For the Freeride World Tour, weather delays come with the territory. It is a competition wholly dependent on natural snow, snowpack stability and workable weather windows. Last week the Tour landed in Haines, Alaska at SEABA Heli’s spine-infested 1200-square-mile tenure straddling the Yukon and BC borders.
After three storm delays, yesterday the mountain guides in charge of the event safety finally OK’d the event to kick off.
Eddie Bauer athlete Drew Tabke and two-time world champ is a favourite in the men’s ski category. “It’s been a wild year on the FWT, both for the tour at large, as well as for myself personally,” Tabke told Eddie Bauer’s Live Your Adventure.
“Freeride is a crazy-fickle competitive sport,” Tabke continued. “The goals are good snow, sunshine, held on a weekend, with all the riders having sick runs with no injuries, ultimately producing a great show at the host resort plus awesome photo and video content distributed worldwide. Achieving these lofty goals can be incredibly difficult. Snow and weather conditions year to year are massive factors. In 2013, when I won the FWT, we had excellent conditions nearly everywhere we went. Last year was super-challenging, with thin snow and high avalanche risk at every stop from Chamonix to Revelstoke. 2015, so far, has been super-tough too. At stop one in Chamonix, we used a smaller face than normal, as all the other, larger venues had insufficient snow cover.
In Austria, we tried two times to run the event in different venues but were held off by thin snow and avalanche danger. [The event was later held and completed in Andorra. See video above.] In Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra, we were unable to use any of the standard competition venues, as several days of 100 km/h winds had destroyed the snow on the higher peaks, leaving us with spring-conditions snow in a small venue. Now we head to Haines, Alaska, a region of the world that is also experiencing one of the warmest, driest years on record. Recently, though, the trend has switched to a snowier pattern, thus upping my hopes for a great event.
To say I’ve been through ups and downs this year would be a massive understatement. I lost one of my best friends, Liz Daley, in an avalanche accident in Argentina last summer. Heading into the winter and the 2015 FWT season, I felt very unsure if I would enjoy traveling or have the focus and drive necessary for the freeride competitions. In the end, I decided to travel and compete again for a few reasons. I’ve competed in freeride for a decade—the community around the sport is comprised of people who I feel extremely close to. Though we only see each other while on the road, these are some of my best friends. Furthermore, Liz had been living in Chamonix with her fiancé (and my dear friend) Davide Demasi for the past several seasons, and it was the place where we shared the majority of our mountain adventures, parties, and time together. Meaning I came to Chamonix as much to soak in the memories and connect with Liz’s and my mutual friends as I did to compete in the FWT.
That first competition in Chamonix was insane. I thought my brain might explode in the 20 minutes before my run. I was on top, contemplating the past years, the path I had taken, the circumstances of my life and that of my community, and the loss of Liz. It was hard to focus my concentration on the task at hand and the run I needed to do, but I sat down and meditated, and thought about the fact that Liz would want me to ski, to have fun, and to do as well as I could. I got my act together, calmed my breathing as I got in the start gate, and dropped in. The run went great, and though I wasn’t very aggressive or “extreme,” the playful line and tricks I incorporated were enough to land me in third place.
The following week was an organizer’s nightmare. The region had very thin snow until the week of the event, when a massive storm came through. Great, you’re thinking, powder! But no—the avalanche risk was too high on the high peaks, and after completing the ski women’s discipline in a smaller venue, the remaining disciplines were moved to another ski area, Kappl, to try and complete the event. The second rider of the day, Julien Lopez, triggered an avalanche, and though he was fine, the event was called off.
The whole show picked up and moved towards Andorra. As I mentioned, Andorra had super-difficult conditions as well. I had a rough competition, crashing on a 360 attempt on my last air. Later in the week, we competed again to make up for the postponed competition in Austria. We were blessed with fresh snow during the week, greatly improving conditions for the last event, though conditions were still difficult. There were some big, scary crashes on the tricky venue. I skied quite conservatively but did well enough to land a 6th place finish.
After the first three events of 2015, I am currently in 8th place overall. After we compete in Alaska, our top three (of four total) results will be used to determine an overall ranking, and the top 12 ranked ski men qualify for the world finals in Verbier. Meaning that if I am able to nail another good result, I’ll solidify my spot.
It has long been a dream of mine to participate in a helicopter-accessed freeride competition, and this week (with a little help from the weather) that dream will finally come true. Stay tuned: history is about to go down.”
Watch Drew Tabke compete live this week at freerideworldtour.com and check back all week for daily updates on the Live Your Adventure blog and via @eddiebauer on Instagram and Twitter. Eddie Bauer–First Ascent is a partner of Eagle Pass Heliskiing, in BC’s Monashees.