#sendandreturn: My First Year on the Freeride World Tour

What is BCA’s #sendandreturn all about?  It’s about good decision-making based on the avalanche forecast, terrain and conditions, and the willingness to forgo sending it down a planned route for the sake of returning at the end of the day! #sendandreturn is high-stakes business for Freeride World Tour athletes, as Grif Moller reminds us here. If you have a #sendandreturn story worthy of sharing on the BCA blog, send it to us, and we will send you a BCA Backy Urban pack as a thank you in return!

By BCA Pro Athlete Grifen Moller

My first year being on the Freeride World Tour is by far the most influential ski season I have ever had. There were so many lessons I learned about skiing, different cultures, and how the definition of avalanche safety varies between countries. Being a skier who likes to spend most of his time on hike-to terrain or side country, I took into account all the different kinds of avalanche prevention and control I saw in each country.

In Japan, (my first real experience to foreign avalanche control) they do not utilize explosives when it comes to avalanche control. They stick to ski cutting and digging pits. When a face is not safe, they simply close off the run and wait for the snowpack to stabilize. And if a face is never safe to ski and prone to avalanches, they put tons of avalanche barriers down it that double as super fun pillows! I was not the only athlete to notice this, a big topic in the athlete meetings was the absence of bombs in the avalanche control, and some competitors did not feel safe on the venue without using them.

Japan was my first stop on the World Tour, and it just so happened to be right in the middle of ‘Japanuary.’ Needless to say, I had the deepest turns of my life so far in Hakuba, Japan! My first three days skiing was beautiful bluebird pow days (which never happens), then my next ten days it did not stop snowing. In the depth of the storm cycle, it snowed ten feet in four days. During this entire time, the tour was pushing to get the competition off, as it was the first stop of the year and its first time in Japan. All the athletes kept being told, “it is going to happen tomorrow” or, “mandatory inspection.”

In the peak of the storm where it snowed ten feet in four days, we were all told we had a mandatory inspection because we will be competing the following day and will not have time to inspect before our runs. All the athletes thought the tour was being very optimistic about trying to push off this competition. Everyone just wanted to cancel the competition and ski the pow! Fellow tour competitor/friend Arianna Tricomi and I had been watching the weather ourselves. We were watching Hakuba valley resort (where the competition was supposed to held) and another close by mountain Goyru. The face our competition was supposed to be on was very wind exposed and had consistent gusts of over 100kmh. This wind completely stripped the venue of the ten feet that had fallen and left a deceiving 4inchs on top of ice/crust that was nearly impossible to hold an edge and would’ve bruised your heels with a jump more than ten feet. We wanted nothing to do with inspecting a venue we knew was dangerous to be on and had a 10% chance of working. This was when we looked to Goyru.

Goyru sat a little lower in Hakuba Valley and offered more protection from wind with trees. The particular zone we were interested in going to was a super playful, long, low angle tree run, with just enough tree pillows and airtime to keep you frothing for more! Arianna and I decided to take our chances and not go to inspection because we had a powder fever that needed to be cured. We were the only athletes to do this, and it made all of them very jealous! When we arrived on the scene, there were ten feet of the freshest, softest and deepest snow I have ever skied. As soon as we came to the trees, the howling wind stopped. Everything was calm and quiet. There were only about 20-30 other skiers and snowboarders, four of them were the judges. The entire day we skied there was no whomphing, weak layers, or any red flags that warned us of avalanche danger. There was definitely no lack of smiles and my first official snow mustache!

On the other side of the valley, the inspection (from what I heard) was a very stressful time. No one felt the conditions were safe and no one wanted to ski down the side of the venue where they hiked up. Snowboarder Sammy Luebke injured his leg trying to jib a pillow, but it was just a huge, frozen ice chunk with a fresh blanket of snow on top.

When Arianna and I arrived back at the hotel, we were both so happy about the decision we made to go somewhere else and enjoy the snow. Everyone told us no way the event would go off, and they were jealous we were skiing powder all day.

This might be one of the farthest stretched connections to #SendandReturn, but the lesson is to always take into account the forecast and what’s going on around you for yourself. Just because someone says it is safe or you need to go, does not mean its safe. Use your decision-making skills and see if you can go and experience unforgettably deep powder in safe terrain and conditions.