Freeride World Tour This Weekend at Squaw Valley

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on February 24, 2009 4:50 pm

The second stop of the Freeride World Tour (FWT) rolls into Squaw Valley this weekend.  As of now, The Nissan Tram Face is scheduled for Saturday morning, 9:30-12:30.  Freeride competitions are the skiing version of jazz music.  There are not set courses or artificial jumps, just skiers and boarders using their athletic capabilities to find the most creative lines on the mountain.  This concept is best understood by the judges’ manual: “A judge has to ask himself at all times how fast, how big and how much in control a rider is compared to how steep, how exposed and in what snow conditions the action is happening.”  

This subjectivity is divided into five categories: difficulty of line, control, fluidity, jumps and crashes.  A closer look at these categories:

Difficulty of Line

But let’s look at each category a little closer. Difficulty of line is pretty straightforward: it’s all about the path a competitor chooses to take down the mountain. What’s the danger factor like on his line? How does the rider link up the tricky passages along the way? How unique, imaginative, is her route compared to other riders? Is it a cool line? Does it tickle people’s imagination? That’s what the judges have to determine here.


Control is key in big-mountain riding. Possess it and your golden. Lose it and you can die. That’s why the judges can be ruthless with those who don’t show enough of it during their competition run. Did the athlete fall? Did he run the ragged edge of recovery all the way down? Or did he ride like he knew exactly what he was doing from start to finish? Often times, this is the category where neophytes struggle.


Nobody likes watching stop-and-go action. And the Fluidity mark is all about rewarding those athletes who can ride from start to finish with no hesitation, no stoppage and no confusion. Did the rider have to embark on a long traverse to hit his landmark cliff? Did he get lost on the way down and have to climb to regain his line? Did she hesitate before dropping the big cliff? This is what the judges are looking for in this sector. Again – flow is what it’s all about.


For many in the sport, the next category, Jumping, is what makes freeride competitions so exciting. Why? Because nothing is man-made – what you see is what you get. But like any other aerial sport, style and aggression play huge. How big was the jump? How did the rider enter the jump? What happened in the air? How well did he stick his landing? Was she like a cat thrown out a speeding car’s window? Or did she know exactly where she was at all times? This is what the judges need to assess before assigning their overall mark.


Few freeride competitors have made it through their careers without a big crash or two. That’s why the final evaluation, Crashes, is so important. That said, crashes have to be looked at from an overall-impression perspective as well. Did the rider lose it in a no-fall zone (a particularly dangerous section of the course)? Was the fall caused by a change in snow conditions beyond the athlete’s control? And what about that iffy landing? Was that a planned move to save the rider from a dangerous situation? Or just a sloppy fall?

Now you know what the judges are looking for, all that is left is for you to check out a spectator sport that is unmatched.  The world’s best skiers and boarders attacking the extreme terrain of the world class mountain of Squaw Valley.


Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

Phone: Fax: Address: City: State: Zip: Country: