All photos: Sam Oetiker
The fourth edition of Nicolas Müller and Terje Haakonsen's Sudden Rush Banked Slalom went down once again in Laax last weekend, and with a new course location and better weather than in previous years it was the best one to date.
Now in its fourth year, the Sudden Rush Banked Slalom in Laax, organised by Nicolas Müller and Terje Haakonsen, has gone from strength to strength and the 2018 edition was comprehensively their most successful. Firstly, the start list was insane - alongside legends from snowboarding like Bryan Iguchi, Max Plotzeneder, Peter Bauer, Michi Albin and Fabian Rohrer there was a great turnout of pro riders, such as Christian Haller, Max Buri, Markus Keller, Elias Elhardt and many more. There was also a heavy squad of female racers charging hard and, most stokingly, a great turnout of kids who frickin' RIP. And, thankfully, unlike previous years, Mother Nature was in one of her better moods.
A banked slalom is an alternative kind of contest to the hyper-spinning mega-flipping that tends to occupy the media airwaves. But having attended both varieties of snowboard competition, I can confirm that while both certainly have their merits, there's something particularly awesome about the no-bullshit spectacle of riders pushing their limits to post the fastest time. And seeing riders who no longer mess with the former clearly having lost none of their competitive instincts.
"There's something particularly awesome about the no-bullshit spectacle of riders pushing their limits to post the fastest time"
A banked slalom arguably shows the best rider - rather than jumper - of a snowboard more clearly than anything else. Though there is rarely any air time and certainly no quad-corking or rainbow-flat-downs, I defy anyone to stand on a berm and watch guys like Müller, Terje, Elias or Hitsch blast past at Mach 11, fractions of a percent away from losing control yet managing to hold on and power off into the next berm, and not be impressed.
The race was broken down into age divisions for men, women and kids, with a Pro category for the harder chargers and an Open one for those who didn't fancy getting involved with the more experienced riders. And from the get go it was clear that, as is often the case, though the Pro category would be the one to watch it was the old silverbacks looking to reclaim their former glory who were perhaps taking the race even more seriously.
""I'm always surprised at how competitive I still am, and how pissed I get if I don't do well," said one rider"
"I'm always surprised at how competitive I still am, and how pissed I get if I don't do well," said one rider, but as serious riders were taking things when in the start gate, outside of that it was good vibes all round at the chill area. It's a cliché but it was all about meeting up with old friends and making new ones, grilling on the open fire and maybe sinking a coldie or two while cheering on the racers.
As we meandered our way down the course checking the various berms, one thing became clear - male or female, young or old, the majority of people racing have some serious edge control going on. On the day of the main race the light went flat for most of the runs, but this didn't stop people going all in and putting it all on the line to post the fastest time. The course was not as technical as some we've seen, but you certainly had to have your wits about you to avoid being unceremoniously spat out and seeing how the faster riders controlled their boards through the low light chop was seriously inspiring.
But what it all boils down to is who did it quickest. While Ariane Staib-Glaus was a good couple of seconds ahead of Carla Somaini in the women's Pro event, due to technical difficulties with the timing, three guys had to take their second runs again (and the fact that both thought this was their best run must have been a bitter pill to swallow.) The sugar was, two of these dudes ended up winning the Pro division - Elias Elhardt and Christian Haller posted identical times, both on their third runs. But the fastest rider of the day? That would be ex-pro Pascal Imhof, and we'd be stoked to have even a quarter of this dude's control over a snowboard.
Though Saturday was billed as the 'main event', for us it was Sunday's racing that was the real highlight. Seeing a host of groms lining up in the start gate was great, but then seeing that these mini-humans blasting through the course in a way that makes a jaded snowboard hack ashamed was amazing. The youngest kid was 6, and - no bullshit - was proper charging. The fact that a lot of these grommets dropped into the Fakie Race and seemed to ride just as well backwards as they did forwards again points to snowboarding's future being in good hands.
"Think you've got this snowboarding thing dialled? Let's see you hit the run backwards..."
Ah yeah, the Fakie Race. For us, the jewel in the Sudden Rush Banked Slalom's crown. Watching West Snowboards' David Lambert get the thing rolling by dropping in switch on an ultra-directional pow board, then crushing it through the first few turns had everyone going nuts. "Think you've got this snowboarding thing dialled? Let's see you hit the run backwards..." How well some of these riders can rip switch is insane, and though there were sterling efforts from all involved, it was clear that Terje, Nico and a couple of other pros were the ones to watch. Predictably, these two both podiumed - second and third respectively - but it was Germany's Elias Elhardt who came out on top, taking the Fakie Race and, with two wins in two days, proving he was the undisputed King of 2018's event.
Thank you Nico, Terje and Laax for an epic weekend of fastboarding. See you next year, and full results can be found here.