RBS draws a host of Swedish talent – past, present and future. Are there riders from further afield that have come in previous years, and are set to come this time?
The first year we had Nicolas [Müller], Jake [Blauvelt] and Fredi [Kalbermatten]. They were filming for Jake’s movie, Naturally, so they were racing before but they didn’t compete, but they were up there chilling, riding, filming. This year I talked to Blotto [Burton team photographer] and he’s coming with a crew – Mikey Rencz, Mikkel Bang and a few others. I can’t say 100% that they’re gonna be in the competition but I know they’re going to be in the course, hanging out, meeting friends.
The banked slaloms I’ve been to in the past, even though they’re much smaller scale events, there always seems to be a bunch of guys who come from all over to hang out and ride. What do you think is the draw, when it’s unlikely it’s gonna make it in, say, their video part?
I think that’s what draws them. It’s what drew them to snowboarding from the start… I can only speak for my generation. Even though snowboarding was an individual sport it was something that you did in a crew. And if you look at it now, people still ride in crews. You ride with your friends, you get stoked on your friends’ tricks, there’s always a little bit of competition, but all in all snowboarding is a group thing. It’s funner with friends that you can carve with, spray, or whatever. We have a lot of people that are plus 30, and for them it’s a little bit of a time machine. But what I think is nice is we integrate these people with the young people that come. There are so many people that I’ve met through snowboarding that have such inspiring careers that have nothing to do with snowboarding, but they still hold snowboarding as one of the defining moments in their lives. I’m not sure if it’s a cliche or something that defines snowboarding, but I think it’s super important to spread that to the younger generation as well. Even if you’re ‘just’ a snowboarder, and your not the ‘best’ snowboarder, it’s a great way to get to know people and the more people you know, the more options you have, the further you go in life.
Aside from the racing, what else is planned to happen there this year? I know there’s a photo exhibition…
Yeah, and then we have the screening of There’s Always Next Season, the TANS movie. Last year they had kind of a teaser and a talk about the movie, everyone was super stoked, so this year it’s so nice to actually show the whole film. Also Johan Arijoki, a Swedish snowboarder who’s nowadays a bit of a singer-songwriter, he has one of the best backside airs in snowboarding – classically trained in Gällivare – and plays the guitar and sings songs so he’s going to perform his own music, along with a couple of covers from old snowboarding movies.
And the photo exhibition all focusses on Riks, right?
Yeah, this year it’s going to be Calle Eriksson and his work from 92 to 99 and we’re going to auction off Vincent Skoglund’s old photos, the ones that didn’t get stolen.
I guess it all comes back to what we were talking about before, but why is it important for you guys to try and keep the sport connected to its roots? Why does it matter?
It matters because it’s inclusive. When I watch snowboarding on TV now I am so amazed at the [riders’] skills and how they do it, but sometimes I have a hard time to connect with it. Like I’m really amped for the competition but I just thought we should have something simple as well. There needs to be a balance, and it’s definitely not a stand against where slopestyle snowboarding is today or something like that, not at all. It’s more that we needed to find a balance and to have some fun. Just look at how many banked slaloms there are now. It’s not the hardest thing to set up, it’s fun, like I said earlier, time is defining. When you do a 360, you can always say ‘Oh, he spun frontside and he took it easy and grabbed Melon…’ There are no safety tricks in this. Pure fucking carving.
I also think that things like this, and like doing what you’re doing with the historic photo exhibition, for the likes of you and me… you were there, I saw that stuff, but the kids… I don’t know if they’re aware of that period of snowboarding. I think it’s super good to have them made familiar with where snowboarding has come from, if that makes sense.
Yeah totally. One of snowboarding’s defining moments was Ingemar [Backman]’s backside air. Next year it’s going to be 20 years ago. Three weeks ago Billy Morgan did the quadruple and in the end people were debating more about if it was properly done, it ended up not being about that this was a rad trick. There’s some defining moments in snowboarding, Arctic Challenge comes to mind, some of the Air + Styles back in the day, couple of X Games runs as well, but history is always good.
What’s the most important thing for you that you hope comes out of the Riks Banked Slalom this year?
The stoke for everyone. Last year in the finals, there was so much anticipation from everyone, ‘Is this time gonna be faster?’ ‘Is this guy gonna beat that guy?’ and you can see that everyone that comes, in every run, they’re battling so much against themselves. There’s a pure, collective stoke for everyone when someone crosses the finish line and you can see how tired and happy they are. And that’s just what I’m hoping for, that we can continue having fun together. I don’t think we need much more, the plan is to keep it pretty mellow. Our main problem is if it grows even bigger it won’t be as much fun for everyone if there’s gonna be more queues and so on, so this year we set a limit to 200 and I think we’re gonna reach it. It doesn’t make any sense to have it bigger either.
Finally, you’re racing right? So which age category are you in? And within that category, who would be the biggest threat preventing you from doing a TRice and winning your own contest?
[Laughs] Dude. Ok. It’s kind of funny, from my original snowboard crew I think almost everyone is up this year. I think there’s 45 people from our home mountain in Falun, and the fun thing to see is everyone that has our roots is so fast. They’re super good snowboarders, you can tell they’ve been on the board so many days. So I can’t really stick my neck out and say who, there’s too many of them.
Ok, let’s switch it round then. Who would you be super bummed to get beaten by?
[Laughs] I need to check my list. That’s a tough question! I don’t have the list in front of me. I can’t say really.
No biggie. Diplomatic. Well, thanks for your time Neuman, and hope everything goes smooth up there.