Alex Else throws a backflip near the bottom of his run down the Headwaters

Words and Photos: Ben Coulter

BIG SKY, Mont. – The hard snowpack and flat light conditions at Moonlight Basin didn’t stop more than 80 big mountain skiers from throwing down their best runs March 14-16 during the first stop of the 2013 Subaru Freeride Series, a 4-Star qualifier event for the newly formed Swatch Freeride World Tour (FWT) by the North Face.

After inspection on Thursday the competition began Friday on the Headwaters Terrain, an expert-only area where athletes navigated lines through the Hellroaring, Hells Half Acre, Jack Creek, and Rock Creek chutes. They set themselves apart on the venue with fluid skiing and powerful turns down the 1,500’ vertical pitch on the north side of 11,000’ Lone Peak. The top three ladies after the first day were Hadley Hammer of Jackson, Wyo. (70.67), Francesca Pavillard-Cain of Crested Butte, Colo. (67.33), and Sasha Dingle of Bozeman, Mont. (64.67).

The Headwater's Venue

The line of the day in the men’s competition quickly became a straight-line bombing run through Hell’s Half Acre that sent skiers maching out of a technical, mandatory double drop and onto the steep, nearly-bulletproof runout below. By Friday afternoon, 2012 Moonlight FWT winner Kyle Taylor (84.67) stood on top with Christian Boucher (81.00) of Whistler, B.C., following and Vail, Colo. skier Patty Baskins (76.33) in third place after putting down the fastest run of the day at 53 seconds.

Women's first place winner Hadley Hammer powers through a high speed turn coming off the Headwaters terrain.

On Saturday the athletes came back charging down the Whitetail, Three Forks, and Dead Goat chutes. Early morning conditions were favorable with firms snow and clear visibility for the women’s competition, but by noon the light changed significantly as weather began rolling in. The flat light played a factor in the men’s competition as the top contenders muscled through, while a handful of others got caught up in the “pepper” of numerous scree fields dotting the venue.

Hammer (150.00) continued her dominant skiing from day one to win $2,000 in the overall women’s competition while Dingle (139.67) moved into second place to take home $1,500. Katrina DeVore (132.00) of Aspen, finished third.

In the men’s competition, Baskins (154.00) upped his efforts from the first day, combining technical airs on the upper section of the venue with fast, aggressive skiing to claim $2,000 with first place overall. Boucher (153.67) continued to impress the judges after a strong showing on day one and walked away in second place. Local skier Randy Evans (147.67) of Bridger Bowl finished in third place, Joseph Jasper (147.33) finished fourth, and Brandon Clabaugh (147.00) was fifth.

The men's podium.

The Sick Bird Award is presented by Backcountry.com to athletes who distinguish themselves through athletic performance and challenge the limits of their sport and fellow riders. Conor Pelton of Alpine Meadows, Calif., won the award for a monstrous air out of a narrow, straight-line chute near the bottom of Three Forks on day two.

The Subaru Freeride Series (SFS) is part of a global Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) point system for the FWT where athletes can accumulate ranking points toward the tour. The qualifier events rank from one to four stars and athletes earn a corresponding ratio of points, with the top four male and top three female skiers from each region of the FWQ Tour qualifying for the 2014 FWT.

The first North American 4-Star stop on this year’s FWQ Tour was the Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships held February 28 – March 3 at Taos Ski Valley, N.M. The top three women from that event were Francesca Pavillard-Cain (22.25), Sasha Dingle (21.62) and Hazel Birnbaum-Wilson (21.32) of Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Calif. The top four men were Ian Borgeson (26.93) of Arapahoe Basin, Colo., Brandon Clabaugh (26.03) of Crested Butte, Garrett Altman (24.97) of Taos and Caleb Mullen (24.53) of Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho. The next North American 4-Star stops on the FWQ Tour are SFS events scheduled for March 27-31 at Crested Butte, Colo. and April 10-14 at Snowbird, Utah.