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The Judge's Perspective: an Update from the Freeride World Tour in Russia

The Judge's Perspective: an Update from the Freeride World Tour in Russia

[ January 20, 2010 - 3:49pm ]
The top of Krasnaya Polyana.
The first missive from Freeride World Tour judge Tom Winter as the world's top skiers prepare to throw down at Russia's Krasnaya Polyana.

The first thing you notice when Austrian Airlines flight 615 comes streaking in above the Black Sea toward the airport of Sochi, Russia, are the palm trees. Palm trees! Is this really Russia? But the palm trees are real. Sochi is known for its balmy weather, and while the beaches are empty in January, they fill up in the summer with vacationers who flock to this Black Sea resort, a place that rightfully has a reputation as one of the country’s hottest spots to see and be seen.

But while the palm trees are a surprise, the decaying airport and stone-faced customs agents are right out of a Cold War spy novel. Once through the gauntlet, I realize the current cracked and faded facility is on the outs. There’s a new terminal being built for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The dichotomy of old Soviet Union versus new Federal Republic of Russia is alive and well in Sochi. Sure, there’s the dimly lit customs and baggage retrieval facility of the old airport but there’s also the endless line of concrete trucks plying the road through Krasnaya Polyana as the Federal Republic starts to transform this small mountain town into Olympic host. And while the airport may currently be a work in progress, there’s no doubt that progress is the underlying theme here as Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana accelerate towards world-class excellence.

We’ve come to Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana for the Freeride World Tour. Now in its third year, the tour features four stops: Krasnaya Polyana, Russia; Chamonix, France; Squaw Valley, California; and Verbier, Switzerland. The World Tour events are augmented by 15 qualifying events, hosted by ski areas as diverse as Taos, New Mexico, and Jansa, Slovakia. Global in scope, the Tour and the Freeride World qualifying events attract the best skiers on the planet, who test themselves against the mountain in a judged event. The four Tour events are, in a way, the Winter Olympics for freeride skiing, with serious prize money, big time sponsors (including Nissan and Swatch), and athletes from around the globe.

At first sight, Krasnaya Polyana seems to be an unlikely place to host such an event. After all, Sochi is a long way away from anywhere and Krasnaya Polyana is another 45 minutes up the road. But Krasnaya Polyana has all the ingredients for a top-notch competition: It’s exotic, the mountains are huge, and the area gets a ton of snow. Besides, Putin skis here. And if it is good enough for Putin, it’s good enough for you.

The road to Krasnaya Polyana climbs quickly out of Sochi, and you’re suddenly deep in the mountains, which rise in all directions. Thick birch forests and snowcapped peaks punctuate the landscape. This year, unseasonable rains and warm weather mean the snow line is high above the valley floor. Allowing for the best conditions available, the Krasnaya Polyana event has a 10-day window. It’s a waiting game, and, with snow in the forecast, we’re waiting right now. Still, the amazing potential of these mountains is obvious, and the skiing, despite the wet snow, is still pretty good. The opening ceremonies kicked off with the traditional athlete bib draw with Tour newcomer and Squaw Valley, California, athlete Tim Dutton pulling out number one. Like the rest of us, Dutton will be playing the waiting game—waiting for the snow and for the opportunity to be the first athlete to kick off the 2010 installment of the Freeride World Tour. And when he does, we’ll let you know. Until then, the waiting game continues.  —Tom Winter


To learn more about the Freeride World Tour, watch videos of past events and see athlete biographies, please visit

Tom Winter is the organizer of the Freeride World qualifying event, the Salmon Extreme Freeride Championships at Taos and is a judge for the Freeride World Tour.


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