An international free skiing and snowboarding competition that took on Haines slopes this year in its first-ever Alaska stop is coming back next year. The Freeride World Tour officially announced the 2016 schedule in late July.
The competition wasn’t easy or cheap for Freeride organizers. Unpredictable weather conditions caused three delays. It raised fears that the athletes had come all this way for an event that wouldn’t happen. But after about two weeks of waiting, skies cleared and the competition happened March 23nd.
“Haines is by far the most expensive stop for them,” said Haines Borough Tourism Director Leslie Ross.
She says Freeride spent about a million dollars on the Haines competition. Many of the competitors and organizers are European, making travel expensive. And the mountains aren’t accessible by ski lifts or hiking – all the participants needed to be helicoptered in.
Because it’s so expensive, Ross says the financial side of the Freeride’s next visit to Haines is up in the air.
“So they still are looking for sponsorships,” she said. “They haven’t received that much at all.”
Ross says she and the chamber of commerce are looking for local and regional businesses that could sponsor parts of the Haines visit. She says Freeride is also continuing to look for sponsors, and that they have a contingency plan to compete in British Columbia if the finances don’t work out.
Ross explains why the organizers are trying again for Haines despite the obstacles.
“Our mountains and our snow. We’re becoming world-known for our snow and our skiing. And this is definitely a push again that the athletes want to come here.”
“I think it’s every skier’s dream to once at least come here and ride these incredible mountains,” said one of those athletes — Swedish skier and 2012 Freeride champion Reine Barkered.
When Barkered and the other athletes, organizers, video and broadcast production staff, and other personnel were in Haines, they added up to more than 100 people. For some local businesses, it was a welcome influx of customers in the off-season.
“You know a fair amount of businesses close down in the winter or have significantly reduced hours because there is not enough business for them to stay open,” said Chamber of Commerce president Kyle Gray. “I mean, if we can have an event or something like that that gives more businesses a reason to stay open, that’s just more money we’re gonna be able to make as a community.”
Cheryl Katzeek is the front office manager at Captain’s Choice Motel, which rented out 32 of their 40 rooms to Freeride participants.
“It was really great for us and we’re glad to hear that they’re coming back,” Katzeek said.
The other four stops in the Freeride 2016 tour are in Europe – Andorra, France, Austria and Switzerland. The date currently scheduled for Haines is March 17, 2016.