Freeride World Tour Rookie Recap – Emma Page Patterson

11 min read

Emma Patterson

Well, I guess it’s time to accept the end of the ski season. Sure, we’re all antsy and wanting to get outside. There are plenty of turns to be had, but it’s far from the time to be getting after it as we all love to do. For now, it’s time for space, a step back, and a bit of reflection.  This winter was nothing less than a rush. It began quite quickly, with finishing up a semester of graduate school and knowing the travels January would bring. My head was all over the place. I decided it would be best to have my base be my hometown of Taos, New Mexico, where my family still lives. This way, my dog Bodhi would have a place to stay while I was traveling, and I could spend my downtime skiing my home resort of Taos Ski Valley. In December, I packed up my things, myself, and Bodhi and hit the road headed south.  We spent Christmas with the family and good friends. My brother, JC, and I went up to Jackson for a few days to play in the backcountry with an old coach and good friend of ours. We took some sleds out to explore, built a jump, and found some dreamy turns. It was a perfect little trip to end the holidays, and a great way to start what would be a whirlwind of competition season.  My parents and I flew out of Denver, CO, en route to Hakuba Valley, Japan on January 13th. Their season was just getting started as their legendary ‘japow’ was a little late to the party. Being a rookie, I really wasn’t sure what to expect as far as the down days went so the first day on snow exceeded my expectations by a long shot. A crew of riders walked out of the hotel and we explored Hakuba Happo-One, where the first stop of the Freeride World Tour would take place a few days later. The snow was variable, but the views were breathtaking. It was a great start to the tour.  As the first stop on tour, I was extremely nervous that my skiing may not be up to par, or that I would be in the wrong headspace coming out of the start gate. Really, I was nervous because it’s freeride. Anything can happen on any given day – snow conditions, avalanche danger, start order, weather, visibility, etc. I’ve learned not to have any expectations of myself or any factors that are out of my control.  Inspection day was a whole different game than I was used to. Competing on the Freeride World Qualifiers in the Americas is a bit different when it comes to inspecting a face. In the Americas we get on snow inspections the day of the competition, and sometimes the day before as well. That means we get to see every turn, our in-runs and out-runs, how big the drops really are, and how much space is between each feature. For the Freeride World Tour, and the European qualifying circuit, visual inspection is all we get. This means we're given a place where the entire face can be seen, most often on a ridge across from the face, or sometimes from the finish line. Binoculars can be used, and forerunners are sent to assess the snow conditions and give drops a relative size.  Hakuba was my first visual inspection. I stood on the ridge for hours, creating multiple different lines in different zones of the venue. The snow looked rock hard in some places, and cream-cheesy in others. I returned to the hotel on inspection day having decided on a fast run with a few small hits. I was excited to see how my skiing compared to everyone, but I hadn't decided to get too crazy.  Things changed come competition day. First light riding solo up the gondola, music blaring and having my own little dance session, I knew it was going to be a good day. There were some clouds early morning creating a bit of a weather hold. An upside to this, though, was that I was able to watch a couple of snowboarders before I made my way to the start gate. The snow had changed since inspection – it got softer and dang, those boarders made it look really, really fun. That’s when I decided that I wasn’t there to take it easy and ski a safe line… rather, I was there to ski an untracked face and step out of my comfort zone. Last minute, I chose one of the most burly lines on the face. Not because it was the most burly, but because it was something I wanted to ski no matter the outcome. It got my nerves pumping (which, fun fact, results in the same adrenaline release as excitement), and turned on a whole new headspace for what was to come.  To most people’s surprise, choosing a line that scares me actually results in being more calm for me. I took a deep breath, a long trace of the surrounding ridgelines, and put one foot in front of the other until I reached the start gate. Funny thing, I wasn’t even thinking about the rest of my run while standing in the start gate. I was so wrapped up in inspecting the bigger features that I had forgotten to inspect where I would go right out of the start gate!  “3, 2, 1… droppin’,” the starter said, I pushed out of the gate and hoped for the best. Skied over a few rocks, but made it out of the gate! Wohoo! The rest of the run was a blur. I know my landmarks so well, I really didn’t need to think about much. As I approached the bigger feature at the bottom, the only thing I could think of was “no hesitation.” I pointed ‘em and suddenly felt my legs back on the ground. I stomped. That was rad. Then… had a little more heat than anticipated as the snow was extremely variable. On my second turn on, I lost my balance and went for a spin… or a few.  Getting to the finish line after gathering my gear I was far from bummed. The stoke was high to have sent a sizeable feature like that. Luck wasn’t on my side that day, and I decided that I wanted the rest of my season to be about skiing lines that excited me. I didn’t want to dial back my skiing and stay on my feet if that meant avoiding the thrilling lines. Hakuba was just the start of an amazing season.  I had a few days at home prior to making my way to Kicking Horse, BC for the second stop. Skiing in Taos Ski Valley with some of my favorite people was exactly what I needed to decompress (literally, after that crash!) and get back to sending some local hits. I drove from New Mexico to Golden, BC, and was greeted with some of the best snow yet. Ozone, the competition face, was something I had dreamed of skiing since I first competed in Kicking Horse in 2017. I had my eye on a few different lines, both enticing with creamy snow. I opted for the biggest drop I had ever done in competition before. Ski women were the second category to drop, following snowboard women, so we would have fresh tracks on most of our drops.  Competition day rolled around and I was a little more nervous than I was for Japan. I dropped second to last, so I wouldn’t get to watch any of the other skiers (which is one of the best parts!). The women’s ski field was quick to run, meaning we were absolutely slaying the face and I was dropping earlier than expected. The snow conditions were all-time. Coming out of the start gate, all I could think of was my bottom air. The rest of the run flew by, I really can’t say I remember much of it, but every second of the bottom part is quite vivid. I took one left footer around my landmarked tree, shut down speed until a small bush on my left hand side, and point ‘em from there. I knew I had to pop off the takeoff as hard as I could, and I still remember coming close to the rocks below the takeoff. Falling quickly towards my landing, I didn’t think there were any chance of me skiing out of it. It was a big air for a small girl! I was pushed backseat a little, but my quads fired up and kept me upright.
As I said before, the women’s field absolutely killed it. I felt good about my run, though my score was quite low in the rankings. I was definitely bummed, but after a few hours I realized that I had no reason to. I skied my line the way I wanted to, and I took one of the biggest airs in the women’s field for the day. Looking back now, I couldn’t be more proud to have done just that.  The way the Freeride World Tour works as far as qualifying for finals, and the following year, is the top three of four competition results. Out of ten women, six will qualify. Knowing that my first two comps didn’t go as planned, I knew I would have to show up to the next two comps in Europe and chase points. Knowing what my headspace does when I have expectations, I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to approach it. After having many conversations with my dad, one of my biggest role models, I knew I wanted to do exactly what I had done already. Ski what I wanted to ski, no matter the outcome.  Arriving in Andorra, a very small country in the eastern Pyrenees bordered by Spain and France, it felt like spring time, apparent by the snow conditions and dry trails. A group of athletes and I went hiking our first day there – crazy, right?! The trails were great, the snow was not. We were unsure the competition would happen. The snow was absolutely bullet-proof. Ordino-arcalis was absolutely spectacular, though, so touring around the resort was more fun than expected. We played the waiting game until the very last day of the weather window. A good storm came in a few days prior, but visibility and wind kept the event from happening. We skied some great laps with even better people.  Competition day rolled around. I was second to drop in the women’s field, which was the first category of the day. The conditions were far better than I expected. The snow had filled in the venue really well, apart from the wind-ripped areas. It was absolutely dreamy. Dropping out of the start, I decided to hit one of the bigger airs I had been eyeing all week. The snow was fast, and my run was flying by. I had two small airs at the top of the run, and skiing into my bigger air I didn’t feel any need to hesitate or slow down. Setting up my trajectory, I took-off and saw my landing. I was stoked as I was fully composed in the air, and thought I had it. Buuutttt… I sunk. Like, completely disappeared. I guess that’s what happens when you’re 5’2” and dropping into a big pocket of wind loaded snow. At least it was extremely soft.  I am bummed, without a doubt. As far as things I would’ve done different goes, though, nothing comes to mind. Had I gone later in the field, I’m almost positive I could’ve landed it. Still smiling, and even more in love with skiing.  One last competition, and to me it did feel like a victory lap despite falling every comp. Fieberbrunn was by far my favorite venue – Wildseeloder. It was long, steep at the top, and playful. Due to a low amount of snow, the middle of the venue was a sea of sharks. There were really only two options – far right or left. The lookers left side was playful, but the right side was steep and had one line that caught my eye from the first day I saw it. Then came the over-thinking part of competition… was that line good enough? Would it score well? I reminded myself why I was there, and told myself to ski exactly what thrilled me.   A storm rolled through a couple days prior to competition day and primed the venue for some good skiing, and even better sending. We played around the massive resort while visibility cleared up a bit, then came comp day. One of my favorite parts was the hike to the peak. Growing up hiking Kachina Peak in Taos, it always feels just right to go for a long hike prior to a good ski. It felt like home.  Sitting in the start gate was longer than expected, but the views provided many smiles. It was hard to believe it was my last comp run already. The season felt like it had just started. I took a deep breath, then realized my GoPro wasn’t on so asked the starter to help me out. Then, I took one more deep breath, and dropped in. The snow was a little funky at the top, and had been sitting in the sun all morning. It was heavy, but the chute I went into still held some soft snow. A bit of slough caught me off guard, so I skied through the chute and up the side to keep my balance. After a second of avoiding jumping into my slough, I decided I had to go. I took off my first air and landed in a great pocket of snow. There was a small compression that I watched take some of the ski men off guard, so I made sure to be in control in that area. I hit my second air, which was super fun, too. I landed that one well. Those were my two biggest features and all I needed to do was get to the finish line from there along with a couple smaller hits towards the lower half of the venue. Coming into a little technical section, I realized the snow was much heavier than up top. I took a few quick turns, and pointed ‘em to get out of that area. I hit a small compression, but was able to recover. Then, my ski hit another heavy pocket and I literally just tipped over. I felt myself going down, and my heart sunk. I was so excited to put a run to my feet.  After getting myself up out of the heavy snow, I put a smile back on my face and felt nothing but gratitude for the season – every fall, every turn, and every laugh included. I skied through the finish line and into the arms of some of my favorite people. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t ready to come home. I decided to stay in Europe and travel with a couple friends. We were planning on heading to Verbier where I would watch the finals and have my final goodbyes… then the virus was really getting crazy. That was my signal to head home. Though the season was cut short, it was one of my best ones yet. Thank you winter, thank you snow, thank you QSTs. I wouldn’t change a thing.