American Ski Tourer Meets European Freeride

Post by blogger | March 24, 2014      

Kevin Passmore

Bec des Rosses where freeriders will set tracks down the 1000' north face.

Bec des Rosses where competitors will set tracks down the 1000' north face.

…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.

The scene.

The scene.

Slacklining above Verbier.

Slacklining above Verbier.

Party on Main Street.

Party on Main.

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?

Snow sofa with sheepskin covers and ice block foot rest.

Relaxing on snow sofa with sheepskin covers and ice block foot rest.

(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.


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8 Responses to “American Ski Tourer Meets European Freeride”

  1. aemono March 24th, 2014 11:28 am

    Very poetic..that definition. Kind of makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear..when you consider that the banal truth is probably that the incredibly meaningless term “freeride” is the dodgy-nerdy creation of some Euro-marketeer keen to flog some product/create a new niche (or a new quiche?..or new pastiche??)..and drawing on the lowest common denominators of dog-english-mountain-pop-kulchor

    ( FWIW i’m a “euro” and a..urgh..”freerider”.. :-P)

  2. brian h March 24th, 2014 3:07 pm

    I think your seventies vibe has more relevance than not. I think ‘free riding’ came about a lot like ‘hot dogging’ (or ‘extreme’) did back in the day. People started taking terrain park riding sensibilities (or lack thereof) onto the larger canvas and someone had to put a label on it. Cool TR.

  3. Frame March 25th, 2014 7:11 am

    Or perhaps the Euro’s just took Freeskiing from the US and revised it to cover snowboarding also.
    Just like us English speakers borrowed the Euro word piste (off or on).

  4. UpSki Kevin March 25th, 2014 10:24 am

    yea, they actually started things off with an “old school” film night hosted by also based out of Verbier (but we failed to find their office) They played old footage of ~1930’s era ski descent of Monta Rosa, Weiss Rauch, and finished off with a film “Apocalypse Snow” which fits into the 1980s ‘hot dogging’ theme. Amazing film… trilogy actually I can’t wait to watch part II. Tandem monoboarding is all I’m going to say!
    We left town this morning. they still haven’t held the pro-competition It was postponed till after the storm. which dropped a reported 25-75cm up high. (Best snow I’ve skied in the last 3 years!)

  5. SR March 26th, 2014 10:01 am

    The evolution of these terms is interesting. Freeriding did initially come from snowboarding — think Tom Burt, Victoria Jealouse [sp?], Jeremy Jones — and the judging criteria now for the contests are an interesting balancing act. Working more of a freeride approach into backcountry descents, while keeping things safe and sane, is also an interesting and difficult balance. There is some substance, some athletic politics, and a huge amount of marketing in the term!

  6. Amy March 26th, 2014 1:20 pm

    awesome kevin! glad to see you and megan are off on an adventure 😉

  7. Aaron April 2nd, 2014 2:10 am

    Sounds like Switzerland is getting all the good snow and Saltoluokta (northern Sweden) is getting all the wind! Gusts today look to be about 60mph and it is blowing all of our soft snow away.

    Kevin you didn’t happen to grow up in Dallas, TX and attend St. Alcuin Montessori School did you?

    Have fun with the rest of your european “business trip!”

  8. Drew Tabke April 17th, 2014 9:20 pm

    In the spirit of your good-natured sarcasm, I’d like to make a few amendments.

    – You were in town for the 19th edition of the Xtreme Verbier. I know its all very new and strange, but its going to be OK.
    – The Bec des Rosses north face is about 750m tall. Perhaps you’re missing some beads on you metric conversion abacus.
    – If you want to tour without cable cars watching, leave the ski center towards the Rosa Blanche, or go up to La Fouly or the Fionnay near the end of the road. They’re all a few minutes from Verbier.
    – You are traveling around the world skiing on your Epic Pass and you’re complaining about crowds, ski lift installations, and events?
    – You know they’ve invented kites you can steer, right?

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