An international big mountain ski and snowboard competition that brought an economic boost to Haines for three winters is not returning to Alaska in 2018. Freeride World Tour organizers say the expense of putting on a competition in the remote Haines backcountry is the main reason they are not coming back this winter.
“With a 360 he sticks that! What a combination to start out from!” Commentators marveled as skiers and snowboarders carved descents through the deep snow of the Haines mountains in March of 2017.
The Freeride World Tour includes a series of stops, where athletes build up points based on the skill and creativity of their runs.
Most of the Freeride’s competition venues are near ski resorts, in places like Verbier, Switzerland and Fieberbrunn, Austria.
That made the Haines stop unusual. There is no ski resort here – people either hike, snowmachine, or take helicopters into the backcountry.
“The things that make Haines so challenging are also the things that make it so special, so wonderful,” said Tom Winter, a spokesman with the ski and snowboard competition.
Winter says the wildness and remoteness of Haines makes it appealing. Some athletes call it a ski ‘mecca.’ But those same factors make it very expensive.
In Haines, the Freeride used helicopters to fly all the athletes, event personnel, and equipment to the mountaintop venue. That was the biggest expense.
“I think you’re looking at a million-plus [dollars] for the Haines stop,” Winter said. “So it’s quite expensive. And that’s mostly based on the logistics side and that’s based on the fact that you can’t just pack your gear in a Sno-Cat and bump it up the mountain.”
People in Haines already knew the chances of the Freeride returning in 2018 were slim. The event lost its title sponsor – Swatch. Without that financing, organizers said coming back to Alaska would be difficult.
The decision was made official Sept. 12, when the Freeride announced its schedule for the 2018 competition.
The Haines and Chamonix, France stops were replaced by brand new venues in Hakuba, Japan and Golden, British Columbia.
“We’ll miss them,” said Deborah Davis, the store manager at Haines’ Mountain Market Café.
The market was a popular gathering spot for the Freeride athletes. Davis says the skiers and snowboarders ordered lots of coffee and smoothies.
“They’re familiar faces, we look forward to seeing them and they spend a lot of time here on their down days,” Davis said.
Haines’ new tourism director, Carolann Wooton, was welcoming visitors at the cruise ship dock on the day the Freeride announced its 2018 schedule. In the summer, Haines sees a steady stream of tourists from cruise ships. But in the winter, business is much slower. Big events like the Freeride make a difference.
“Freeride brought in people who were staying in our hotels, eating at our establishments and shopping in our stores,” Wooton said. “So we would like them to come back.”
Tom Winter, with the Freeride, says coming back to Haines is a possibility. After all, it was dubbed ‘The Dream Stop’ by organizers.
“It’s not gonna happen this year but that’s OK, change happens,” Winter said. “If things line up, I definitely think that we’ll be back there and I hope so because Haines is special and people will always remember Haines as a special place.”
Even though the competition dropped Haines from its calendar, and the financial chances of it returning are uncertain, tourism director Wooton says it likely raised Haines’ profile as a winter recreation destination. That means Haines could still get an economic boost from the Freeride, even if it’s not an official stop on the tour.