Finally. The newly unified Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face is here, kicking off at Revelstoke, British Columbia.
The first of the global five-star series on the new six-stop tour, which unified the Freeskiing World Tour, Freeride World Tour, and North Face Masters of Snowboarding, looks to start on Monday. Unlike the aforementioned tours, five weather days have been built in to each stop, much like the ASP surfing tour.
Right now, Revelstoke, located in the heart of B.C. amidst the Selkirks, Monashees, and Purcell Mountains, has a deep mid-winter snowpack. The forecast calls for significant snowfall beginning Monday night. The athletes are calling conditions on the comp venue off of 8,058-foot Mount Mackenzie ‘spicy’.
Of course, the new tour pares the two different ski styles of the Euros and North Americans—31 men and 10 women. Sweden's Reine Barkered and Christine Hargin took home the overall Freeride World Tour titles last year, and they're looking to defend their top spots against the most competitive and global field ever assembled in a big mountain skiing contest.
Powder.com will provide updates if the contest runs on Monday and, of course, you can view the live webcast of the event here, starting at 10 a.m. But first, here are the inaugural POWDER Picks for the 2013 Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face.
The 30-year-old Barkered won the Euro Freeride World Tour in 2012 after a two-year hiatus of missing the podium. He came out on top at Verbier last March, clinching the title. Although he lists the freestyle-centric Are, Sweden, as his home mountain, it's safe to say Barkered is the favorite heading into the first event of the season, especially when Europe is also reporting record snowfall, allowing the Swede time to shred hard in preparation.
But when you're talking big mountain competitive skiing and North America, you can't look past American Drew Tabke. As a nine-year veteran of the North America Freeskiing World Tour, Tabke is primed for the unified FWT. I look for him to ski fast and with confidence, airing big on the Mackenzie venue and securing extra points in the new air and style judging category.
Rounding out the Revy podium predictions, I'm going with New Zealand's Sam Smoothy. The Kiwi finished fourth on the Euro FWT last year and won the Heli Challenge in 2011 for his all-around skiing ability. His diverse set of skills match up well on the cliff-strewn, massive face of Mackenzie.
Dark Horses: The best part of the unified tour is the depth of talent. France's Aurelian Ducroz, Julien Lopez, and wild-card entry Seb Michaud could all easily come out on top. The former Euro FWT champ, Ducroz finished third last year, while Lopez was a two-time North American FWT champ. Don't look past 2012 North American FWT champ Josh Daiek of Kirkwood. He had a successful 2012 campaign, competing on the tour and shooting photos, so his style translates to Revy as well.
The women's side is not as deep as the men's, especially without Snowbird's Angel Collinson at the event. Collinson is actually in Revy to watch her brother, Johnny, and friends, but has elected to focus on filming. Regardless, look for Hargin to battle it out with Jackson Hole's Crystal Wright.
Wright is coming off the North American FWT 2012 championship after a knee injury that almost ended the cowgirl's career. The Revy venue sets up well for Wright's hard-charging style, as she used to ski race at Montana State. Look for the 30-year-old to come out fired up to show up the Euros on North American turf.
But Hargin will no doubt have a say in this competition all season as she looks to defend her title. The Swede won at Verbier last year, and anyone who comes out on top of the legendary Bec de Rosses venue can win a contest at any time.
Austria's Eva Walker and Squaw Valley's Jacqui Paaso will battle it out for the final spot on the podium, but I like Paaso here since she likes to take big airs, of which there are a plenty on the Mac Face.