A few years ago, Jess McMillan and some fellow Nissan Freeride World Tour competitors decided to invent a special holiday: Stoked to Be Alive Day. It isn't just any old day, however. Stoked to Be Alive Day is celebrated after you've skied Verbier, Switzerland's Bec De Rosses, the venue for the Nissan Xtreme Verbier Freeride competition, which is scheduled for Sunday.
The Verbier event, one of the world's longest running big-mountain competitions now in its 16th year, is now the final event for the Freeride World Tour. The Becs is a famously intimidating, jagged face riddled with huge cliffs, no-fall exposure and a sustained 50-degree pitch for most of the descent.
"When you stand at the top, it is so steep, it just looks like cliff-band after cliff-band. It is by far the gnarliest venue I have ever competed on," says McMillan, who received a wild card to compete in this year's contest. Although this will be McMillan's fourth trip to Verbier, it's her first competition of this season, after sitting out the season with a neck injury.
The first time she came to compete on it, she says, a massive avalanche came off the face during the inspection, nearly burying competitor Kaj Zackrisson who was looking up from the bottom. The competition was moved to nearby Mt. Geles that year. TGR's Schroeder Baker, invited once, says he saw the venue and then tried to come up with any excuse not to compete on it before going through with his run. Last year, snowboarder Xavier de al Rue pioneered a first descent, and many lines still remain unskied.
Jerome Ruby, the man in charge of security and snow safety for the Freeride World Tour (and an extreme snowboarding legend himself) posts a guard from open to close on the bootpack up to the Becs for one month before the competition to make sure no one skis it. According to McMillan, that's just a formality. "If you're the public, you don't look at the Becs and think, that oh, that looks like fun. It does not," she says.
This year, the women skiers are led by Swedish ex-Olympic racer Jeanette Hargin. American Angel Collinson is currently second in the overall rankings, coming off a win last weekend at the Freeskiing World Tour at Snowbird, Utah. New Zealand's Janina Kuzma is currently in third. For the men, Stefan Hausl is ranked first, followed by Samuel Anthamatten and Aurelien Ducroz. No American men made the cut this year. Stay tuned to ESPN Freeskiing for a recap of the competition.