One of the largest big mountain ski and snowboard competitions is coming to Alaska for the first time.
The Freeride World Tour is headed to the towering peaks near Haines and some of the best extreme skiing terrain in the state.
The Freeride tour stops in Haines on March 14 as one of five international destinations and the only one in the U.S. this year. Athletes in the tour have also competed in Austria, Italy and France this winter. The tour travels to Switzerland later in March.
This is the extreme ski competition’s first time in Alaska.
“The athletes have been driving this,” says Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross. “They are the ones who want to be here and ski our big mountains. So I think they’ve been asking for this stop. Haines is known worldwide now for our amazing ski conditions and big mountain skiing.”
Ross says 36 ski and snowboard athletes will arrive in Haines to compete. Combined with the media and organizers traveling with the event, there will be more than 100 people arriving, filling up every hotel room available here this time of year.
Ross says planning for the event is challenging since its dependent on weather and snow conditions. But she’s working with local businesses to make sure the town has enough services for the influx of international winter visitors.
But let’s talk about the actual skiing for a minute. The athletes have to be fearless but not careless. They earn points from judges for maneuvering and finessing steep slopes with obstacles like rock outcroppings and trees.
Leading the competition coming to Haines is New Zealand skier Sam Smoothy. At the last tour stop in Andorra, he had what many freeride enthusiasts are calling one of the best runs ever in the competition (see video.)
Freeride is hoping to use an area called Telemark Ridge for the competition. Unlike other stops on the tour, there is no infrastructure in the nearby mountains to support spectators or a base of operations.
“Usually when this event is put on at a ski area, there’s a lodge and a facility where everything happens at,” Ross says. “So, they have their office because they live stream all this so there’s a lot of technology involved. And they have their rider’s lounge where the athlete’s area and they have a viewing area. But because of where we are in Haines, we have things spread out all over the place.”
Freeride is partnering with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures to transport athletes and event staff to the mountains by helicopter. The Alaska Heliskiing company is not associated with the event, but lead guide Tim Thomas says it’s a boon for the town.
“It’s magical, it’s the best thing ever because Haines is so great for the summertime for having events and there’s nothing like that in the wintertime and here’s an opportunity for that for the community where’s there’s something going on. So I think it’s awesome. It’s a beautiful thing for Haines.”
Ross is working with organizers to set up a viewing area in town for the competition. When the weather is clear, the face of Telemark Ridge is visible from downtown Haines.
The tour uses social media and live video feed to broadcast the event. Live feed will be difficult from Haines, but the borough is allowing the tour to base their operations at the Haines School since the school has the best bandwidth for internet in town and it is spring break for students.
The tour will host several events in town for athletes and organizers. The public is invited to a welcome reception at the Sheldon Museum on March 13 from 4:30 to 6:30 and starting at 7:30 p.m. after the awards banquet at Harriet Hall on race day.