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Freeride Rookie

A first-timer’s account of competing in a freeride event.

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With the car packed and cooler full, we hit the road for the first stop of the Subaru Freeride Series Freeride World Qualifier in Crested Butte, Colorado. As the miles pass, my mind hums with excitement about what’s to come. I’ve been trying to find the time to compete in one of these events for the past three years, and now I can’t believe it’s actually happening.

After checking in at Crested Butte’s Elevation Hotel, I head to athlete registration and start filling out paperwork. One question asks if I have any sponsors. None, I write. Next, I’m asked to list prior achievements, accolades, and competition history. I answer with another question: Does racing count? 

After I’m checked in and armed with the appropriate credentials, I throw on my gear, pop in one ear bud, hit play on my favorite M83 song, and head up the lift for inspection. I locate the comp arena on a map and make my way there. It’s on Headwall, a steep, rock-spattered bowl.

I pole to the top, introduce myself to another female competitor, and follow her down along the rope line to take a look. What am I supposed to be looking for here? Oh right, my line. I need to figure out my line. I can’t see the rocky section very well, so I loop around for another inspection. 

Feeling nervous and a bit overwhelmed, I head along the opposite rope line to get a better look. What line am I supposed to take? Is that chute big enough? Can I drop that rock? Questions whiz through my mind as I attempt to pick my line. After snapping some reference photos to ponder later, I head off to spin some laps to ease my mind. 

Standing atop Headwall the next day, my ponytail whipping in the harsh wind, I jump up and down to stay warm and dispel the jitters. The start guy yells, “Tucker Vest Burton, you’re up next.” I click into my skis, slide to the start, take a deep breath. And then I’m off. 

I pop quick turns long the ridgeline that feeds toward the rocky section. I drop into the main chute and cut right. Rocks and snow whiz by. Just keep charging, I repeat in my head. I drop a small rock towards the bottom and then arc huge turns through cut-up powder toward the finish.

I stop, panting, and lean down to unbuckle my boots, my heart clobbering my ribcage. My pulse rate slows as I slide out of the finish arena. I pop off my skis and rest on my poles to catch my breath, feeling silly for being so nervous. After all, it’s just skiing.

Tucker Vest Burton is a veteran ski racer who decided to give freeride competition a shot. She works in the communications department at Colorado’s Keystone Resort. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @Tucker_Vest.

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