Organizers for the Freeride World Tour want to keep coming back to Haines, but there are some challenges. That was the message Tourism Director Leslie Ross told the Haines Tourism Advisory Board at a Wednesday meeting.
The international ski and snowboard competition held its second event in Haines on March 21. It’s a time of year when local business owners really notice the additional customers. Rhonda Hinson is on the tourism board and owns Main St. souvenir shop Alaska Rod’s.
“I think they make a point of going out and supporting local businesses,” Hinson said. “I had almost summertime sales during the time the Freeride was here. A lot of them say we’ll see you next year. They’re very positive about Haines and how much they love to come to Haines.”
Tourism Director Ross said the event went much more smoothly this year than it did last year. In 2015, the competition was postponed multiple times because of weather. This time, they only had to wait a few days for the right conditions.
“Overall I think it was a success,” she said. “The huge, huge non-success part of it was that the feed didn’t go live, which for marketing and all the sponsors was extremely disappointing.”
Freeride broadcasts each competition live on its website. That way, fans from around the world can watch as their favorite athletes attempt to flawlessly ski or snowboard down dramatic peaks.
A rare satellite problem prevented the livestream from Haines on March 21. Ross said last year, the viewership for the Alaska livestream surpassed all the other stops on the tour. But this year, since the video was uploaded after the event took place, the numbers are way down.
Aside from the technical liabilities, another challenge for the Freeride coming to Haines has to do with sponsorships. The other stops on the tour take place at ski resorts that have the funds to sponsor the competition, offsetting some of the cost. But Haines has no ski resort, and the borough only budgets about $5,000 for the event.
“What I’ve found is that Haines, we’re just too small and our businesses are too small to support this event.”
Ross said she suggested that Freeride Director Nicolas Hale-Woods approach the state and certain companies about sponsoring the competition’s Alaska event.
“Because we do have two successful years under us I think we do have more potential of getting state support.”
Other sponsor possibilities include Alaska Airlines, Holland America Cruise Lines, and the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Ross said, the Freeride is focused on keeping its Alaska stop, but there is competition from other ski destinations in North America.
“One of the comments I consistently hear from them is how welcome they feel in Haines. And I don’t think they get that in a lot of communities because they’re in these huge resorts and big towns.”
Ross hopes the good relationship the community of Haines has developed with Freeride over the past two years will continue to pay off in years to come.