On and Off Again

With the first cancellation of a Freeride World Tour event, athletes weigh in on the constant challenges of the 2014 season

Since March 1, Revelstoke Mountain Resort has received nearly 100 centimeters, or 40 inches, of snowfall. But the severity of yesterday's touchy snowpack situation in the backcountry could not have been predicted. Despite a considerable rating for avalanche terrain from the Canadian Avalanche Association, the Mac Daddy venue for Tuesday's scheduled fifth stop of the Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face ripped out to the ground in some places.

The event was mainly a result of temperatures spiking in the 40-degree-plus Fahrenheit range. Meanwhile, as FWT organizers were discussing other venue options in the adjacent backcountry, a snowboarder triggered a sizeable slide on one of the possible back-up venues. In turn, FWT officials decided to cancel the Revelstoke stop, unprecedented in the two years of the unified Freeride World Tour and super rare in recent terms of the world tour circuit. Furthermore, it's the third consecutive FWT stop where the original venue slid during avalanche control work. The regular avalanche activity encapsulates the constant challenges FWT athletes have dealt with this rocky 2014 season.

"I’ve never seen an event get cancelled in 10 years," says reigning World Tour champion Drew Tabke. "I’ve never experienced a year like this, not even close, which is cool because every time you think you’ve seen every possible scenario play out, there’s another."

FWT organizers cancelled the fifth stop in Revelstoke. Other than spring skiing, conditions were not primed for a big mountain competition on par with the FWT. PHOTO: David Carlier/Freeride World Tour

FWT organizers cancelled the fifth stop in Revelstoke. Despite the spring skiing, conditions were not primed for a big mountain competition on par with the FWT. PHOTO: David Carlier/Freeride World Tour

Although no one has been harmed by the avalanches, it's been a tremendous strain on the competitors looking to prove their athletic worth while also solidifying the status of big-mountain contest skiing on a world-class level. In addition, the Revelstoke cancellation affects the qualification process for the finals on Verbier's storied Bec de Rosses face and those looking to earn enough points just to re-qualify for the tour next season. As for the Verbier Xtreme, only 12 males qualify and five females, which leaves Tabke, who is currently sitting in 22nd place, looking for a wildcard spot. Or is he?

"If they offered a wildcard to me, I’d consider it," he says while taking a break from skiing with his family, who made the trek up to Revelstoke. "While watching all of that—discussion of a back-up venue while patrol was literally probing for the snowboarder [who survived]—I pretty much checked out for the whole year. It was fucked. That felt like the end of it to me."

As for those that are qualified, like Squaw Valley's Jackie Paaso, who is in fourth place, the Revy cancellation not only prevents her from moving up in the points race for first with a good finish leading in to the finals, but it also adds to an overall frustration with having to constantly adjust and refocus.

"This year has been so stressful to be a part of the Pro Freeriders Board [a board of eight athletes who consult with FWT officials on big decisions] looking out for the interest of athletes while also focusing for myself as a competitor since there have been so many changes and issues," says Paaso. "You wake up ready to compete, then the venue slides. Then you spend the next four hours wondering if you’re gonna be skiing over at this area or what. Everyone’s stressed about what’s happening next, worried about results and ranking, and also being mentally ready to perform. It’s been a tough year to go with the flow."

Paaso went on to describe how most athletes are simply acquiescing to Mother Nature with a "It's 2014… What a rough season" type of mentality. But it's certainly not an enviable position to be in as a tour organizer or fan of the FWT. Perhaps this is simply an aberration on the FWT timeline. Yet the should-we-stay or should-we-go situations make it difficult for the young tour to evolve and gain more interest and eyeballs, which is to be expected when hosting events on giant mountain faces that are typically closed off or considered backcountry-only zones.

"It’s the reality," continues Tabke. "No one’s saying, 'We should wait for the weather window.' This is how it is and there’s nothing we can really do about it. Last night felt like the last party of the world."

Homepage photo: The Mac Daddy venue during last year’s FWT at Revelstoke. PHOTO: Bruno Long/Freeride World Tour