The Freeride World Tour is an alpine skiing competition with venues all over the world. For the 2010 season races take place in Russia, France, USA and Switzerland. While freeski races have been around for over ten years, they are still considered somewhat of a fringe sport.
The venues for the competition are usually on the edge or just outside of the normal ski area boundaries. Racers often have to hike up a bootpack out of bounds just to get to the start of the race course. One racer at a time will then enter the course. The actual course itself consists of a wide area and it is up to each racer to determine where they will ski and if they will jump off of any cliffs or boulders. A group of judges watch from below and give the racers points according to the difficulty of their line, their fluidity, their speed and their technical ability. If the racers choose to ski a line that is too easy, they will be scored poorly. Therefore an athleteís ability to choose a good line is just as important as their ability to ski it well.
While competitors are not required to attend all the races, they get points for placing in each event. The more events they attend, the better their chances of winning an overall title for the season.
Many competitors are sponsored by companies representing the ski industry; skis, clothing, bindings, boots, helmets, goggles, gloves and backpacks. Some of the athletes are also provided with money to attend races, in addition to the gear. This helps offset the huge expense of travel, lodging, food and entry fees for the races. If a competitor is lucky, they might also get a sponsor outside the industry, such as a sports drink company.
While it may sound a bit like a glamorous winter lifestyle, there are many logistics and stressors for these skiers to face. Attempting to travel in the winter can be stressful whether racers are flying or driving to a race, as weather can always end up delaying the expected arrival time. Race day nerves affect most competitors too. The snow can be variable, from powder to skier tracked sun crust conditions, therefore choosing a good line to ski can be a difficult decision.
If one of these races comes to a ski area near you, I highly recommend going to watch it as itís a fun spectator event. The finish area usually has a festive atmosphere too, typically with music. It is a great place to watch the impressive lines these athletes ski.