words & photos:: Jeremy Allen
The Freeride World Tour (FWT) delivered the goods at Kicking Horse Resort on February 5th in the small town of Golden, BC. Having hosted the previous year in the same venue “Ozone”, the resort quickly reinforced its claim to fame of steep lines, burly cliffs and technical features. Having cold, low visibility weather in the forecast, the event was put on hold for 4 days while mother nature discharged its precipitation and lay a blanket of fresh snow in the surrounding area.
The tour has had some amazing effects on the town of Golden. The small railway & logging industry driven borough is nestled at the confluence of Kicking Horse & the Columbia Rivers. This deeply trenched valley created by the towering Columbia & Rocky Mountains offers outdoor enthusiasts access to some of the best steep and technical skiing to be had around the globe. The FWT attracts spectators and offers world wide coverage for the pioneer mountain town.
While the snow gradually piled up, day after day, the athletes attempted to view the face that was soon to be strewn with ski & board trenches. Low visibility proved to shroud all chances. On Monday, February 4th – the storm system finally let up and revealed an untouched face. A beautiful venue, touched only by fore runners (two non-competing athletes who ski the face a day before the event), demonstrated to be a perfect zone to host such high caliber athletes. “We’ve been working to make this venue safe for the athletes since November” Kyle Hale, head of mountain safety noted.
The first athlete upload for the Ski/Snowboard ladies began at 7:00 am sharp. One after another, through the darkness & blue hour, they skinned up the ridge among the rising sun to reach the start gate on top of Ozone.
As 8:45 hit, the first athlete from the female snowboard discipline – Manuela Mandl (Austria – 3rd place) blazed trail and landed a score of 60, while Wakana Hama (Japan – 2nd place) trailed close behind showing big air and engagement on the face. Former world champion Marion Haerty (France – 1st Place), used speed and fluidity to her advantage and scored a solid 71.33 and placing on top of the podium.
Nicole Kelly, local to Kicking Horse, faced some tough sections in her run, landing her in 5th place on the second stop of the FWT. “There was a little bit more rocks in the one chute that I thought would have been solid so that caught me off guard. But it is what it is, I’m stoked to finally get to ride this face!”, she expressed. Nicole lives out of her van with her husband and dog, they opted out of a hotel room in their hometown offered by the FWT. “I prefer to stay in the van, I’ve had consistently good sleep in here, and we’re comfortable, sustainable and happy, so it’s perfect.” said Mitchell Stagg, Nicole’s husband.
Jacqueline Pollard, (USA – 1st place) clinched a first career win with 76.67 on a clean, fluid run which included a technical and fast double. Arianna Tricoumi (Italy – 2nd place), using speed and agility to navigate the face, stomped a solid cliff at the bottom in which most others failed. Hazel Birnbaum (USA – 3rd place) stuck a solid run top to bottom landing her a 65.33.
Victor De Le Rue (France – 1st place), season wildcard took Ozone by storm. Dropping in from the second entrance and showing his control on huge cliffs and adding in a floaty 360 to score 90.33. Sammy Luebke (USA – 2nd place) – powder connoisseur, opened with a beautiful 360 off a largely overhanging cornice and proceeded to stomp a massive double drop off to lookers left, presenting him with a score of 85.00. Blake Hamm (USA – 3rd place) pioneered a new section and landed a double at the bottom, giving him an 80.00.
The men’s skiing category was heated with an outstanding lineup, including legend Tanner Hall, wild card Logan Pehota, Markus Eder and a whole index of 21 of the worlds best freeride athletes.
Craig Murray (New Zealand – 1st place) sent a massive flat 3 off the diving board lookers left. Only to forge ahead and put one last tweaked air in at the bottom, placing him 1 point ahead of Markus Eder (Italy – 2nd place) who chose a very similar line. Both skiers choosing a short, yet compact route down the newly opened features. ” Last year I remember I did not like this face too much, but this year, already knowing the face a little bit and having a new area of the face opened, I was really excited to compete. I had two options; one on the lookers right side, one the new face on lookers left. I could not decide where I should go and at the end I just went where my heart was, where I felt it more and it worked… Usually I like short venue, you can pick 2-3 things you can concentrate on instead of getting lost on a big face. Sometimes it’s hard when you have to ride a lot in between, it’s hard to find where you wanna go. That’s what I like about short face : quick and dirty !” explained Markus Eder.
Pehota, winner of the Kicking Horse stop in 2018, charged down the middle section, landing opposite 360’s and stomping a bulky cliff at the bottom. Scoring a high 91 and landing him a 3rd place podium finish on home soil. ” I did everything I wanted to do. Went a bit smaller than last year but executed my 360s in opposite ways so I am super stoked on that and I landed everything. I ended up in one piece, not hurt, did not hit a rock, I am stoked. Obviously it would have been sick if I came in first again but it was pretty unrealistic world to live in if you come in expecting that every time. I am super happy about my run. “ — Logan Pehota said.
Having 4 Canadian athletes at the only stop in North America, not too many of them felt at ease with this face. “It’s a super daunting venue, especially when your competitors have had a chance to shred it once before you.” explained Nicole Kelly who claims Kicking Horse as her home resort. Ozone, having an average of 45 degree slopes, makes it one of the most difficult venues on the tour. “I’ve never had much luck at Kicking Horse, ” said Tom Peiffer.
Liam & Tom Pieffer (21 year old twins from Whistler, BC) both competing in the Freeride World Tour, shared their experience growing up competing together. “Whenever I saw Liam land a trick that was new to us, it pushed me to go above and beyond where he went.” The brothers were coached by the Whistler Freeride Club & Derek Foose. “The goal is passionate lifelong skiing. At the time when I started the company in 2001, I was teaching ski racing. I was seeing kids pass through our program, go on to more intense ski racing, and then quit all together. They’d just get burnt out by it. I was thinking that’s insane, these kids are super talented, they live in Whistler, and they hate skiing. That’s not right, we needed to do better. Free riding offers a different kind of experience for those kids, to push and extend their boundaries.” said Derek Foose.
After this event in Golden, the venue Ozone will be opened to the general public as free ride terrain. It offers one of the largest expansions in North America, freeing up nearly 660 more acres of new gnarly skiing. An hour tour brings this zone into access for any big mountain skiers. Go get it while it’s still fresh!