More Than Just a Pretty Face: How Organizers Choose a Competition Face
In an ideal world choosing a competition face would be like in the movies; the perfect peak, draped in bluebird sunshine, cold temperatures, thousands of perfect-powder landings, and easy access from a ski resort.
But reality is much more complicated than that.
Imagine the scene: a slight drizzle of rain pitter-patters on the ground as event organizers gaze out of the window of their offices in the event village. High temperatures have all but destroyed the chances for a contest on the usual competition venue, known as “Plan A.” Unseasonably warm temperatures have caused wet avalanches to transform the slopes into frozen balls known infamously as “chunder” by freeriders. A cold front is scheduled to arrive within the upcoming days, but moisture is lacking in this weather system, and if not enough fresh snow falls, riders could encounter nightmarishly frozen conditions that are impossible to safely compete on. With only forty-eight hours until competition start, you need to make the call.
What do you do?
Hosting a successful freeride competition is a never-ending quest to align safe conditions for riders and staff, ensure easy access for competitors and media, and provide suitable terrain and snow conditions for freeriding. With so much pressure and anticipation before each event combined with a safety-is-paramount mentality, conflict can arise between differing factions within the competition ecosystem. Because of this complex dynamic between competitors, organizers, spectators, and logistics, a protocol has been developed to streamline venue selection as soon as conditions permit.
In the months and weeks before the event, FWT guides and organizers evaluate locations in and around selected ski resorts to determine which competition faces offer the best combination of safe conditions, freeride terrain, ease-of-access, and various other logistical constraints concerning a live-broadcasted competition. In addition to thousands of spectators, a normal FWT event can involve up to fifty-two riders, up to eighty competition staff members and TV production crew.
In the days before the event, the number of possible options are whittled down to two-to-three candidate faces, known as Plan “A,” “B,” and “C.” The conditions on these faces are carefully evaluated and monitored as guides continuously inspect the safety and quality of the snow. Forty-eight hours before the competition, the event is either given a green light or is on hold.
Though the selection protocol seems quite simple, weather conditions can always throw a curveball at the last minute, as was the case for last month’s Swatch Freeride World Tour Chamonix-Mont-Blanc event. High winds battered the French Alps for days before the scheduled competition date, eliminating every possible option for a safe event. Weather like this can and does happen, so the event was re-scheduled to be held back-to-back with following stop in Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra.
Mother nature can’t be harnessed but organizers do have the ability to control when and where events are scheduled to take place. It’s a proactive and flexible mentality, centered around safety, that permits so many successful and exciting events to take place every season on the FWT, FWQ, and FJT.