Extreme skiers and snowboarders sped down Haines mountains Monday in the fourth stop of the Freeride World Tour. The international alpine sports tournament made the long trek back to Haines after its Alaska debut last year. It hasn’t been totally smooth sailing – Haines poses challenges athletically and logistically.
“Hello and welcome to the fourth stop of the Freeride World Tour,” commentator Ed Leigh introduced the competition.
“Back in Haines, Alaska. Dream coming true for all of us,” said co-commentator Martin Winkler.
On Monday morning, athletes in bright pink and yellow snow gear got ready to tackle a steep, mountain face near Little Jarvis Glacier. Videographers circled in helicopters. But fans were left in the dark. The Freeride’s livestream, which broadcasts the competition around the world, wasn’t working because of a satellite problem.
“It’s painful to have this happen,” said Freeride spokesman Tom Winter. “But it’s a learning process, working in an environment like Haines.”
Despite the livestream troubles, organizers decided to go ahead with the competition.
Men’s snowboarders were the first to start. Frenchman Armond was followed by American and first-time Freeride competitor Jonathan Penfield.
“I crashed at the top of my of run,” Penfield said after the competition. “But I had a really enjoyable ride the rest of the way down.”
Penfield says Alaska presents unique challenges for the riders. It’s all backcountry here, there are no ski resorts with lifts to help athletes practice. That requires a helicopter.
“Normally you’re able to warm up riding a few days before, but for me today was the first time I snowboarded in a week,” he said.
Penfield was up against Austrian Flo Orley, who is in his 16th and last year competing.
“I did a pretty fast top part, at the lower base I took a little bit too much speed and flew 25 meters plus…and landed it,” Orley said.
He took the bronze medal for his run in Haines. Orley was happy with that, but disappointed his friends and fans in Europe were left without a livestream. He says the livestream is more than just a play-by-play video. It’s helped people understand and take the sport more seriously.
“I became a pro in 2000 and then we were considered crazy idiots, extreme people who would throw ourselves off cliffs hoping to survive,” Orley said. “And the funny thing is, now 16 years later I do exactly the same thing, but we’re regarded as proper sportsmen. So the whole society, there was a big change. And the livestream has helped to make this change obvious to everyone.”
An Alaskan guest athlete, also known as a wild card, took the gold in the men’s snowboarding. Ryland Bell showed his familiarity with Haines terrain by racking up a score of 95 out of 100. But since he won’t be competing in the finals in Verbier, American Sammy Luebke is going into that event with the top spot.
Rookie Logan Pehota of Canada took the top score in the men’s ski category. He was joined by French Loic Collomb-Patton and American Drew Tabke in the top three.
As for the female snowboarders, Swiss Anne-Flore Marxer made what commentator Leigh said was the most impressive line he’s seen in a long time from snowboard women.
“And she’s going big! That was a winning line,” exclaimed Leigh.
Marxer took first place in her category. Her friend, Austrian Eva Walkner, took the gold in women’s skiing. Marxer told KHNS before the competition that she doesn’t strategize her runs, she just goes out and has fun.
“Me, I’m just so glad to be here,” Marxer said. “I want to make sure to have a good time so that at the end of my one day of competing, I’ll remember the amazing, exciting, speed and make the most out of it for my own memories.”
Italian skier Arianna Tricomi created her first Alaska skiing memories this week. The rookie skier put up a fight against the more experienced Walkner. She earned third place in her category.
“The way the mountains are, it’s different,” Tricomi said. “They’re big, they’re powerful. And just being in this place, it’s far away, in the middle of nature. It’s been a powerful competition.”
Tricomi says the power and beauty that comes from the remote mountains is enough to make the challenges they present worth it. Apparently, Freeride organizers agree. Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross says it’s likely that they’ll come back next year.
The athletes who scored the best here will go on to compete in the finals in Verbier, Switzerland, April 2.
The Haines tourism department is hoping to set up a viewing of the Freeride competition this week at the library and a local bar.