The Freeride World Tour: Shining a spotlight on big mountain snowboarding

Comments by Kelli Lynn Hargrove/

The Freeride World Tour (FWT) is nothing if not impressive. Supported by primary sponsors Swatch and The North Face, the series is built for the hardest charging big mountain fiends from around the world. The result of the merging of the Freeride World Tour and the Freeskiing World Tour, the revamped FWT has flourished year over year, and is proving to be the perfect vehicle to bring extreme snowboarding into the spotlight.

Watch the Freeride World Tour live from Snowbird

Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, the second stop of the 2014 FWT | P: @FreerideWorldTou Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, the first stop of the 2014 FWT | P: @FreerideWorldTou

Riders from around the world have qualified to ride on the tour through Freeride World Qualifying stops, traveling between Europe and North America to stomp lines down some of the most severe steeps in the world. Competitors don’t know the exact location of the contest until the day before they ride, and are thus allowed only one inspection day to scope out a potential line, though they can’t actually ride the venue. Then, on contest day, riders hike to the top of the course for their one chance to stomp a solid run.

Inspecting the face of Mt. Baldy, where riders will battle it out for Snowbird glory | P: @FreerideWorldTour Inspecting the face of Mt. Baldy, where riders will battle it out for Snowbird glory | P: FWT Instagram

The 2014 FWT has faced a slew of weather-related challenges, from being forced to postpone the Revelstoke stop from December to March, to having to move this latest tour stop from Kirkwood to Snowbird due to a lack of snow. The FWT organizers have risen above any issues Mother Nature has thrown their way, however, holding highly successful stops time and again, and providing tour riders with incredible venues to showcase their big mountain, cliff-crushing talents. The decision to move this fourth stop of the tour to Snowbird was made just two weeks before contest day, with the entire crew putting in the hours to get a venue dialed, and athletes set.

As Jessica Kunzer, Marketing and Communications director for MSI, explains, Snowbird was one resort that jumped at the opportunity to hold the event on such short notice, the Utah Sports Commission even stepping in to help fund the event and ensure its success. The world-famous terrain, solid support and enthusiastic crowds that Snowbird brings to the table — Kunzer notes that 2-3,000 spectators are expected to turn out to cheer on the riders— made the mountain an easy choice to host a tour stop.

Sammy Luebke, topping the podium in Courmayeur-Mont-Blanc | P: @FreerideWorldTour Sammy Luebke, topping the podium in Courmayeur-Mont-Blanc | P: @FreerideWorldTour

Throughout February, Mother Nature has been blanketing Utah with snow, pounding Snowbird with 22 inches in the past 48 hours. Though this season hasn’t been the best Utah has seen in terms of snow, this month’s totals have built up a base that complements the FWT perfectly; enough powder to keep the extremes open for the shredding, without entirely filling in the runs and stripping them of their technicality. Snowbird’s Mt. Baldy will host Snowbird’s competition, a prime venue for athletes and spectators alike, with viewers able to stand just 250 feet from the face of the mountain, on a rise that acts as a natural amphitheater.

Men’s tour leader Sammy Luebke is sidelined for this stop, nursing an injured knee and resting up in preparation for stop number five, going down in Revelstoke March 10th. The women’s leader, Snowbird local Shannan Yates, has been slaying comps around the world, winning at both Kappl/Tirol , Austria and Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France.

Moving forward, tour organizers are looking to further streamline the competition, taking the field down from the 72 or so riders that are currently competing to around 50 for next year. The overall format, however, has been a huge success, and focus is now on amping up the festival aspect of the tour— on-site DJs and after-parties are already staples at each stop— and increasing the visibility of the sport.

Stay tuned as the 2014 Freeride World Tour continues, taking on Snowbird before making moves up to Revelstoke on March 10th, and wrapping up with Finals in Verbier, Switzerland, on March 22nd.