Top athletes compete in Haines for Freeride World Tour

The top three snowboard men Ryland Bell, Sammy Luebke and Davey Baird. (Photo courtesy Freeride World Tour)

Big mountain skiers and snowboarders from around the world braved deep snow and steep slopes in the Haines mountains for the Freeride World Tour. Friday’s event took place after a week of waiting for unsafe snow conditions to settle.

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Announcers Ed Leigh and Martin Winkler talked through the action on the Freeride website’s livestream of the Haines competition. This is the Freeride’s third time in the Chilkat Valley. The weather and snow conditions have to be just right. Organizers hoped to kick things off Tuesday, but had to delay.

“No shortage of snow,” Leigh said. “That’s been the big issue this week, just waiting for the snow to settle.”

The competition began around 11 a.m. Friday.

It was two hours of incredible runs, incredible heartbreaks, and one avalanche.

Swedish skier Reine Barkered triggered the significant avalanche. The tumbling snow was a reminder that unstable conditions put the competition on hold for several days.

At a reception in Haines about a week before the competition, Barkered explained what competing here over the last two years has taught him.

“Yeah, what I learned is that I learned nothing,” Barkered said. “So I’m going to start from scratch. You never know, it depends so much on what these other crazy guys are doing up there. So I’m going to find what I think looks fun and ride it the best I can.”

Barkered steered clear of the sliding snow and stayed on his feet, earning a high score.

The deep, fresh snow was a double-edged sword. It helped some riders and hurt others. For example, experienced skier Drew Tabke. Partway through his run, Tabke fell. Twice.

“That is a Greek tragedy of a line,” announcer Leigh lamented.

Two French athletes topped the men’s ski category. Loic Collomb-Patton received the highest score out of all the athletes with a smooth, confident run. Leo Slemett came in second.

In the men’s snowboarding category, it was American Sammy Luebke who had the run to beat.

Luebke’s score here and at the previous stopped solidified his spot as men’s snowboard champion of the 2017 Freeride World Tour.

“You know, you’ve gotta deal with nerve-wracking conditions, I guess,” Luebke said.

At the athlete’s reception, Leubke emphasized how each person travels all this way for just one run. He said, if it goes poorly, “you’ve just gotta suck it up, you know, you can’t take it too serious. Everyone wants to do their best. It’s just snowboarding. For me, it’s the thing I love most in the world.”

“We all know what we’re waiting for and it’s just this awesome Alaska line,” American snowboarder Shannan Yates said. “And you just kind of get this level of anticipation waiting for go-day.”

Yates aced her run and came in first in the women’s snowboard category.

Staying on your feet in the steep, challenging terrain was an accomplishment in itself. The other three snowboard women fell at least once in their runs.

As for the women skiers, Italian Arianna Tricomi topped the category.

Alaskan skier Hazel Birnbaum also had a successful run. At the reception the week before, Birnbaum said after multiple competitions in Europe, it was nice to be back in familiar terrain.

“On the competition day, it’s really anyone’s game,” Birnbaum said. “And that’s the cool thing is, everyone is really talented, and anyone could win at any point. It just depends on who’s having a good day.”

In all but the men’s snowboard category, scores are close enough that the Freeride 2017 title is still anyone’s game. The athletes who competed in Haines go on to the finals in Verbier, Switzerland April 1.

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Emily Files is a reporter at KHNS in Haines.