For a handful of Vail Valley locals, their "pinch-me" moment — whether it's staring down at a meticulously groomed course, marching with fellow Americans in the opening ceremony, or singing the national anthem atop the podium — will come on the world stage at this year's Winter Olympics in South Korea. For Edwards local Grifen Moller, however, that "pinch-me" moment will come atop one of the world's biggest ski faces on the Freeride World Tour, a multi-stop competition that pits the world's most talented freeride skiers (24 men and 8 women) and snowboarders (11 men and 6 women) against one another on some of the world's most challenging terrain for the ultimate title of King (or Queen) of the Mountain. Unlike their Olympic peers, participants on the Freeride World Tour don't have many rules (and a speed suit is out of the question), the underlying principle being to pick what they deem the most challenging — yet skiable — line at a given tour stop and ski it perfectly, while a panel of judges marks them for difficulty of their line, fluidity, control, and technique as they navigate cliffs, chutes, spines, and (of course) steeps. And unlike their ski racing peers in PyeongChang, competitors on the tour don't get practice runs, or even to drop into the selected terrain before the contest, just a snapshot of the terrain they'll be skiing and a pre-competition meeting to brief them on snow conditions, safety concerns, and the like (anyone who is seen on event terrain within 30 days of the event is promptly disqualified).
It's a niche of skiing that hasn't made it to the Olympics, but the talent pool is deep. The Tour annually pulls in freeride skiing and snowboarding's most celebrated athletes, with a who's who of alumni (the venerable ski-god Candide Thovex won the tour in 2010, and snowboard legend Travis Rice will be joining the competition for its first stop in Japan in January) having ridden through the "Swatch" emblazoned finisher's gate.
Just 19-years old, Moller snagged one of North America's three spots for this year's Freeride World Tour during his first year competing on the qualifier's circuit, solidifying his standing as one of the world's best free skiers in the process. The Battle Mountain High School grad cut his teeth on Team Summit's big mountain team and credits A-Basin as his home mountain, where hot laps off the ski area's storied Pallavacini Lift (which accesses some of the area's steepest and longest double-black diamond terrain) have honed his technique. For Moller, it's not all about ripping powder, however. Long hauls to Summit County for practice led him to complete part of his high school coursework online before graduating early, and while he spent the fall studying at Western State University in Gunnison (which he lists as one of his sponsors on the FWT's site), he'll be taking a hiatus from spring courses to compete on the tour—a move supported by his teachers. "My professors at Western have been great about being able to accommodate my schedule," he says, "If I had to drive up to Canada for a competition they would say, 'That's fine, we'll send you everything you need for class.' But, this semester I'm just going to be too busy."
Busy might be an understatement, as Moller heads to Japan at the beginning of January for the tour's first stop (and the first ever Freeride World Tour contest in the country) before flying straight to Golden, Canada for the next competition at Kicking Horse. After that, he heads to Europe, with Freeride World Tour stops in Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra and Fieberbrunn, Austria throughout the month of March. The top half of the pack qualify for the tour's final event in Verbier, Switzerland, which requalifies them for next year's tour. And while Moller has goals to make it to Verbier ("I'd love to stay on because this is really a dream come true," he says), he's also looking forward to simply enjoying the ride. "A lot of people who I’ve looked up to will be competing, and everyone says it’s just a big family once the tour gets going, so I’m really looking forward to that part," he says, "It’s a great way to travel, it’s a good excuse to go see more parts of the country and other parts of the world, competing is such a small part of it, it’s only one run most of the time."
After all, unless you're a rock star, it's not every day you get to go on a world tour.
Freeride World Tour Competition Dates
January 20-27; Hokuba, Japan
February 3-9; Kicking Horse, Golden, British Columbia
March 1-7; Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra
March 9-15; Fieberbrunn, Austria
March 31 - April 8; Verbier, Switzerland