In its first iteration, the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme brought a wide variety of competitors to the famed 42-degree run on Blackcomb Mountain.
It ate up former national team racers, big mountain skiers, Telemarkers, snowboarders and all others without discrimination. After a 17-year hiatus since its last running, a similarly eccentric field is set to do its best to tame the Couloir this Friday or Saturday (April 13 or 14), depending on the weather.
Former national team racer Robbie Dixon, who retired in 2016, remembers the event's early years. Now 33, he appreciates the chance to take part in the race, which has been sold out since March 30.
"I remember as a kid wanting to do it badly," Dixon said. "Now the time has come to do it, which is exciting. I wanted to jump on board and get behind it."
The blend of styles is something else that excites Dixon, as the lengthy run will bring together different sections of terrain and leave the fittest competitors huffing and puffing when they eventually cross the finish line.
Said Dixon: "It brings lots of elements of skiing. As skiing has progressed over the last 15 or 20 years in terms of different avenues you can take—you can be an extreme skier, big mountain, park—this race brings elements of all of that together and brings the whole skiing world together. It's going to be a blast."
Meanwhile, big-mountain skier Callum Pettit relishes the opportunity to race on terrain he's explored in a more casual fashion in the past.
"I've skied it lots of times. I've never actually tried racing someone down it," he says. "I'm stoked to see a bunch of people out there and I'm glad they brought it back."
Other big names set to challenge for the win include halfpipe skier Simon d'Artois, Freestyle Canada halfpipe ski head coach Trennon Paynter, 2010 and 2014 Olympian Marie-Pier Prefontaine and ski-crosser-turned-freeskier Stan Rey. Rey is replacing freerider Logan Pehota, who sustained a knee injury that shortened his Freeride World Tour campaign.
In the pro division, the winners will receive $3,000 each, followed by $1,500 and $750 for the other podium finishers. While the women's side will give prizes to the top three, the men's division will go five deep, with fourth place earning $500 and fifth taking home $250.
Whistler Blackcomb events manager Seb Fremont said on Tuesday, April 10 that with precipitation in the forecast for the next several days, it wasn't yet possible to pin down a date for the race.
"Outside of Mother Nature showing her face and presenting a few challenges, things are looking good," Fremont said. "The crews are out there grooming and have done a fantastic job preparing the course. The crews are out there staging as much as possible.
"Unfortunately, we are being kept out of the alpine today (April 10) because of the weather and we are potentially going to be out of the alpine tomorrow due to weather as well. That means a lot is going to happen on Thursday. We're going to keep our eyes open and our ears to the ground."
The hope has always been to run the race on Friday, and with the information available on Tuesday morning, that still appears to be the preferred option.
"It depends on which forecast you look at. We had that discussion this morning. I have a plan in my head that would work around the weather that would allow us to do this on Friday," he said. "Friday evening into Saturday, it looks like we're going to get some (precipitation) that could stop us from being in the alpine for part of the day Saturday.
"We're hatching various different scenarios, and we're ready to see (what comes), and we'll do whatever we can to host it. We'll just adapt as we need."
In addition to the grooming and trail teams, Fremont stressed the avalanche control crew is also paramount to ensuring the event is run safely.
Depending on weather conditions, Fremont expects to set between 60 and 80 gates, with at least 70 most likely.
"From the top of the couloir to the pinch point where we're starting to groom, we'll have about 10 gates. From the exit of the couloir, where you're more in that basin, we'll course-set according to the conditions," he said.
Regardless of when the Saudan race goes off, there will be evening entertainment on both Friday and Saturday with big air events in Whistler Village.
The skiers will go on Friday, with Olympians Yuki Tsubota and Dara Howell, as well as Elena Gaskell, Nikki Blackall and Sofia Technetsky on the women's side and local Olympian Teal Harle joining Noah Morrison, Evan McEachran, Max Moffatt and Dean Bercovitch on the men's side.
On Saturday, Olympic slopestyle silver medallist Laurie Blouin will headline the women's snowboard competition with Brooke Voigt and Jasmine Baird while a stacked men's event will have 2018 Olympic slopestyle silver medallist Max Parrot joining Tyler Nicholson, Francis Jobin and Mikey Ciccarelli.
Both nights will have music kicking off at 7 p.m. with the women competing at 7:30 p.m. and the men set to go at 8:15 p.m. The music headliners will wrap things up at 9 p.m., with A Tribe Called Red on Friday and Jazzy Jeff on Saturday.
Fremont is pleased with how the stadium is progressing.
"The build has been ongoing since last week. The crew from Arena Snowparks has been pushing snow, bulking snow. There's a massive landing right now just above the GLC," he said. "All in all, it's all coming together very nicely."
In the big air zone further down the mountain, the precipitation could manifest as rain and present its own set of challenges.
"It could impact snow sliding and how we're able to generate some speed for the athletes," Fremont said. "We've got a plan. We've got some tarps to cover the jumps to minimize the amount of snow loss."
BOARDERSTYLE MAKES A LEAP
The Monster Energy Boarderstyle event has always been a draw, but this year will be special.
Though it's been the final tour stop in recent years, this year, the Whistler stop will also double as the World Championships.
Brad Wilson of event production company Hangman Productions is excited for what is set to come this weekend.
"As of right now, everything is in order for the event to go off without a hitch," Wilson said.
This weekend's Monster Energy Boarderstyle World Championships event will be the fourth and final stop on a tour that has had stops at Fernie, Silverstar and Mount Washington to this point. Stephanie Haines has dominated the women's side, winning all three events, while the men's side has certainly maintained intrigue going into the finale after seeing three different champions in Felix Dallaire, Dan Barker and Charles Reid, though Reid will not be in attendance this weekend.
Wilson expects roughly 70 to 100 men and 30 women to attend Friday's qualifiers, with 32 of the former and 16 of the latter moving on to Saturday's finals. Finals feature four racers per heat with the top two advancing to the next round. Both speed through the course and the trick on the course's final jump will be considered when determining who advances.
Wilson noted Brian Finestone and the Whistler Blackcomb terrain park staff are designing and building the course, which is one he's excited for boarders to challenge.
"One of the paths that we've changed for this stop is we're actually bringing the finish of the course to coming down one of the halfpipe walls and actually building the final jump inside the halfpipe," Wilson said. "We're trying to cut out part of the pipe wall, doing one banked turn on the pipe wall, then finishing with a big air jump right down the middle of the pipe."
Over a dozen riders have followed the tour through all its stops, such as Darcy Sharpe, Dallaire, Barker and Phil Fournier.
"We've gained traction," Wilson said of the tour. "I think this one is going to be a pretty big banger."
In the race itself, there will be equal prize money for both men and women. First place earns $3,000, while the other finalists receive $1,000, $600 and $400 in order.
As well, the world tour winners will get $6,000, with the runners-up taking home $2,000, $1,200 and $800, respectively.
For more information, visit www.wssf.com.