Three weeks ago, Garrett Altmann, 35, completed a master's degree in natural resources management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This winter, Altmann got eight weeks off of his job studying climate change in the arctic at Los Alamos National Laboratory so he could compete in the Freeride World Tour, which he qualified for because of strong finishes in each of the three-star FWT qualifiers he competed in last year. On Saturday at Chamonix, with 15,781-foot Mont Blanc in the backdrop, the weekend warrior--previously a mogul and a skier-cross competitor--skied a technical line that included two consecutive 20-foot airs. The run scored well. He sat in first place with one skier in the field remaining.
That skier was another tour rookie, Loic Collomb-Patton, who skied in the golden colored jersey reserved for the circuit leader. Last week Collomb-Patton won the first event of the season at Courmayeur. On the Aiguille Pourrie face on Saturday, as he exited out of the most technical section of the course, the Frenchman stomped a left-side 40-foot 360. The air, in addition to his fluid and technical line, would be enough to put him in first place, two points ahead of Altmann.
"I was hoping for a top eight, so to end up on the podium, I'm thrilled," says Altmann. "I'm still adjusting to not being a weekend warrior."
Although some of the snow on the face was wind-affected, the competitors couldn't have asked for much better conditions. A half-meter of fresh snow blanketed the Pourrie, and the skies were so blue one could see every peak across the valley, from the Grand Montets ski resort to the roof of Europe, Mont Blanc. Hundreds of spectators sat. Many rolled cigarettes and drank wine while gasping and cheering for the competitors.
Few drew as big of an applause as Jackie Paaso. The Tahoe skier lined up and stomped a 40-foot air that many of the male competitors had trouble with earlier in the day. The move left little doubt in the judges' eyes. Paaso won by a full five-and-a-half points. Swede Matilda Rapaport and Austrian Lorraine Huber would round out the rest of the podium, in second and third, respectively.
The Freeride World Tour continues next week, on February 1, at Fieberbrunn, Austria. To watch the webcast of the Chamonix stop, go here.