By Cam Kaegi, Special to the Revelstoke Times Review
After being postponed for four days due to a heavy Revelstoke snowfall and poor visibility, the Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face (FWT) went off with a bang, literally, last Friday.
The sound of explosions pierced the air early Friday morning as competitors, event organizers and spectators began to line the Montana Ridge viewing area, on the south side of Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s (RMR) boundary line. Above a sea clouds, the RMR ski patrol were hard at work, to make sure that the Mac Daddy face on the east side of Mt. Mackenzie was safe enough for the 60 world-class competitors soon to be riding down the immense slope by way of skis or snowboards.
The competition was the first of six stops on the newly unified FWT, and according to head event director Brian Barlow, the day was “a pretty ideal, perfect situation for this type of event”.
With the morning sun illuminating the spectacular Mac Daddy face, the buzz of helicopters and snowmobiles in the background, and last minute avalanche control complete, it was time for the world’s best big mountain skiers and snowboarders to lay down their lines.
First to tackle the venue were the male snowboarders, showing the crowd just what is possible with a snowboard, nerves of steel, and a 600-metre face littered with burly cliffs and steep chutes. Despite being the boarder’s first time competing on the Mac Daddy face, they all brought some serious shredding prowess along with them; last year they were on a different venue altogether.
Defending champion Ralph Backstrom reclaimed his title with a flowy line down the looker’s right side of the venue, stomping a triple drop up top, and a solid air near the bottom. “It was super fun, it broke blue today and the conditions were prime to send it”, said the Squaw Valley, California resident.
The male skiers were up next , the largest group- comprising half of the total competitors. They laid down a variety of technical, exciting runs, not short on trickery or airtime. With so many notable lines, the judges had their work cut out for them to say the least.
In the end it was Drew Tabke taking the top spot in the men’s ski division with a confident, hard charging line, complete with three solid airs free of hesitation. I asked him what he thought of his run: “My run was pretty much just what I imagined actually and that’s always a good sign in freeride,” he replied. “You spend a lot of time inspecting visually and imagining how it’s going to be, and eliminating surprises.”
The flying Frenchman Julien Lopez took third place with a technical, controlled run down the more playful, looker’s right side of the venue.
“I had a pretty cool line, I was stoked about the conditions, some very good snow inside of the venue,” he said. “[It’s] one of the venues that we like – real stuff, real mountain. That’s why we call it Mac Daddy”.
The only local rider in the competition, Rylan Kappler, took a tumble near the top of the venue but thoroughly charged the remainder of his run.
“The snow conditions on the top were not what I expected so I guess I got a little too defensive. But all in all had a great run – hit my line plus got some good pow turns in there,” he said.
With the men’s divisions complete, it was time for the women to make their marks on the mountain. At this point the sunlight was quickly fading from the face, and the cloud line was beginning to creep up the slope. The female snowboarders each made their turns with poise, but it was Shannon Yates clenching first place with a steady, solid run down the middle of the venue. The changing conditions were confirmed with her comments.
“The top of the face was super steep,” she said. “The conditions were pretty variable – icy, sketchy. I rode it as fast and as hard as I dared.”
Last up were the female skiers, who appeared to have the most trouble on the face, having to contend with icy tracks and hard bomb holes on the now shaded, ominous looking Mac Daddy. There were quite a few tumbles, some in extremely exposed areas but luckily no one was injured. Christine Hargin, the defending FWT champion, led the way to the top of the podium.
“Everything is bigger than you can think, how you can imagine, when you watch it,” said the Swedish skier of her experience on the face.
Throughout the day, riders who I talked to continued to confirm the quality of the Mac Daddy face as a freeride venue.
“I really like how there’s a lot of options for different styles of skiing,” said third place female skier Natalie Segal.
“The venue is so cool, it’s like the Bec de Rosses (the famous, cliff-ridden face in Verbier, Switzerland, that serves as the final stop of the FWT) – a big run (with) very alpine, steep lines,” said second place male skier Jeremie Heitz.
Tabke described Mac Daddy as “really complex – an amazingly, uniformly steep face encompassing more terrain than a lot of other venues.”
When all was ridden and done with, the day appeared to be a success. “Overall, I’m elated and blown away at the results and the lines that went down,” said Barlow. “It’s just such a great outcome to come out of this event with everyone smiling and healthy”.
With both disciplines of the sport now united in hopes of progressing the sport that much further, the future is looking bright for freeriding and Revelstoke is certainly playing a part in it. From its roots as a world-renowned ski jumping location, to today, a hot spot in the much younger sport of freeriding, Revelstoke continues to evolve as a premier player in the snow-sports realm. Is a new era of sporting stardom underway for our mountain town? From the sights and sounds of Friday, it appears so.