By Greg Fitzsimmons
Intense storms pounded the Andes earlier this week, but they were nonexistent Friday morning. The only remnant was two feet of fresh Chilean powder covering Ski Arpa, site of the Stop 2 of the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour. Athletes, in Los Andes, Chile—homebase for everyone that visits the soon-to-be bucket list destination, Ski Arpa—inspected the snowcat-access Day 1 venue under bluebird skies. The consensus amongst those here: This event is going to be unlike any other FWT comp in history. As things amp up toward Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. (local) start time, check out some notes and quotes from inspection day:
• Despite the huge amounts of snow that has recently buried Chile, conditions are pretty thin on the Day 1 venue. There is a lot of talk about keeping things in control and safe tomorrow. "We're dealing with the Pacific Ocean, there is a lot of reef out there, and even more sharks," says competition director Bryan Barlow about the sharp rocks and peppery conditions lurking beneath the new layer of snow. But, Barlow adds, "We still have a huge chunk of terrain" and riders will be creative in their line choices as opposed to tee-ing up and sending 70-footers.
• Everyone walked away healthy and intact after inspection, but there were a few casualties to "shark bites." Notables included a couple of high-speed tomahawks and lots of banged up skis.
• Two FWT mainstays are joining Jim Jack in the judges booth this weekend, with Brant Moles and Ben Wheeler putting their lengthy big-mountain competitive backgrounds to work in evaluating the weekend comp. "These are two guys that have been around the freeskiing scene since the beginning, they know how to win!" says Jim Jack.
• On the coattails of the Red Bul Powder Disorder (aka Subaru FWT Stop 1, at Las Leñas), there will be some "feature enhancement" in the Day 1 venue, Cornices. Athletes were shoveling and preparing in-runs for a few booters. "There are opportunities out there for you to show us your style and creativity," Jack told the crowded room of competitors on the eve of Day 1. "But, it is still all about execution."
• "I had two lines that I was looking at during inspection," says Lars Chickering-Ayers, two-time event winner and runnerup in last year's overall FWT standings. “But one of them was that 50-footer over exposure and with six inches of snow in the landing [that has been ruled OB because of safety], so I guess I'll do the other."
• "We're not a stunt show," says Jack. "We're freeskiers. We make calculated decisions."
• Because of the remote locale for the Chilean Freeskiing Championships, there will not be a live simulcast from the competition. You will be able to find frequent updates on the Freeskiing World Tour Facebook page and highlight reels will be edited and sent out after each day.
• If you ever get to see what Ski Arpa is all about, be warned that the switchback road to Arpa from the town of Los Andes is real. 4x4s were laced up in chains and cars were slipping all over the place as the FWT caravan made its way to Arpa this morning for inspection. The adventure is worth it.
• "It was a great experience today for all of the athletes to take 4×4 shuttles up one of the gnarliest roads in Chile," says Jack. "Chains on Subaru's, up the road directly to snowcats and snowmobiles, to a ridge with one of the most beautiful views in all of South America, including Aconcagua and five of the highest peaks on the continent."
• Lastly, the end of inspection day will go down as one of the all-time FWT gatherings. As if the untouched and technical upper portions of Ski Arpa weren't enough, visitors have to descend 2,000-vertical-feet of blower snow to get back to the parking lot. Needless to say, the day's final run had everyone super stoked on inspection. The parking lot was filled with beers, coffee, and blaring music as the competitors, media, and MSI staff were claiming it after the incredible end to the day.
• Looking forward, "We'll have to see where the natural break in the scores is," says Bryan Barlow, "but we'll probably be taking about 70-percent on to Day 2. A majority of the field will be moving on to bigger terrain with better coverage."
• Find start lists for Day 1 here.