After a 20-hour drive, the Western Freeride Team arrived at Red Mountain, British Columbia for the first stop of the Collegiate Freeride Series. In contrast to the generally thin snowpack in Colorado, the team was welcomed with deep powder, full coverage, and ultimately one of the best starts to a freeride trip ever! Many members of the team are either returning for another season at Western or freshman that are moving up from the junior ranks. For these athletes, this season will be a continuation of the journey toward making a spot on the big show: the Freeride World Tour. Newer athletes to competitive freeriding will have the opportunity to expand their boundaries and cut their teeth against some of the best up and coming skiers and riders in the world. For all, this season will hopefully mark another fun and successful spring semester at Western. Stay tuned throughout the week for, stories, results, photos, and video from the event at Red Mountain followed by Grand Targhee later this week.
After arriving in a storm, the team was able to experience the mountain today in what locals claim to be the best conditions in ten years. Bluebird skies and many centimeters of fresh snow allowed for athletes to not only inspect their lines, but also ski and ride all-time conditions and terrain. The snow at Red Mountain is dense, but there is a lot of it. This has allowed the team to hit terrain that would be nearly impossible to ride in Colorado. Using the utmost responsibility, athletes took time away from the shred-fest to inspect the venue for the next two days.
The venue being used is a Canadian freeskiing classic. While it isn’t extremely “gnarly” per se, it is stacked full of playful features, allowing all competitors to ride fast, flowy, and creative lines. Many competition venues have a few main airs that almost everyone hits, but the abundance of features at Red Mountain will allow for a wide variety of interpretations of the terrain. Athletes load the lift at 7am tomorrow with the first run at 8:30am.
The freeriders stood out today amongst sixty competitors, with nine athletes making it to finals. For the snowboarders and female skiers, a layer of fog stayed just low enough on the mountain early in the morning, allowing for nearly perfect light conditions. Unfortunately, the sea of fog rose onto the venue preventing the male skiers from competing in the morning. After a series of delays, the judges split up and hiked onto the venue up in order to see the athletes better. The Mountaineers skied and rode with confidence and control, knowing that consistency is key to having a long and successful season. Despite unfavorable conditions for some, the collegiate spirit shined through, making for a high-energy start to the competitive freeride season. The finals venue is the same as today, with a few more airs opened up that were previously off-limits. Athletes who didn’t make the cut still have the potential to take a second run if weather permits, but if it doesn’t, they will undoubtedly have a stellar day exploring more of the terrain Red has to offer.
Qualifier Results Results:
Dustin Eldridge – 2nd
Phillip Kitt – 5th
Josh Hirschman – 6th
Zach Bare – 7th
Rhianna Borderick – 4th
Sisi Sawyer – 5th
Elle Truax – 7th
Katarina Seibert – 8th
Tucker Vollbrecht – 5th
Riley Moser – 25th
Ourey Walker – 27th
Shane Calhoun – 35th
Although fog still prevailed at Red Mountain, finals day ran like a well-oiled machine. Judges split up on the venue for better visibility, and before noon all the Western athletes had taken their runs. In men’s snowboarding, Dustin Eldridge rode a smooth line that included several controlled airs and stylish grabs, which was good enough for second place. Zach Bare, who didn’t make the finals cut, was allowed to take a second run and laid down one of the fastest lines of the day. Even though he didn’t hit many airs, his hard-charging style gave him enough of a boost to move all the way up to forth place. Josh Hirschman finished fifth, proving that consistent and controlled riding is crucial to placing well. Phillip Kitt, who hails from East Texas, competed both days and rode at the top of his game, which is heightening on a daily, even hourly basis. He had a few falls in his run, but ultimately held in strong, hit a few challenging airs, and finished with a smile.
In women’s skiing, Rhianna Borderick and Elle Traux finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Rhianna used her effortless style, hitting a few smooth airs and carving through the venue as if it were soft butter. Elle, who comes from a ski racing background, charged hard from the start and never hesitated. Although she didn’t hit many airs, her aggressive approach to the mountain let demonstrated how powerful of a skier she is and that strong racing fundamentals transfer well into the big mountain arena. SiSi Sawyer and Kat Seibert both had strong starts to their runs, but ended up crashing in the lower part of the venue where fog limited visibility to almost nothing. Given the tough conditions, their performances were still nothing less than impressive.
In men’s skiing, Tucker Vollbrech finished in an impressive fifth against a stacked field of seasoned competitors. He skied the same line as day one, but took his airs bigger and skied with more speed and aggression, all with a broken hand. Ourey Walker, who comes from a park skiing background, has been consistently progressing his big mountain skills every day. He skied a flowy line with good snow and several clever airs, all with tons of style. Shane Calhoun is the only tele skier on the team, which makes skiing flat light and chundery conditions extremely difficult. He had a couple bobbles in his run and finished a little below where he wanted, but his positive attitude and determination are leading to constant progression in the freeride world. Riley Moser, a wild man out of Juneau, Alaska, had one of the most exciting moments of the event. Rather than entering his line on the ground, he decided to back up off the start gate and huck a 360 off of a blind air. He landed clean, but later fell while trying to line up a second air. Riley’s spirit got the entire crowd pumped up and helped fuel the stoke for the rest of the event.
Tired and wet, the team left Red on Wednesday morning for Grand Targhee, Wyoming. Everyone loved the mountain and claimed it was the best skiing and riding that they had done all season. Everyone is currently settled into the new accommodations in Driggs, Idaho. The second stop of the IFSA Collegiate Series starts tomorrow, and the team is prepping tonight by gathering together and watching the X Games live. Life couldn’t be better on this trip! Stay tuned for results and updates starting tomorrow.
Day 5 and 6
On the first day of the Grand Targhee Collegiate event, Western’s female skiers and make snowboarders battled through tough visibility and choppy snow conditions. The venue is shorter than Red Mountain’s, but is significantly steeper and is stacked full of large drops, hidden rocks, and small trees. This means that runs are fast and action packed from top to bottom, testing the athletes ability to hyper-focus for around 45-seconds. All these factors barely fazed the Mountaineers because of the challenging terrain and conditions Crested Butte continually offers. While other athletes consider rocks and tangled trees a nuisance, Western athletes consider it an advantage over other competitors who don’t have the privilege to ski such an amazing mountain during training. Out of the nine athletes from Western who competed on Friday, seven qualified for finals. In women’s skiing, Rhianna Borderick, SiSi Sawyer, Elle Traux, and Kat Seibert made it, and in men’s snowboarding, Zach Bare, Dustin Eldridge, and Josh Hirschman qualified. Since the men’s skiing field is so large, they had to run on Saturday.
Grand Targhee is known for powder, and today was no exception. Over a foot of fresh fell over night, making a fun powder day for everyone not competing and a powder competition for those who did. Due to low visibility, the event had to be stopped before all the skiers ran. This means that Shane Calhoun and Riley Moser will have to do their first run tomorrow in hopes to qualify for finals right after. Nevertheless, Tucker Vollbrecht and Ourey Walker were still able to take their runs. Although Ourey didn’t qualify for finals due to a large cut to the field, he laid down a run though the fog that included a few airs and tons of pow turns. Tucker, one of the most experienced competitors on the team, had the run of his life. Dropping third, he utilized the largely untracked snow to ski more aggressively and confidently than ever. His run included several committing airs, high speed, and perfect landings. The judges gave him the third place position going into finals tomorrow.
Finals day was one for the books. Several more inches of snow fell on the venue and the fog cleared, making for nearly ideal conditions. Early in the morning, Riley Moser took his first day run. He skied a high-risk line including three airs, one of which was over a big set of trees. Stomping cleanly, the judges let him through to finals. In women’s skiing, Elle Traux and Kat Seibert had aggressive runs that were unfortunately met with a crash. SiSi Sawyer skied a clean line including two committing airs up higher and a high-speed bottom section. Rhianna Borderick, who was sitting in third, skied a line similar to her day one, with two technical double airs at the top and bottom. She had a few slight bobbles, but ultimately came away in fifth against a stacked field of female skiers.
For the male skiers, Riley Moser and Tucker Vollbrecht had their work cut for them as they had to go against twenty-six of the top up and coming freeskiers in the United States. Riley Moser unfortunately got lost in his line, but was luckily able to make it down safely and still hit a few large airs on the way. Tucker Vollbrech, a recent convert from tele skiing, proved that he could hang with the top dogs. He skied his same line from qualifiers with power and confidence. His airs were large, speed in control, and landings perfect. The judges appreciated runs that were flashy yet controlled. Tucker gave them exactly what they wanted and came away with an impressive third place.
For the male snowboarders, avoiding a crash was the name of the game. Most of the riders were falling on their airs and having a difficult time managing the deep snow. Although Josh Hirschman and Dustin Eldridge were amongst those who crashed, they had enough point from the first day to hold solid final positions. This competition was a perfect opportunity for them to take risks and attempt big lines despite the outcome. On the other hand, Zach Bare had the title within striking distance. He rode with speed and control, flashing down the venue as if it were a groomer. The judges loved his power and control, giving him the victory over many extremely talented riders.
The Western Freeride Team made it back to Gunnison safely Monday morning. This was the largest Mountain Sports trip ever and was ultimately an experience for everyone to ride in new terrain, amazing snow, and become a supportive team rather than a group of individuals. With the biggest storm of the year hitting Crested Butte, everyone is as excited as ever to get after the rest of the season.
Linked is an edit from Red Mountain, including footage from the competition and exploring the rest of the mountain. Stay tuned for the Grand Targhee edit later this week, enjoy!