There will be no Colorado Freeride Championships in Snowmass this winter, as the Aspen Skiing Co. shuffles its on-mountain event lineup.
The extreme skiing competition had run annually in late February at Snowmass Ski Area since 2001. It pitted skiers and snowboarders from across the state — and sometimes beyond — in judged competitions for prize money on some of the most challenging lines in the Hanging Valley Wall and Burnside Cliffs.
The climax of the finals often saw skiers hucking off of the 40- to 60-foot-high “Two Trees” cliff, with the cleanest landing taking home the prize money.
It often drew more than 100 competitors, ranging from well-known and sponsored athletes to locals entering the open competition, and brought crowds to watch the action from Gwyn’s High Alpine and elsewhere.
The event was canceled last year due to a lack of snow.
SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company dropped the event as its on-mountain programming continues to shift.
“We always evaluate our events and look to come up with new ideas and evolve,” Hanle said.
Local freeskier Chris Tatsuno said he was sad to see the competition go, but noted that such events are growing in the junior ranks. The International Free Skiers Association, for instance, has an expanding slate of 30 regional big mountain events for high school athletes aged 18 and under.
“We haven’t had the right conditions to do it anyway,” Tatsuno added, referring to the need for overabundant snow for the competition. “So it might be fortuitous that they’re not doing it.”
SkiCo quietly announced the event’s departure in its winter events schedule this fall, which unveiled a new slopestyle competition in Highland Bowl as a replacement for the freeride championships. The Aspen Highlands race had been scheduled for late January, but is now off the docket.
Next week, SkiCo is kicking off a new race series, however, building on the increasing popularity of uphill races and the upcoming third annual Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race.
Dubbed the Aspen Highlands SkiMo race series, it will be a ski mountaineering race with uphill and downhill components on various terrain at Highlands, starting this Thursday, Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m. and continuing with three additional races through March.
“As that type of winter activity gains more and more in popularity, we thought it was a good one to add to our calendar,” Hanle said, “especially as a build-up for the Power of Four Race.”
The Power of Four, scheduled for March 2, sends elite endurance athletes in teams of two across all four local mountains in a day-long race covering 25 miles and 12,000 feet of vertical climbing. A less grueling recreational race sticks to Highlands and Aspen Mountain.
SkiCo officials are hoping the SkiMo series will give Power of Four competitors — or aspiring competitors — the chance to practice race techniques and transitions. Post-race after parties at Highlands Pizza Company, they hope, will also foster some camaraderie among the weekend warrior uphillers.