Sammy Luebke took first place for the mens division. Photo: Lance Koudele/MSI
The North Face Masters free ride competition series returned to Snowbird from April 12-14 with over 100 competitors, both men and women, pre-registered for their chance to ‘huck mad pow,’ take home a decent paycheck and obtain the coveted Katana sword trophy. Usually, the first destination on the tour, the Snowbird event was pushed to the final stop due to lack of early season precipitation. With a few small systems rolling through, the contest was finally a go. Despite inconsistencies in forecasts, Mother Nature cooperated and dumped over 20 inches of fresh, springtime blower snow on the venue, creating the best conditions the event has seen at the Bird in recent years.
Day One was held on Silver Fox, skiers right under the aerial Tram. This area provides the competitors with several chutes, rock gaps and cliff options to impress the judges. The criterion is as follows: Stay in control, keep speed, get into trouble, get out of it and do some damn tricks! With the snow fresh and soft, the competitors fought to obtain the rights to ride in Saturday’s finals. The women were widdled down to the top eight and the men down to 27.
An early rise to near-blizzard conditions delayed the finals just slightly, and by the time the event kicked back into gear, the skies opened up to reveal bright blue skies and another layer of the greatest snow on earth. In order to offer the competitors untracked lines, the competition moved over to the North Baldy area. This area provides more elements for the riders—powder fields, trees, rollers and the showboating amphitheater cliff band. The ladies tackled the course first, throwing towers of powder, dropping cliffs and impressed every spectator in the event area and those watching down below on the Tram deck. The locals fared better then the rest of the field, and took all three top spots. With her first place finish, Shannon Yates not only took home the Katana sword, but staked her claim as this year’s overall tour champion. Fellow Cottonwood canyoneers Beth Weissman and Cindi Lou Grant rounded out the podium respectively.
By the time the men were ready to battle for their one-run final, the Snow Gods decided to play spoiler and rolled a dense fog over the upper section of the competition area. With the first four top qualifiers squeezed in just before the weather, the contest found itself in a holding pattern. For most spectators, this meant beer thirty, for the competitors, more anxiety as they waited to hear the “all systems go” call over the wire. For the rest of the afternoon, the clouds would separate briefly and riders were sent down, single-file in hopes the skies would hold. It was a crapshoot as to whether or not visibility would hold up during the individual runs. Some riders saw sun, others snow and, a select few, nothing at all. In between squalls, the spectators sat in awe as the cliff drops got steeper, gaps grew larger and straight airs turned into spins, both horizontal and vertical. With the waiting trend continuing, it was do-or-die time for the contest coordinators, finish now or start over Sunday. With less than 12 competitors waiting to descend, the fog returned, the temps dropped and the snow began to fall heavily. Now, only a few riders remained and it was a no-brainer—git’r done! Despite the conditions, two of the remaining riders went on to podium. Landing in the top spot for both the final event and the overall lead was Sammy Luebke, followed by Brian Bozack. Completing the podium in third was Jamie Rizzuto.
Congratulations to all competitors and those representing Utah. For more information on sponsors, photos, video recap and full results, please visit thenorthfacemasters.com