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Gotta Get up to Get Down

The first ever Red Bull Raid rewards uphill speed and downhill prowess

By Dave Zook

photo Ben Arnst

Competitors at the inaugural Red Bull Raid were treated to sparkling spring conditions on April 13, after a week of rain, snow, and wind. Hot California sun hit the snow early and softened surface conditions of Squaw’s goliath 200-plus inch base, shifting it from concrete to corn to deep slush throughout the day. They were the perfect conditions for this unique contest.

Like an enduro style mountain bike race, the Raid combined uphill endurance with freeride descending skills in Squaw’s Silverado Canyon—a rarely open matrix of technical north-facing terrain—offering a new format to the ski/snow world. I got the late invite to join, and as a longtime big mountain snowboard competitor, I couldn’t wait to see how it would all unfold.

The field of 60 (men and women, skiers and snowboarders), were divided into two heats for a mass start at the bottom of Tram Bowl. The first person to the top was awarded 100 points, second was given 99, and so on. Next, competitors dropped in order of their finishing time, and were given a score (out of 100) based on style, line choice, control, fluidity, air, etc. After both heats finished, the field was cut by around 50 percent, and the finalists repeated the whole shebang again, with the accumulated points from both rounds going toward a final score out of 400.

Competitor Daron Rahlves, of Olympic and World Cup ski racing fame, saw the melding of uphill and downhill competition as a way to up the ante. “There are a lot of people out there now doing backcountry touring who are looking for the best lines and snow. Red Bull Raid incorporates more of an overall experience that’s inbounds. You have to be in shape to hustle up the hill and you also have to back it up with a good line that has it all: line selection, speed, air, style, fluidity. To win takes someone who has strengths in both,” says Rahlves.

When the downhill portion kicked off, the snow was creamed corn; the type that lends itself to smooth turns and forgiving landings. It was game on. Amongst the skiers, two former Olympians took the top spot, with Daron Rahlves and Anna Sullivan earning first place. On the snowboarding end, Brian Stenerson won the men’s category, and Jaime Vincent of Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, won for the women.

At the athlete meeting, organizers expressed a desire to make the Raid a continuing event, which was returned with hearty applause from the attendees. Seems like this experiment is off to a promising start.

previous photo Grant Gunderson

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