Rookie Logan Pehota (CAN) and reigning world champion Eva Walkner (AUS) collected gold in Alaska on Monday at the fourth and penultimate stop of the 2016 Freeride World Tour. Matilda Rapaport (SWE) and Loïc Collomb-Patton (FRA) earned second, while Arianna Tricomi (ITA) and Drew Tabke (USA) rounded out the podium. Joined by just 12 other skiers, Haines’ top six will continue on to Xtreme Verbier this April in the final push for the overall title.
Weather in the Chilkat Range cleared early this week after delays due to low clouds, light snow, and poor visibility at the remote comp location called "The Venue," which sits over 30 miles from Haines. Organizers waited until the conditions were quintessentially Alaskan, marked by dreamy, deep, and gravity-defying powder hanging onto The Venue's 2,000-foot face.
"The conditions were flawless," said 21-year-old Pehota, who laid down a smooth, stylish line that featured a 360. "The upper part of my run was definitely pushing my limits. Big airs, very little time to shut it down in the fast snow and stay in control before the next features popped up, and tossing in a trick in the midst of it was a lot to handle."
Though this is Pehota's first tour win, he’s been a bold and consistent competitor this season, giving leader Collomb-Patton a run for his money. He's also throwing down when it matters most—Collomb-Patton could have secured the overall title with a first-place result in Haines. But the Frenchman, 2014’s overall champion, still skied an aggressive line and held onto the golden bib with his second-place finish.
New to this season’s podium is Tabke, a veteran in the big mountain competition game who has two world titles to his name. He hadn’t previously posted a top 10 result in 2016, and ran 20th on Monday—but he set his sights on an original line during inspection, and watched his competitors' runs with crossed fingers.
"Person after person dropped in but nobody went over there so it was still fresh, and I got to ski an untracked spine pow run for a podium finish, so it was a kind of dream come true," he told the Americas tour manager Tom Winter. "A lot of times I will try to … open a new line but it doesn't score as well because maybe a big group of people go for a bigger feature, so it is really gratifying to have it come through with a good result."
Tabke secured his spot in Switzerland, which was uncertain, given that he qualified for Haines in the final seat. He joins Pehota, Collomb-Patton, and nine other male skiers, including Fabio Studer and Kristofer Turdell, as determined by the skiers’ best three results of the season's four events.
Walkner, the leader of the women's field, delivered another powerful run dotted with big airs. After dominating the tour this season, the 2015 champ sits almost 1,000 points ahead of the next woman, Tricomi, in the rankings, and only needs to finish among the top five to take home a repeat title.
"This was my safer run," Walkner said. "I tried to ski fast and clean…I just told myself, stay on your feet, good middle position, bring it down."
Rapaport, who graced the the December issue (44.4) of POWDER with an Alaskan shot, showed off her Haines know-how, pulling off a technical run with ease. Tricomi tackled an ambitious line with huge airs, though she sacrificed some fluidity in her recoveries toward the bottom. Walkner, Rapaport, and Tricomi will head to Switzerland with Jackie Paaso, Nadine Wallner, and Evelina Nilsson.
Xtreme Verbier is scheduled to go off at the Bec des Rosses venue early next month with a weather window from April 2 to 10. Two skiers will be crowned champions of the 2016 Freeride World Tour—and though Walkner and Collomb-Patton all but have it in the bag, there's never any guarantees in competitive big mountain skiing.