Even though the last storm brought 80 inches of snow to Kirkwood Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, salvaging what may be one of the worst drought seasons in recent history, the Freeride World Tour announced today that it would relocate its fourth stop from Kirkwood to Snowbird, Utah. Even with the new snow, conditions at Kirkwood are not yet suitable for competition, event organizers said.
"It's been a challenging year conditions-wise in Tahoe," says Jessica Kunzer, spokesperson for the Freeride World Tour. "After speaking with Kirkwood, we decided that we didn't feel it would be the best conditions for the event and the riders."
Freeride World Tour competitor and Kirkwood skier Josh Daiek said that while the recent storm filled in coverage on the Cirque, Kirkwood’s competition venue, slides had ripped out, leaving a 7-foot crown. Another foot of snow filled in on top of the slide path, but nonetheless, Daiek said coverage was uncertain. Optimal conditions on the Cirque require a 10- to 15-foot base, he said, and right now Kirkwood's base is measuring at 60 inches.
"That's the way this season has been going with less than average snowfall all over the world, except for Colorado. It's just what we have to deal with," says Daiek. "All in all, I'm bummed not to have the comp at home. It's an awesome venue. I know it's a favorite for many skiers."
Conditions at Utah, on the other hand, are prime for competition, says Kunzer. Snowbird is sitting on a 90-inch base and the Utah ski resort is a veteran host of big mountain competitions. Several FWT athletes call Snowbird home, including Oakley White-Allen. Kunzer did not confirm the venue for the March 1 competition. Mount Baldy is the usual venue at Snowbird, although Mount Superior across the street has long been thought to be a prime venue for a big mountain comp, so long as all the conditions—temperature, visibility, and stability—line up. Compared to other stops on the FWT, especially those in Europe, skiers said that Snowbird’s terrain lends for high speeds and big natural kickers that are perfect for airs and spins.
"We haven't been to Salt Lake since the tour combined, and I think everybody was bummed when Snowbird wasn't part of the Freeride World Tour," says FWT athlete Drew Tabke. "It's definitely a different style than a lot of the venues we have in Europe. I like open spaces and fun jumps. I've always liked that style of skiing that we've done down there [in Snowbird]."
This is the third major change to the schedule or location of the FWT stops this year. Revelstoke was postponed from December to March because there wasn't enough snow, and sketchy avalanche conditions forced tour organizers to move the Fieberbrunn stop to nearby Kappl at the last minute.
"FWT has encountered challenging weather and snow conditions all season,” says FWT Americas General Manager Adam Comey. “We are very grateful Snowbird has agreed to host the event with such short notice. Snowbird is famous for having a unique abundance and quality of snow, making it an excellent location for the event."
Riders have remained flexible, even though the decisions mean last minute changes to travel plans. Kunzer did not comment as to whether Kirkwood would remain a FWT stop in the coming years.
"Between Kirkwood and Snowbird, you have two premier venues in the U.S.," says FWT skier Griffin Post. "It's a bummer that Kirkwood isn't happening. But it's good for the athletes and the organizers are making the right call."