Sylvain Duclos, the Banzai Tour’s yoga-trained charger, has won the snowboard title two year’s running — with a torn ACL
By Pete Gauvin
Sylvain Duclos knows how to stay on his feet. That’s what the Squaw Valley ski and snowboard instructor considersthe most important skill in winning the men’s snowboard title on the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour the last two years.
“It’s not about being fast. It’s about staying on your legs all the way down,” says Duclos, 32, in his classic French accent. “You don’t have to get the hole shot to win. You just need strong legs. The runs are up to two minutes long, which is two or three times longer than any other course. The most important things are endurance, strength and reading the terrain in order to anticipate the moguls, bumps, sharp turns and other features.”
Duclos has managed to take the overall title on the Banzai Tour despite a completely torn ACL in one leg.
The son of a ski instructor, Duclos grew up outside Chamonix, an alpine crucible not known for shaping timid skiers and riders. Duclos was accomplished at both, but he took snowboarding the furthest. He spent eight years on the FIS World Cup tour racing slalom and giant slalom and then snowboard cross, and became a member of the French Olympic team.
It was on the World Cup tour just a couple months before the 2006 Torino Winter Games, the first time snowboard cross appeared as an Olympic sport, that Duclos injured his knee. At the time, he was ranked third on the World Cup. While he still managed to compete in Torino, he finished nowhere near the podium.
After the Olympics he retired from the FIS tour and moved to Tahoe to join his wife, whom he’d met at Squaw Valley and has a young daughter with. He became a certified yoga instructor and began teaching year-round for Mountain Lotus Yoga in Tahoe City. In addition to traditional yoga, he teaches stand-up paddleboard yoga and a ski-conditioning yoga course that’s a mix of Vinyasa and plyometric exercises.
Duclos credits yoga with helping him recover from the injuries to his elbow and his knee, which he never had surgically repaired, and his Banzai titles.
“I was tired of competing in the FIS events and the Banzai Tour has great events and great courses that offer a lot more liberties than FIS courses, which are really structured,” says Duclos.
The Banzai Tour, which returns with four Tahoe-area stops this winter, is the brainchild of Truckee-bred World Champion ski racer Daron Rahlves. Billed as the ultimate test of ski and riding skills and described as “a big mountain freeski meets boarder-cross event,” the races feature four skiers or riders shooting out of the gate at once onto steep, ungroomed, hairball terrain. The events have both men’s and women’s ski and snowboard divisions.
One of the things Duclos likes best about the Banzai races is that the competition is open to everyone. “You don’t need to be a racer to compete and there’s no real racing gear required,” says Duclos, who has no sponsorship other than Tahoe Blue Vodka. “We get racers from different backgrounds — freestylers, racers, freeriders — and they all have a chance to do well. You can race with Olympic snowboarders (pros like Nate Holland and Shaun Palmer have competed) or some guy from the Bay Area.”
This year may be a little different though. Since ski and snowboard cross are no longer part of the Winter X Games, Duclos thinks more top athletes may be attracted to the Banzai Tour.
It will be interesting to see whether anyone can cross the finish line faster than the yoga-trained Frenchman with the missing ACL sponsored by a local vodka company.