The lone U.S. stop on the Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face launches in Kirkwood, CA, today. The fourth stop of the inaugural tour will run on the first possible day of the event window period. With sun in the forecast, it's go time in South Lake Tahoe.
Long a venue and host of the Freeskiing World Tour, Kirkwood and its permanently closed Cirque look to be quite the challenge this year for competitors due to the conditions. Unfortunately, Tahoe and Sierra have not received a considerable amount of snow in some time, so conditions on the Cirque look to be quite variable. Of course, no one truly knows how it'll ski since it's been closed and the FWT only allows visual inspection. That being said, the Cirque offers multiple lines and features, so several different routes will be skied.
Here are the predictions for the fourth stop:
Because of all the different lines and features, I'm going with a safe pick here, local Josh Daiek. Look, I know he hasn't had the strongest season thus far. But he's won the last two Freeskiing World Tour contests there in 2011 and 2012, and Kirkwood is his home ski area.
In line with the countless choices of lines, the versatile skills of Fabio Studer could set up well on this venue. The Austrian, who won the People's Choice Award at the 2011 Red Bull Cold Rush, finished fifth at Courmayeur and second at Chamonix, the second and third tour stops, respectively. Then again, landings are gonna be hard, so I wouldn't expect many tricks to be thrown off the cliffs.
Rounding out the podium, tour leader Drew Tabke will continue his strong form. Since he's well ahead of the others in the point standings, Tabke could be more conservative in his approach, especially with the marginal conditions. Then again, the tour vet doesn't seem to have the ability to take his foot off the gas, so he could easily end up on top again.
Dark Horses: When you're talking Kirkwood, you can never look past tour vets in Julien Lopez, Tahoe local Kevin O'Meara, or Aurelien Ducroz. These guys know the Cirque venue well after competing on it multiple times. Of course, Sweden's Reine Barkered and Switzerland's Jeremie Heitz have been super consistent this year, so you have to think they're in good form to catch up to Tabke.
Nine women will be competing in Kirkwood headlined by tour leader Christine Hargin. The Swede won both stops at Revelstoke and Chamonix (the ladies did not compete at Courmayeur) and looks to continue her dominance.
But this is America and Squaw's Jackie Passo, who won the 2012 Chamonix Freeride World Tour stop, has to be a favorite on the Cirque. Although she hasn't been in great form this year, finishing seventh at Revy and 10th at Chamonix, she knows the venue and has been skiing hard snow recently at Tahoe.
To round out the podium, Austria's Nadine Wallner looks to continue her streak of strong finishes after placing second at both Revy and Chamonix.