Tahoe-area skiers and snowboarders represented the region well with top finishes in the first stop of the 2014 Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face at Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, on Wednesday.
While conditions in the Alps have been difficult this winter, with high avalanche risks and thin snow in many places, the international field was treated to clear skies and soft snow on the sunny side of the Monte Bianco.
The competition began with men’s snowboarding. North Lake Tahoe rider Sammy Luebke worked his way to the top of the men’s podium with a super fast start and a playful run ending with a solid frontside 360. Luebke’s run earned the top score of 80.50.
“I identified my line right away on the first day,” said Luebke, who’s now riding out of Mount Baker, Wash. “I considered other lines the last few days but am very glad I stuck with my original choice. The snow was really good with face shots throughout the venue.”
In second place, Sascha Hamm of Great Britain earned a 72.5 with a high-velocity run featuring a well-executed, high-speed double cliff drop. Ludo Guilllot-Diat of France rounded out the podium with a hard-charging style that earned him a score of 70.25.
Sugar Bowl snowboarder Brian Bozack of Soda Springs finished fifth with a score of 60.50, while Ralph Backstrom of Squaw Valley received a score of 60.25, which was good enough for sixth place.
“My initial line choice was pretty popular among the other riders, so I changed my plan to get better snow,” Backstrom said. “The top of my run went pretty well, but the bottom part was tricky — I landed pretty flat and couldn’t hold it.”
In the men’s ski competition, Freeride World Tour rookie Loïc Collomb-Patton of France pulled off the win with a high score of 88.50.
Collomb-Patton’s run consisted of a high-speed double right at the top of the venue and a huge 360 at the bottom. Running early in the start order, the Frenchman anxiously watched the remaining skiers who aimed to steal his lead.
Among those in the hunt was Kirkwood skier and 2012 Freeride World Tour champion Josh Daiek, who, despite being under the weather, finished just behind Collomb-Patton with a runner-up score of 87.5.
Daiek’s dynamic and fully charged run proved that he is seriously pursuing to regain a championship title this season.
“I didn’t have a lot of energy at the start because I have a heavy cold and didn’t sleep well last night,” Daiek said. “My line was a bit of a blind takeoff, but everything worked out very well.”
Rounding out the podium in third place with a score of 82.25 was Jérémie Heitz of Switzerland.
Sean Collin of Squaw Valley finished 16th with a score of 65.63.
The women will join the men for the second event in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc this Saturday.
The Freeride World Tour continues in Fieberbrunn Kitzbüheler Alpen on Feb. 1, Kirkwood on March 1, Revelstoke, Canada, on March 10, and Verbier, Switzerland, on March 22. The remainder of the schedule includes both men’s and women’s ski and snowboard competition.