Freeride World Tour 2022: Event Three - What to Look Out For in Snowboarding
Read on to get a closer look at the venue, conditions, and riders to watch at Stop Three of the 2022 Freeride World Tour at Kicking Horse, British Columbia.
An international field of world-class freeriders have crossed the big pond and gathered at the foot of the rugged Canadian Rockies this week, as the third stop of the Freeride World Tour event is about to get started. The only FWT event held in North America this year will have the rider’s battling it out for gold in Golden, BC once again this year.
At the base of the iconic backcountry ski paradise, Rogers Pass, is the quaint mountain town of Golden, BC and one of Canada’s most precious ski areas, Kicking Horse. Kicking Horse is known for its steep terrain and deep snowpack, and much like a literal kicking horse, it must be approached with just the right combination of caution and confidence.
The event is held on a mountain face called “Ozone,” and similar to the chemical layer in our planet’s stratosphere, a lack of respect for it could be devastating to any and all living organisms. After climbing the “stairway to heaven” you are looking down into the featured face Ozone and Fuez Bowl. Over a thousand vertical feet, this sub-alpine bowl is packed with chutes, spines, and cliffs, so things are guaranteed to get western.
One of the more playful venues on the tour, we can expect to see a bit more freestyle approach than some past venues. Less exposed and critical than some of the tour stops, we can count on some huge airs and more technical tricks than seen thus far on tour.
Kicking Horse has received over twenty feet of snowfall so far this season and has a settled base of nearly eight feet. These numbers are absolutely insane! This has the competition venue looking quite different than in years past.
It is heavily filled in, however, despite record-breaking snowfall, there hasn’t been much fresh snow recently, and sadly, there isn't much snow in the near-term weather forecast either. No snow has fallen in the last 24 hours, none in the last 48 hours, and about six inches have fallen in the past week. The forecast is calling for little to no snow over the next week, so the conditions most likely are not going to improve much in the coming days and the athletes will just have to adapt to what they’ve been given.
Something that will add further challenges for the competitors is the wind. There have been extremely strong winds over the last few days, leading up to competition day. What that means for the course and athletes may vary greatly depending on line choice, but the one thing that can be counted on is that conditions will be variable.
There will most likely be pockets of deep powder where the wind has transported and deposited snow. There will also be areas void of soft snow, the wind having scoured the snow surface, leaving it dense and relatively hard. I expect that power and versatility are the traits that will allow the athletes to really shine this week. Conditions at Kicking Horse this week will be fast, hectic, and very reminiscent of a rodeo.
Athletes to Watch
As usual, there is a stacked field of talented riders, bringing us a good mix of both tour rookies and veterans. Both the female and male winners from this stop last year, Marion Haerty and Jonathan Penfield are not on tour this year. Four-time FWT champion Marion Haerty had decided to focus on the Natural Selection Tour this season, in hopes to take her total domination on competitive big mountain snowboarding to a new stage. Jon Penfield, I’m sure, is knee-deep in powder right now, riding for himself this winter.
The woman’s current tour leader is the States’ own Erika Vikander, who is looking to add another win to her first and third-place finishes at the first two stops of the tour. Erika will be a major threat here at Stop Three—she rides fast with style and confidence. She also has a knack for sniffing out quality snow conditions, which is something that will be especially important this time around.
Leading the charge for the men, at the moment, is French rider Camille Armand. Camille has had second and third-place finishes so far on tour. You can count that he will be holding nothing back as he looks to expand on his lead over the rest of the field.
Blake Moller has also been riding very strong this season. A crowd favorite, Blake has a knack for getting upside down in the air, always seeming to right himself just when touching back down. Blake will be looking for those pockets of quality snow and is currently tied for third place with French powerhouse Victor De La Rue.
I was once told there are two types of crazy in this world—there’s “crazy” and then there is “French crazy,” and Vic is indeed the latter. I’ve personally ridden with him in Alaska on a few occasions, and the combination of power and precision that he brings to his board is a jaw-dropping spectacle to see firsthand. A fierce competitor, he’s got snowboarding in his blood and is always one to look out for whenever he straps on a board.
No stranger to absolutely destroying any snow-covered mountain in his path, the pride of Farellones and Chile’s own Manual Diaz is a bit of an underdog on tour. Having bagged countless first descents and filmed numerous mind-bending video segments over the years, Diaz is a veteran of the snowboard game and one of the all-time greats. Yet, when it comes to the FWT, he is a rookie—making his very first tour appearance this winter. Manuel is currently sitting in last place and while the two lowest-ranking competitors face elimination heading into the fourth stop, he will almost certainly be kicking butt this week at Kicking Horse. Keep two eyes out for this red hot Chile pepper.
On the woman’s side, there is one rider currently in the hot seat facing potential elimination that I would put my money on—if only I had any. Canada’s Katie Anderson is from Fernie, BC, meaning that home is just a short journey “as the crow flies” up and over nearby Crowsnest Pass. Katie has the closest thing to a home-field advantage and stands a good chance at standing atop the podium here at Stop Three.
Be sure to tune in live to watch the third stop this week because, my speculations aside, the reality is that anything could happen. This is still anyone's game. One thing is for certain, conditions will be fast and the level of riding will be extremely high as top snowboarders from around the world descend upon the Northern Rockies this week before heading back to the Alps for the final two stops.
For what to watch for in skiing, check out this guide.
Check back in with me next week here for a recap of the Kicking Horse event and what to look out for as the field of competitors heads to Fieberbrunn, Austria. Let’s wish the athletes good luck and pray for snow, they are likely going to need it.
This Just in!
Today, February 11th, the event organizers and competitors have been doing what they call a “face check” where they examine the riding and safety conditions of the course for the upcoming contest. They have found some very serious safety concerns. I imagine this is due to the high winds transporting loose snow onto the event venue, Ozone. Heavy wind loading of a slope can greatly increase the risk of avalanches and more specifically a problem with wind slabs.
At the time of publishing, the event went from being ON SCHEDULE to ON HOLD, a testament to how quickly things can change in the mountains. The event crew is now looking at a different face nearby, and after a careful safety analysis, they will make the decision whether or not to continue with the event. Thanks for your patience and for tuning in.
If you've been following along with the 2022 FWT and have been living vicariously through the riders, why not refresh your quiver to get set up for some sweet freeride runs of your own? Chat with a Snowboard Expert here on Curated to learn more.