Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Snow, athletes converge for 'Freeride'


Eight inches of snow fell Sunday and Monday. Next come the skiers.

Twenty-eight professional skiers and snowboarders will shred powder during the Haines stop of the 2017 Swatch Freeride World Tour, though rumors are swirling that the event here is near its end.

Twelve male and six female skiiers, and six male and four female snowboarders will battle for $68,000 in prize money here at the “Dream Stop” from March 18-25.

This is the third year Freeride will take place in Haines, the most expensive stop of the world tour. Julien Hess, Freeride World Tour General Manager, said it will cost the organization about $700,000 to bring the competition to Haines this year.

Other resort towns on the tour, like Verbier, Switzerland, are able to cover most of the competition costs.

There was speculation after last year’s competition that Freeride may not come back to Alaska in 2018 due to cost. Freeride officials were searching for more sponsors to cover the expenses, but Hess said they’ve had “no success in this regard.”

“It’s impossible to say anything for 2018 for the moment, as we still need to confirm calendar and budget ( in April). Of course, our objective is to be able to continue having a FWT stop in Haines,” Hess said.

Haines Borough Tourism Director Leslie Ross said the economic impact of the Freeride competition in Haines is positive. “Two of our largest hotels (Aspen Hotel and Captain’s Choice) are full for about 10 days, during a time then they may not be otherwise.”

“Our restaurants that are open have a constant flow of traffic during these times as only two planned dinners occur for (the athletes) at opening and closing. Our guides and heli operators are all working with them, be it on logistics, guides or gear. We get sales tax and bed tax on hotels, restaurants, shops, services, etc.,” Ross said.

Ross added that Freeride attracts journalists from prominent publications to Haines.

“This year we have writers from the New York Times, Teton Gravity Research, Skiing, and a German outdoor publication,” she said. “These media not only cover the athletes and the event, but I get them out to our tours, the distillery, the ski shop, restaurants and scenic areas so Haines gets covered. An article in these outlets are worth way more money than a $5,000 advertisement,” Ross said.

Ryan Johnson, co-owner of Alaska Heli Skiing, said his company and Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures are cosponsoring the event this year. It is the first year Alaska Heli Skiing is involved.

Alaska Heli Skiing will provide helicopter service to the athletes – by way of Coastal Helicopters of Juneau – instead of SEABA at the request of Freeride, said SEABA owner Scott Sundberg. Alaska Heli Skiing’s base and heliport at 35 Mile Haines Highway is closest to the mountain face the group will ski.

But Sundberg said SEABA still “maintains permits and all operational authority.”

The Freeride crew will ski and snowboard down the same mountain face as they have the past two years called “The Venue” near Little Jarvis Glacier. It features a vertical drop of 1,900 feet.

Johnson said the heliski zones were hit hard by wind this season, making conditions challenging.

Sundberg said wind and cold temperatures have made for a slow start to the heliski season. The industry statewide is seeing its first lull in five to six years, Sundberg said.

Although there is a chance of avalanche with new snow on windblown slabs, Sundberg said he’s optimistic the new snow will settle, given a few days.

The Haines Sheldon Museum will host a welcome reception starting 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16. Following that, the group has a private opening dinner at the American Legion Hall. The public is welcome after dinner for drinks and to watch the “bib draw,” where athletes draw the order of the competitors down the slope.


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