Article and photos by Tennille Barber
Cue the plaza, jumbotron, music, Sierra Nevada, and good cheer. At least this is what you see on the surface. Behind the scenes, or the stage, if you will… avalanche professionals began the process of making the Freeride World Tour safely and efficiently take place. December 18th, 2013 was supposed to be the original date for the FWT’s arrival in Revelstoke and it was postponed due to safety concerns. However, March in Revelstoke saw the base at RMR grow to 820cm, and even getting around town has been a challenge in the last few weeks with all the snowfall. Roger’s Pass was closed yesterday preventing many of the competitors from getting to Revelstoke in time for the ceremonies. Next door to Mt. Mackenzie, Mt. Cartier face slid a size Class 4.5-5 scale avalanche all the way to the Columbia River, blocking Airport Way. It’s more important than ever that the decisions made on Revelstoke Mountain Resort are spot on.
After knocking back some Sierra Nevadas while FWT media introduced the athletes in the beautiful plaza at RMR, an orientation took place and this year’s conditions and logistics were released. Brian Barlow, event director from Mountain Sports International, started with the boundaries for this year’s competition area on Mac Daddy Face. Business as usual, the fully prepared RMR patrol team has been maintaining the competition area all season in anticipation of the FWT’s needs. Barlow expressed his excitement about the volume of snow on the venue this year. Sunday the snow on the gnome stacked up to a healthy 17cm, and sometime Saturday night an area at the bottom of the competition area slid a Class 2 sized avalanche. The good news is that natural avalanches have been occurring on Mac Daddy all season.
They had anticipated two different starts for the women and men, one on the peak and one to lookers right of the venue. However the start on lookers right would be a hike up, ski the ridge, and another hike up to the start- a bit tiring. They will probably all start from the top, however, last year the women’s ski and snowboard competition took place after the men’s. So many more men compete than women that the conditions were hard for many women to finish when it was so tracked out, and only 4 were able to finish their runs. This year patrol and FWT officials decided the women would compete first, primarily for the reason that it is simply their turn from what I understand.
This year since it’s later in the season even the judges have better perks. The cats built a nice platform from all the snow for the judging tent. Tom Burt is here for his third year to judge the comp. When asked about if he was excited to be here in March he had this to say: “It’ll be nice to have things more filled in. It’ll change what’s available to ski and what’s possible.” I asked what he thought about the girls going first this year and he had a good point. “They rip just as hard as the guys. Everyone should be able to ride down the venue in whatever condition it’s in.”
Catching Scott Wickson after he had his part to say in the orientation for the athletes, we had a chat about the conditions and the avalanche on Cartier. “Mt.Cartier is or was at some point, the longest largest avalanche path in North America that crosses a public road,” he explained. He called it a 50 year event. After I left the opening ceremonies, I went to check out the road and the traffic controller told me that clearing the debris would take 2-3 days.
Scott had this to say about the conditions on Mac Daddy Face. “This year we had alot of crazy weather where it snows heavy for a week, and then it goes clear for a week or two. So that’s created some layers in the snowpack, so the face keeps sliding on its own because it’s so steep. What we’re hoping is with this last snowstorm, it was quite warm, started cold, that avalanched on its own and then the warm snow came in and it looks like it stuck. So it’ll be soft.” They plan to do control Monday, and so far, Tuesday is looking really good for competition time.
UPDATE: Tuesday is the official date!
Best of luck to everyone competing, and thanks to all the professionals out there keeping the athletes safe.
Thanks to Scott Wickson, Emily Beaumont, Mountain Sports International, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort for the information in this article.