Taos Ski Valley to host Freeride World Tour qualifier

Taos Ski Valley to host Freeride World Tour qualifier

skiBy Cody Olivas
The Taos News

Taos Ski Valley to host Freeride World Tour qualifier! The Freeride World Tour is going to be a lot different in the Americas than it has been the last couple of years, but at least Taos Ski Valley will be part of the picture.


Last season, North America was scheduled to host Freeride World Tour events in Kirkwood, Calif., and at Revelstoke in Canada.


Neither of those events happened.


Lack of snow forced the Kirkwood event to be moved to Snowbird, Utah, while the Revelstoke competition was canceled altogether.


Every scheduled event in Europe, on the other hand, went off as planned.


“We definitely work with more constraints in North America than we do in Europe,” Tom Winter, Freeride World Tour’s manager for the Americas said.


If the snow conditions aren’t ideal at a European venue, organizers have the option to venture out into the backcountry to find a new one.


For the uninitiated, the Freeride World Tour is downhill skiing on steroids (figuratively speaking, of course). Competitors navigate insanely steep and challenging terrain, the kind that defies our typical downhill or alpine events seen during televised international competitions like the Olympics.


The Freeride World Tour requires skill and bravado to which few weekend skiers have ever been exposed.


Last year, Los Alamos resident Garrett Altmann competed on the tour. Studying climate changes in the Arctic while working for Los Alamos National Laboratory, he used qualifying events like the one scheduled for Taos Ski Valley in 2015 to make it onto the world tour.


In addition to skiing, the Freeride World Tour also stages an event for snowboarding.


While the conditions are usually pristine in European resort locales high in the rugged terrain, it’s a lot harder for ski areas in North America to host a competition outside of resort boundaries because snow conditions are not often optimal.


A couple of Freeride World Qualifier events were also canceled last season, like Taos’ Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships.


After last season, the European-based Freeride World Tour cut ties with its American partner, Mountain Sports International.


Recently, the tour joined forces with a new American partner — the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association.


What’s does the new partnership mean?


The association will do much of the behind-the-scenes work in Freeride World Tour events like Taos’ Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships. The event is back on the schedule. The date is set for Feb. 26-28 at the ski valley.


It will sanction the events, handle licensing and registration and also ensure judging standards. Beyond that, the resorts will essentially own their competitions.


They’ll have to handle their own marketing and the actual competition itself — whereas Mountain Sports International used to create the buzz and handle everything.


In that sense, the new partnership won’t impact the actual competitions too much, but it does mean that a lot of events that were worth qualifying points in the past aren’t any more.


Taos is one of only four four-star Freeride World Tour qualifier events — the top-tier of qualifiers — scheduled to take place in North America. It will bring together some of the world’s elite skiers and snowboarders, giving the public a rare opportunity to see the best winter sports athletes on the planet.


Taos was actually the first North American four-star qualifier event, beginning its partnership with the Freeride World Tour in 2009.


When the Freeride World Tour and Mountain Sports International joined forces to make a unified world tour in 2013, the number of North American qualifiers increased.


The other four-star qualifiers in 2015 will take place at Crystal Mountain, Wash., Canada’s Kicking Horse, and Crested Butte, Colorado.


Winter said he expected that number to grow by at least one, but didn’t know where yet.


A handful of two-star qualifiers are also scheduled to take place on the East Coast — giving points to events on the Ski the East Freeride Tour.


A new three-stop collegiate series will also be counted as two-star events.


The Subaru Freeride Series, on the other hand, which is operated by Mountain Sports International and included a handful of four-star qualifiers last year — including events in Crested Butte, Colo.; Snowbird, Utah; Big Sky, Montana; and Telluride, Colo. — will operate independently in 2015.


The Subaru Freeride Series hasn’t released its schedule for the season yet, but its events won’t be worth any qualifying points for the world tour anymore.


The other big change is there won’t be a Freeride World Tour event in the lower 48 or in Canada this season.


The only North American event will take place in Haines, Alaska.


In Alaska, like Europe, there’s a lot more freedom to find ideal snow conditions at numerous different venues.


The rest of the tour will take place in Europe — including stops at Chamonix Mont-Blanc, France; Fieberbrunn Pillerseetal, Austria; Vallnord Arcalis, Andora and Verbier, Switzerland.

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