Getting to Revelstoke

By Greg Fitzsimmons
Published: January 7, 2011

REVELSTOKE, British Columbia — There's a story behind everyone's journey to the Subaru Canadian Freeskiing Championships. Dozens of North America's best big-mountain skiers caravanned up here from their home resorts—Alta, Jackson, Squaw, and Crested Butte. Lines of tattered, old vans tailored to suit the ski bum lifestyle sat bumper-to-bumper at a handful of border crossing for hours on end. Disheveled and stoked for Revy, the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour's athletes sat at the wheel, fielding probing questions from the customs officials.

"Where are you headed, sir? Why do you have so many skis? What's all the camera equipment for? How long will you be in Canada? And, what's the purpose of your trip?" Guaranteed, the customs officials could taste the dingy odors emanating from the driver's-side windows of the vans—hints of boot liners and leather gloves, herb and leftovers from dinner. The drivers' responses probably sounded something like: "Well, I'm here to ski. We're headed to Revelstoke, then maybe Red Mountain. I'm trying to snag some footage for my website, and those skis are the new Rocker 2 from Salomon. You don't have to worry about me selling them in Canada, I wouldn't sell those no matter how strapped for cash I get.”

It's a nomadic life the skiers on the FWT live from early January to late March (and August if they rubbed enough pennies together for the comps in Chile and Argentina). But, bell-to-bell days on the hill skiing followed by graveyard shifts at the Peruvian Lodge or long days during non-winter months on the jobsite are undoubtedly worth it once you get swooped up by the gypsy skiers that are competing in this weekend's FWT stop at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Once safely across the border and in Canada one thing becomes quickly apparent: Canadians have a warped perspective on ski conditions. "It's a little skied out, ehh. Sorry about that." We've heard it a few times as we're looking down into soft-snow-filled glades. It seems like they really don't expect to cross anyone's tracks on a powder day. And, for everyone that made the 40-hour drive or had to get a week's worth of shifts covered to get up to Revelstoke, those expectations of untouched snow and exposed terrain are easy to adopt.

So it has been snowing in Revy. Incessantly. Most American competitors haven't shifted to the metric system; instead, universal measuring systems suffice—"over the shoulder," "knee deep," "blower," etc. As a result, freeride laps are the bookends for most competitors' inspection runs; they're hitting Revelstoke's powder fields, couloirs, and trees before and after their inspections of the venue and qualifying runs. Because, you know, "the skiing is just too good!"

On the venue, the ladies and gents are throwing down some serious skiing. The soft snow and mind-blowing features are inducing athletes to push it. Conditions, coupled with a change in the judging criteria—"style and creativity" have supplanted "aggression" on the judges' scorecards—are definitely going to offer spectators an opportunity to see the current state of big-mountain skiing. Already, competitors are skiing fast, fluid lines without hesitating; they're stomping big airs followed by strong, GS, Arne-turns (ala the late Arne Backstrom, winner of the last year’s Canadian Freeskiing Championships at Revy and Sickbird Belt Buckle winner).

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Off the venue, the freeride gypsies return to their vans and decked-out RVs circled like wagons in the parking lot at the base of the gondola, or they cram into hotel rooms throughout town. And they discuss the day's skiing—both competitive and freeride—over a Sierra Nevada (or Kokanee if they're trying to be cultured). Ski videos are premiered ("G.N.A.R." was a resounding hit and "Hot Dog" and the 80s party that will coincide with the screening of the classic ski film will definitely go off, too). Late nights at The Village Idiot and The Last Drop (two of Revy's popular watering holes) are followed by early mornings on-snow. (See women’s qualifying results from yesterday HERE.)

No doubt there's a competitive atmosphere here. A coveted belt buckle, places atop the podium, "Frankie's Favorites" (stay tuned for more information about this list that every athlete wants to be included on), and the $20,000 prize purse for winners are all at stake. More than those things, though, the Freeskiing World Tour is a tribe of like-minded people, gifted athletes, progressive thinkers, and supportive friends. Shane McConkey experienced it, as did Chris Davenport, Seth Morrison, and Ingrid Backstrom (to name a few). After everything wraps up at the end of the weekend and people head back to their respective mountains to session tricks and ski their home goods, it is an intrinsic motivation that will sway these skiers to re-pack their vans, get their shifts covered at work, and hit the road en route to the next stop on the FWT. But, for now, we’re all here in Revy, and it is on.