words: Justin Broglio
photos courtesy of FWT
By now you probably know that the women were the story of the day at the third stop of the Freeride World Tour – Nissan Tram Face last weekend at Squaw Valley USA
Local freerider and wild card entry Jaclyn Paaso held on through a PBR-style buck on the landing to nail a massive cliff drop so deep that it took out several of the men – including Frechman Julien Lopez, who finished first earlier in the season at the Nissan Chamonix event.
Norwegian Ane Enderud beat out other local favorite and 2008 FWT first place finisher Elyse Saugstad, while well-known Olympic Valley legend Ingrid Backstrom made time in her busy winter schedule to swing by and snag third place without even blinking.
In the men's division the Swedes reigned supreme with Henrik Windstedt taking the number one spot and Reine Barkered in third, the two split by Frechman Aurelien Ducroz.
While there's no doubt that each of the athletes deserves praise for his/her abilities and performance on the Silverado course (a line of cliff bands and open powder turns descending from the High Camp Tram Dock), it is the awesome, rocky steeps of the Tram Face—the namesake of the event, that has eluded event organizers and athletes for the last two years.
In 2009 harsh weather ruined any chance of competing on the Tram Face and limited even the Silverado course to one run. This year the story wasn't much different with whiteout conditions pushing Saturday's scheduled competition out to Sunday and then unsafe snow conditions delaying yet again for a Monday morning start.
On Sunday morning, with skies clearing and low to moderate avalanche danger event officials and ski patrol organized riders atop the legendary face with every thing in place, waiting on one final slope test. Then to everyone’s surprise a large avalanche released on the face South of the course and sent crowds below scattering.
"We had a skier on the course checking for softening when the slide went off," recalled nine-year Squaw patrol veteran and pointman for the 2010 Nissan event Chris Gray. "He (an unidentified photographer) was in a roped off area to skiers right of the start gate and didn't check in with anyone."
No one was injured by or caught in the slide, but the avalanche and softening snow forced the event back in-bounds and delayed it yet another day.
"We would have stopped it even if the avalanche hadn't happened," said Freeride World Tour founder and event organizer Nicolas Hale-Woods, who noted the varying conditions over the length of the face as "not at competition level."
Sentiments echoed by local riders like JT Holmes, who was influential in helping event organizers realize the potential of the Tram Face early on.
"I was against it that day from the beginning," Holmes said.
Hale-Woods, who acknowledged Silverado for it's safer lines and lower consequences, said, despite two years of failed attempts on the face, the FWT will be back in 2011 for a third time's a charm.
"It's a superb venue," he said. "And worth the try knowing our option B is safe and enjoyed by the riders. And when it happens on the face it will be well worth the wait."
The next stop of the FWT will be the grand finale back across the ocean later this month.
Watch for the Final Stage of the Freeride World Tour – March 20, 2010, at the 15th Anniversary of the Nissan Xtreme by Swatch in Verbier. Fifteen years of passion for freeriding, 15 years of great sports performances at its highest level will be celebrated at the "grande finale" of the Freeride World Tour 2010. For the occasion the 15 former winners of the event have been invited by the organizers. The elite of freeride will once again tackle the mythical North Face of the Bec des Rosse.