…Freeride World Tour Championship that is. We’re here at the event that neither you nor I planned on coming to. But if you are looking for the scene it’s here in Verbier right now through this Wednesday. That’s right. The ski & airbag backpack reps are out on main street manning their booths with beers in hand and the music is loud. Spectators are out in force, and practically everyone and their sister is wearing an airbag (generally called ABS, though that’s actually a brand) backpack on the slopes.
The pro-riders are gearing up to set tracks down the steep & rocky 1000′ north face of Bec des Rosses. Helicopters are swarming even more so than usual. The snow safety team is doing something high on the face but I’m not quite sure what. And the most coveted job: a lone spotter sits and watches it all from the Col de la Chaux with thermos in hand and skis at the ready. He says it’s a three week assignment, every day until 4 pm. Sign me up!
Snow conditions are hard, not quite bullet proof and neither the words “fun” nor “deep” come to mind when looking at the terrain they plan to compete on. Yes, it is pretty much bullet proof snow IMO. But that will probably change with new snow forecast for the weekend, and pro competition now postponed until this Wednesday. Standing in town you would think it was closing weekend with barren slopes surrounding town and a single spit of maintained snow leading to the après–ski bars & music. But two gondola/tram rides higher up, ski season awaits.
This isn’t the scene we were looking for but we’ll take it anyway. We’ve eased into Europe on our first trip abroad with skiing on our minds. This inaugural trip is the work of many years of anticipation and much less actual planning. While I dream of being holed away in a high mountain refuge, we are instead finding ourselves in the epicenter of merchandizing and pizazz. I’ll admit this isn’t the first time I’ve found myself off route.
At home in Colorado, I maintain a nearly even balance of skinning & descent. But here in the Alps with the world domination season pass (Epic-Pass) we are exploring some of the Alps largest piste areas and discovering that there is no mountain too high to set a tram station and winch cat on top of. Sure, go for a skin, but do it knowing that the cable cars are watching over you.
What is this competition about and when did we start calling it “freeriding?” From the looks of possible descent options on Bec des Rosess its about hairball cliff jumping on high consequence terrain. As for the second half of the question, I’m quite curious myself. I associate “freeride” with classic 70s rock music and the bindings on my first randonee rig: Atomic Sugar Daddy… 99mm under foot and still the widest skis I’ve ever stepped into. Apparently, unbeknownst to me freeriding is also a prominent form of skiing where people “ride off piste.”
On the tour’s website I’ve found their definition:
Freeride: (n) a vertical free-verse poem on the mountain. The ultimate expression of all that is fun and liberating about sliding on snow in wintertime.
Wow — they are really squeezing a lot into that definition. By the sounds of it they are encompassing all themes of snow descent. Ok — so I guess I’m now classified as a freerider too, or at least some of the time. I’m left with only one question: is survival skiing also freeriding?
(Guestblogger, Kevin Passmore, is Director of Operations for UpSki. He pursues ski ascents in the realm of wind powered ski mountaineering. When not out exploring in the snow he can be found in Carbondale, Colorado, surrounded by sewing machines in UpSki’s shop, managing production and working on product design.