Looking straight up, The Cirque has one ugly face.
It doesn't get any prettier looking straight down. The treacherous Kirkwood terrain is covered in exposed rock and ripped with double-black shoots all the more jagged without new snow. The terrain is permanently closed to the public.
The Cirque at Kirkwood Mountain Resort will serve as the venue for the fourth stop of the Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face 2013 on Wednesday. The competition originally had a weather window of Wednesday through Sunday, but with no snow on the weekend horizon, Wednesday is a go.
The best freeskiers and snowboarders in the world will meet at 9 a.m. to face off on the bare-bones conditions.
Among them are Kirkwood's Josh Daiek and Casey Lucas, and the North Shore's Ralph Backstrom, who currently leads the men's snowboard standings, Sammy Luebke, Iris Lazzareschi and Jackie Paaso.
"It's really a great feeling being home. Competing is already very nerve-racking and stressful. Being home brings a calming element," Lucas said.
Lucas, who took fourth in the women's snowboard division in her first two FWT stops, has been looking mighty calm on the icy slopes lately. She took first at the Kirkwood Banzai competition in similar conditions last month.
"I am thankful I have had a couple weeks home to get used to riding hard pack. Thanks Banzai," Lucas said.
The Kirkwood rider also has a couple years of riding The Cirque on her side.
"The first time I rode the Cirque I believe I was 19 or 20. It was pretty insane. I had no business being in there," Lucas said. "I used to get scared, now I get really excited. I think I get more nervous about being judged."
Riders compete one at a time and a judging panel bases their score on line difficulty, control, fluidity, technique and style. A start gate is positioned at the summit with a finish gate at the bottom. The best complete runs win. The sport is similar in context to big-wave surfing with skiers and snowboarders choosing impossible-looking lines through cornices and cliff-faces and couloirs.
Daiek, a Kirkwood skier and the 2012 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour Champion, is also looking forward to competing on his home mountain.
"I'm simply stoked for the competition to be at Kirkwood," Daiek said. "It has some of the most fun terrain and is one of the best competition venues in the world."
Kirkwood will be the fourth stop on the five-stop Freeride World Tour. It is the only U.S. stop.
Before the Kirkwood event, the FWT athletes made their way through Revelstoke, Canada; Courmayeur, France; and Chamonix, France.
After Kirkwood, there will be one more stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria, before cuts are made. The top three results out of the five events for men and the top three results out of the four events for women will qualify riders for a final showdown in Verbier, Switzerland, and a coveted spot on the 2014 Freeride World Tour.
For Lucas and Luebke, who are both ranked fourth in FWT standings, this makes the Kirkwood stop all the more important. Both are up for the challenge.
"My strategy going into every contest is having fun," Lucas said. "Especially this event. I have been mediating on not having any doubts in myself, and remembering the reason I started this sport. To have fun."