Freeriding has the tendency to look easy, especially on video. Frequent images of fresh snow, heli-drops, and video shot from the valley make it look as if the only challenge is landing airs. This is far from reality. The majority of freeriding is done on hard pack, in less-than-ideal light, with the inability to hit features multiple times, all while trying to navigate a face with blind rollovers and airs. Although sun and warmth prevailed, the freeride team’s trip to Taos, New Mexico for the Freeride Word Qualifier 2 and 4-star events proved to be just this case.
The conditions in Taos were terrible. It was crucial to be able to ski and ride with confidence and control in the ice, wind, rocks, and moguls. Even though previous trips to Red Mountain and Grand Targhee were graced with powder, riding Crested Butte in last month’s dry spell prepped athletes for sub-par conditions. People who frequent CB learn to enjoy skiing and riding the rocks and hard pack and this mentality played in favor for Western on this trip.
Thursday’s 2-star competition gave competitors the chance to get extra experience in addition as a warm-up for the following days 4-star event. Riley Moser, Tucker Vollbrecht, Elle Truax, and Kat Seibert all skied with power and confidence, hitting lines that unfortunately didn’t entirely work in their favor. Despite crashing at some point in their runs, they stepped up and hit features that would almost never be considered on a normal day at the mountain. Fortunately, SiSi Sawyer, Rhianna Borderick, Ourey Walker, and Zach Bare were able to walk away with clean runs. All but Sisi skied and rode similar lines, involving technical upper sections followed by fast and smooth run-outs intermixed with challenging airs. They placed well but were unfortunately slightly off the podium. SiSi took a risk and skied a highly technical end exposed line, but with no airs. Her experience skiing around rocks in Crested Butte paid off, as she was able to floss a line through areas that many considered un-skiable, let alone enjoyable. The judges rewarded her with 3rd place for her powerful and controlled style in a zone nobody else hit. With a glimpse of how people were placing in the 2-star, 4-star athletes thought they had an idea of what the judges would like.
In an attempt to hit impressive lines while avoiding excess risk on Day 1, many athletes ventured to a zone popular in the 2-star. Rhianna, Kat, Tucker, Ourey, did runs with a few prominent airs and wide-open terrain in between. Despite not being rewarded as much as expected, they all had commendable performances that proved they could hold their own against anyone. Dustin and Sisi rode and skied lines that were tough to execute abut ended up unlucky. They both had small hang-ups in their otherwise impressive runs that the judges didn’t like, pushing them below the cutoff line for finals. Coach Ed Dujardin along with Zach entered technical terrain no other athletes in their divisions did. The judges rewarded individuality and technicality heavily, placing them in 5th and 2nd, respectively. Both were at the event to win, so even though they were placed high, they would have to up the ante once again for finals.
With six Western athletes in the highly competitive final, the trip was already a success. The level of riding across all divisions proved that a show could happen despite bulletproof snow. This marks the essence of freeride competition. While everyone skied and rode well, Ourey, Ed, and Zach had performances that nobody could ignore. Ourey, who is new to competitive freeskiing, stomped an air only Ed had hit before and triple the size to what he had ever done prior. Although he placed mid-pack, his constant motivation and progression will lead to a bright future in the sport. Ed skied a line many thought to be impossible in a zone with serious consequences. Despite remaining in 5th, his skiing got the most praise out of anyone from the audience and the Sick Bird award, one of the most coveted awards in the sport. Finally, Zach rode with his usual power and confidence down a line only an experienced rider could find. He is becoming one of the most dominant snowboarders in the Freeride Word Qualifier Tour and the proud winner of the Taos Freeride Championships.
photo credit: Brian Cole