Ralph Backstrom and Maria Debari topped a list of ripping riders at the first and only North American stop of the 2012 Freeride World Tour, held on a 1,000-foot run filled with steep, peppery chutes, mandatory cliff drops and blower powder at Revelstoke, British Columbia.
This FWT stop was the first in an effort to form a global points ranking system within the Freeride World Tour and The North Face Masters of Snowboarding Series -- two big mountain snowboard tours that are structured in almost the complete opposite fashions, and for the most part happen on different continents. Where the NFM events are open to anyone, in order to make it onto the FWT, you have to enter a series of Freeride World Qualifying events.
The FWT organizers decided to invite the top 10 men and top five women from the NFM to compete against the FWT athletes at the FWT Revelstoke stop. The eventual goal is to have a super final at the end of the year that pits the top riders from each tour against each other to determine the big mountain world champions of snowboarding, but for this event, points will be awarded only toward FWT rankings. So there are still a few things in the "global ranking system" to be worked out, but NFM athletes now have FWT points.
Lined alongside fellow contestants at the designated starting point of knife ridge we had been heli bumped to the top of, I only had the opportunity to see Maria Debari's first set of turns, which she cranked with power and confidence before disappearing over a rock band. Debari, a shy girl made of raw egg pasta, whom I became responsible for transporting over the boarder after her boyfriend was denied access to Canada, didn't really tell me anything about her run. Legend and judge Tom Burt, however, said she ripped it. (Well, he actually went into detail when I asked him about it later, but "ripped it" is a fair summary.)
From the valley bed after my run, I watched Backstrom as he aired off a prominent top rock, then popped a cliff band before linking into one of the only tree thick sections on the face. He aired a waterfall in the trees and then threaded the needle straight over a last rock/cliff feature no one had thought to hit the way he did. It was enough for the win.
Ralph's brother Arne Backstrom won the ski division of the FWT on this same run in 2010. Arne then went to explore the remote Cordillera Blanca region of Peru and sustained fatal injuries after his downhill ski released in a no-fall zone. His death was a huge loss to his friends, family and the mountain community at large.
"To come up here and be able to ride the same face that Arne won on in 2010," said Ralph, "it's pretty special to have won. Hopefully I made him proud. I looked at his line and knew there was know way in hell I could do it as good as he did it. I just had to find something else that looked rippable, and I think I did."