The North Face Masters at Snowbird — A Competitor’s Perspective


Barely five days before the 2010 North Face Masters series at my current home mountain of Snowbird, the conditions were rotten. Rocks, Ice, and shallow snowpack defined the daily reality. Just keeping an edge down the anticipated Silverfox venue was a significant challenge, not to mention hucking my meat off cliffs.

But on Wednesday the 20th the storm cycles came with oomph, dumping almost seven feet in seven days when the skies finally cleared. Blessed with amazing contest conditions, freeriding was showcased as it’s meant to be: In deep, dry powder with a stacked field and tons of fun.

But it wasn’t without ample waiting, watching the weather, and nearly running out of time altogether. On Saturday the 22nd, the anticipated first day of competition, over a foot of overnight fresh, fierce winds, poor visibility, closed roads and a delayed opening at Snowbird made it logistically impossible to run a field of over 100 competitors. We were thus introduced to the term “aggressive standby,” which quickly turned to a postponement to Sunday._MG_4778.jpg

Day two looked to be more promising but an unexpected fourteen inches of snow fell overnight with puking snow continuing through the late morning. Postponed again. Now with almost the entire mountain shut down, I wondered how they could do the necessary avy control work for Monday even if the weather was to cooperate.

Two days of waking up with my stomach in twisted knots from the fear/stoke of prepping to compete plus five days in a row of riding pow for six, seven hours a day had pummeled me into a mess of fried nerves and noodly legs. But the weather finally looked to be taking a break so I braced for one more day.

The morning of Monday the 25th the snow had stopped but the vis was crap and ANOTHER foot of powder kept avy dangers on high. But the course had been closed on Sunday meaning the potential for the all too rare combination of powder and big-mountain competition was high.

_MG_4520.jpgWith solid patrol work and steady organization, the aggressive standby was lifted and they got the ladies going by about 10:30. Due to the postponements, it was one-day, one-run-take-all format. No qualifying, no second venue, just throw it all on the line.

The women got the freshest turns of the day and ripped the course apart but a thick, hanging ball of fog put half the course completely out of view for a good portion of the day. The final area for a big move was in view however, and the women straight-lined some tech sections, aired out some solid drops and billy-goated with power and style.

After watching about half the women’s field I headed to the top where it was cold and miserable and the tension mounted as I watched rider after disappear behind the steep curvature of the terrain. After not qualifying in 2009 on the same venue the doubts piled on as to whether I was out of my league or if I could actually hang with these guys. Finally I was in the start-gate, rocking out to some bracing metal, then “3,2,1, dropping.”

LF1J2009.jpgThe top section was a beat-up but I worked some turns and didn’t take many risks, for fear of an early run-killing fall. I sped to my first air, a cross-fall line 10-footer and booked it down the fall line, popping a few fun bushes and small rocks on the way. I knew the last section would make or break my score. I ducked into a narrow chute, making choppy, jump turns over roots and rocks, and spilling sluff over the immediate drop-off below. Almost directly out of the chute lay a 20 foot drop over some bushes with some rock hazards lurking somewhere in the landing. I took a quick breath and sent it. It felt big but I touched down on good powder and stomped it. All of a sudden it was over and I had executed my run without a fall. Stoked!

Ecstatic to have it all behind me, I could sit with some friends, drink a beer and watch the action go down. The sun even came out for a bit, warming the faces of the spectators and providing good visibility for the first time in days.

mark_carter.jpg Creative spins were mixed with classic big mountain strength and speed. Mark Carter destroyed the venue, linking fifteen-footers and smashing the fall line with complete control and awareness of his surroundings. The judges noticed as well and he won the Men’s field by a good margin.

I pulled off a 19th place finish, far from the podium for sure but well stoked to be among the ranks of some amazing riders.

After an exhausting three days of waiting, riding deep powder and finally competing, it was all over. But in the end it seemed a great success as it displayed the core simplicities that make big-mountain riding great: Stoked riders, an impressive venue and fluffy powder snow. Let’s hope the rest are like this as well.


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