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Due to severe winds and a storm that's dropped 30 inches on California's Kirkwood Ski area in the last 24 hours, day one of the the 2011 North American Freeskiing Championships at Kirkwood have been pushed back to Sunday. Finals are now scheduled to take place Monday.
This weekend at Kirkwood, an important first is taking place: The Freeskiing World Tour and the Freeride World Tour are coming together for the first time, in one unified contest with 100 of the best skiers from both tours. The venue is Kirkwood's Cirque, a 1,500-vertical-foot cliff-scattered face that's permanently closed to the public. Coupled with the 100-plus inches Kirkwood has received in the last week, a spectacular showdown of big-mountain skiing is all but guaranteed.
Anyone who follows big-mountain skiing is bound to be confused by the two tours with similar names: The U.S.-centric Subaru Freeskiing World Tour and the Europe-centric Nissan Freeride World Tour. Both, naturally, go by the acronym FWT, which makes things even more confusing.
Now in its fourth year, the Freeride World Tour has always remained a separate entity from the Freeskiing World Tour, which has been around since the late 1990s. They've tried to collaborate on events before -- when the Freeride World Tour started in 2007 and again in 2008, organizers of both tours discussed joining forces but never struck a deal.
"The [Freeride World Tour organizers] came to us and said, 'Hey, how do we team up?'" says Adam Comey, president of Mountain Sports International, the company that puts on the Freeskiing World Tour. "Kirkwood was the logical choice. We wanted to find a test event to see if we could work together." Mountain Sports International will be putting on this event -- so the qualifier day, judging format, prize purse, and inspection rules will be like those of the other Freeskiing World Tour stops. But the scores will count toward both the Freeskiing World Tour and the Freeride World Tour, which is also bringing its global partner, Swatch, as an additional sponsor.
The Freeride World Tour had its single U.S. event at Mammoth Mountain in 2008 and Squaw Valley in 2009 and 2010. This will be its first visit to Kirkwood. "Timing seemed right to go for a try this winter with the Kirkwood National Freeskiing Championships also being recognized as a Freeride World Tour event," said Nicolas Hale-Woods, the founder of the Freeride World Tour. "All top riders from both tours are here, snow conditions could be very good and there seems to be a weather window for the end of the week. We are looking forward to an exciting event."
From the European tour, top contenders like Henrik Windstedt, Aurelian Ducroz, Seb Michaud, Reine Barkered, Sverre Liliequist, Janette Hargin and Janina Kuzma have made the trek to California. From the U.S. tour, current overall tour leaders Lars Chickering-Ayers and Angel Collinson, who both won last weekend's Freeskiing World Tour stop in Crested Butte, Colo., will be at Kirkwood, as well as countless others with a shot at the podium, like last year's Kirkwood champ Dylan Crossman, plus JT Holmes, Timy Dutton, Julien Lopez, Crystal Wright, Jacqui Edgerly and many more.
In the end, both Comey and Hale-Woods say that although the two tours have differences, they share the same common goal. "Freeskiing is still a niche sport ... We therefore need to put our resources together instead of competing," Hale-Woods said. Adds MSI's Comey: "Having a corresponding tour in Europe with a similar mission and with overlapping athletes, it gets confusing. The sport isn't big enough for us to be competing against each other. We have some differences, no doubt, but we share the common goal of wanting to grow the sport."
Stay tuned to ESPN Freeskiing for updates from Kirkwood.