Dozens of the world’s most talented big mountain skiers and snowboarders arrive in Haines this week for the Freeride World Tour. It will be the extreme winter sports competition’s third Alaska experience.
“Of course, everyone wants to go to Haines,” said Freeride North America Spokesman Tom Winter.
Haines is different than the other Freeride stops in France, Andorra, Austria and Switzerland. It’s more remote, there’s no ski resort, and the mountains, according to the athletes, are incomparable.
“The way the mountains are, it’s different,” Italian skier Tricomi said after the 2016 competition. “They’re big, they’re powerful. And just to be in this place, it’s far away and in the middle of nature. It’s been a powerful competition, different from other places. They all kind of look the same, they’re all resorts, and still very fun, but different from here.”
Tricomi is one of 28 athletes who, after three competitions over the past couple months, made the cut for Haines. The pool was narrowed from 52 to 28. It includes 12 male skiers, six female skiers, six male snowboarders and four female snowboarders.
“Haines is an exclusive event and so it should be limited and only the very best should be able to qualify to go to Haines,” Winter said.
The Freeride reduced the number of athletes and support staff its bringing to Alaska this year. Winter says it’s partly because the Freeride wants to set the bar even higher for athletes to make it to the finals. But it’s also because of money. Haines is the most costly competition.
“Haines is the most expensive tour stop given the logistics and the helicopters and everything else that goes into it,” Winter said.
In Haines, athletes and equipment need to be helicoptered the mountain peak. The remoteness adds to Haines’ appeal, but also the expense.
The plan this year is to have the competition on the same mountain face as the previous two years. The location is dubbed ‘The Venue.’ It’s near Little Jarvis Glacier about 35 miles up the Haines Highway.
“That particular venue seems to work well for them,” said Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross. “I think it’s easier than trying to move everything to a new location.”
The Freeride’s permit with the borough provides a week-long window to hold the competition, from March 18-25. In 2015, the window had to be extended because of less-than-favorable weather conditions.
There was a challenge of a different sort during last year’s competition. The Freeride broadcasts its events live on the internet for its global fan base. In 2016, satellite issues prevented the Haines event from livestreaming.
“It was a big downer not only for Haines, but they’re known for their live broadcast,” Ross said. “People all over the world were trying to watch it.”
Winter says the technical team has a plan B and plan C to prevent that kind of problem from happening again.
Locals will have a chance to meet athletes during a welcome reception at the Sheldon Museum Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Then, the athletes will keep a close eye on the forecast and hope for ideal conditions to carve out the perfect run in the mountains of Haines.