Travel | February 24, 2022 9:07 am

Getting Up Close and Personal With the Freeride World Tour, Pro Riding’s Purest Form of Competition

Atop one of Canada's most intimidating peaks, riders faced huge drops, deep snow and endlessly good vibes

A competitor looks to the top of the mountain during the Freeride World Tour competition
The Freeride World Tour features the best riders on the biggest summits in the world
Joe Klamar/Getty

All was quiet as French skier Tiphanie Perrotin entered the starting gate atop Terminator Peak at British Columbia’s Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. The crowd that gathered on a nearby ridge, exposed to the elements, looked on with bated breath as announcers counted down in the valley below. “Three, two, one … GO!”

Suddenly a silhouette appeared beyond the gate. Overlooking the 7,900-foot peak, Perrotin inched closer to the edge before launching into the abyss. A moment later, her body jolted into action, reacting with dynamic precision to the moguls, boulders and trees that appeared before her. Her tempo and precision intensified as she drifted closer to a craggy outcrop, soaring off its precipice before landing below in a thump of powder. As the crowd cheered and broadcasters called every move, Tiphanie carved back and forth across the face, finding lines invisible to the untrained eye. She drew closer to the finish with every jump and sharp turn, winding her way past obstacles. And then, in the blink of an eye, she crossed the gate to a deafening roar of cheers and applause.

Welcome to the Freeride World Tour.

A Freeride World Tour competitor executes a backflip off a natural jump
A Freeride World Tour competitor executes a backflip off a rocky outcrop
Getty Images, Fabrice Coffrini

The sport of freeriding is unlike most every other winter sport you know. In contrast to the groomed runs and terrain parks that skiers and snowboarders typically occupy, freeriders pursue natural terrain that replaces manmade obstacles such as jumps and rails with rocky escarpments and mounds of windswept snow. There are no rules, goals or even set courses. And as far as the Freeride World Tour is concerned, the only objective is to complete a clean, trick-filled run that judges will love, and to do so in one piece.

For the third stage of the Freeride World Tour, I traveled to Kicking Horse with Alpina Watches, one of the event’s sponsors. Featuring 45 male and female athletes, the race at hand would be the final one before the tour’s first round of cuts: those who qualified would go on to compete in the Austrian town of Fieberbrunn, and those who didn’t would see their season come to an end.

Conditions at Kicking Horse were anything but predictable as changing locations tested every rider’s ability to adapt. While the competition was scheduled to occur on the resort’s highest peak, Ozone, it was relocated to nearby Terminator 1 South due to poor snow conditions that proved to be too fast and unstable.

“It was a really tough course,” noted defending freeride snowboarding champion and Alpina Watches ambassador Victor De Le Rue, who didn’t qualify for the next round after finishing in fifth. “I really, really didn’t expect that.”

De Le Rue is known not only for his freeride prowess but his independent films as well. His latest, Frozen Mind, showcases his talents on the exposed slopes of Chamonix, but nothing could prepare him or his fellow competitors for the challenging conditions of the day. Still, he was grateful for the opportunity to compete at such a high-caliber event. “[Alpina] support us so we can make a living out of it the whole year,” he noted. “And they support our projects as well.”

Back at Kicking Horse, riders flowed down the mountain one after another, performing a variety of tricks, some successful, others not. For every gravity-defying stunt came the risk of losing control, but the talented roster held its own throughout the day, with only a handful of wipeouts. Standouts included Swiss-based Maxime Chabloz, who had an unbelievably packed run that included two 360s, a cork 720 and a drawn-out backflip, as well as Max Palm of Sweden, who wowed the crowd with a double backflip that landed him in second place.

Meanwhile, on the women’s side, U.S. skier Lily Bradley topped the women’s podium with an air-filled run, while freeride snowboarder Erika Vikander secured a first-place finish with several airs and her signature stylish riding.

As qualifying riders popped Champagne atop the podium in the late evening, a crowd gathered to celebrate the affair. Amid a throng of onlookers snapping pictures and throwing snowballs, I was reminded that in spite of competition, this roster of adrenaline junkies gathered not only for the love of sport, but big-mountain culture too. And although snow conditions weren’t perfect, the day was sunny, the slopes were buzzing and the vibes were pure.

Keep up with the Freeride World Tour as finals return to Europe in Austria (March 15-20) and Switzerland (March 26 to April 3), and be sure to check out the equally captivating Alpiner Quartz Chronograph Watch designed by Alpina in partnership with the Tour.