This season, reigning Freeride World Tour champ Drew Tabke joined the Eddie Bauer ski team as our newest big mountain charger. The Seattle resident and Crystal Mountain local starts the defense of his title in Courmayeur, Italy, on Saturday, but we caught up with the Flyin’ Hawaiian before he crossed the pond to get his take on freeskiing comps, training grounds, international ski travel, living in America’s best ski city, and what it feels like to spend a season on the tour.
A two-time world champ in the freeskiing discipline, Drew Tabke launched from Utah shop guy to freeski contender in his first national contest at Snowbird in 2004. In the decade since, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has circled the globe on tour to the burliest big mountain venues, from Chile, Argentina, British Columbia, and Lake Tahoe to Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and France. Stacking up fast, fluid superfinal lines, consecutive podium finishes, and two coveted Sickbird awards, he earned his first Freeskiing World Tour title in 2011 at the same Snowbird venue that started his competitive career.
After finishing second in 2012, Tabke repeated as overall world champ last winter—this time on the unified Freeride World Tour—winning the first stop at his favorite venue on the Mac Daddy Face in Revelstoke, BC. Holding his overall lead by throwing down lines that mixed big mountain skill and freestyle influences in five venues of serious exposure, Tabke clinched the 2013 tour crown in Verbier, Switzerland, under the gaze of 180,000 online viewers. Born in Utah and raised in Hawaii, the alternative transportation advocate now calls Seattle, Washington, his home turf and Crystal Mountain his local training ground.
Follow Drew Tabke’s FWT season at blog.eddiebauer.com or via the @eddiebauer twitter feed and Facebook feed with the hashtag #tabkeontour. Check the schedule and watch the live contest feeds at www.freerideworldtour.com and read the interview below. —LYA Editor
Photo: Grant Gunderson Photography
Where did you grow up and where did you learn to ski?
Park City, Utah, minus five years living in Hawaii. First skied at Alta with my parents when I was two. They were skiers living at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Then after our stint in Hawaii, we were back in the PC area, so I grew up skiing Park City and what is now The Canyons. I attended the University of Utah, which is when I switched to Alta/Snowbird.
How did you get interested in competing in freeskiing comps?
I was working at the Deep Powder House ski shop at Alta, and every year there was the North American Freeskiing Championships at Snowbird, so it was just a normal thing for skiers up there to register and give it a try. I signed up, did my first comp, and was hooked.
What was your first freeski comp experience?
First comp was 2004, the qualifier event for the North American Freeskiing Nationals at Snowbird. I ended up getting 2nd in the qualifier. I just remember loving the intensity and focus that doing a top-to-bottom freeride run requires.
What was it like the first time you won the tour title?
It was in 2011 at Snowbird. All the friends I grew up with were there, my family was there. It was a good feeling, with so much support from the people around me, and at a place that has meant a lot to me throughout my life.
What is it like to stand on top of your line on finals day?
For the final day of any competition, the mental energy is very intense. It varies depending on how hard you’ve decided to push it with the run you’ve chosen. If I’m scared, I might feel uncertain, like “Am I choosing the right line?” And if I’m not scared, it’s more like “Am I pushing it hard enough?” So I try to find a line that is going to challenge my abilities but still be really fun. That way, in the starting gate I’m excited and nervous and ready to drop in–basically the ideal motivation to perform the best I can.
How do you remain focused in such a consequential situation?
It’s pretty easy to stay focused in this sport. A lot of times, just hiking to the top of the starting gate is up a knife-edge ridge with lots of exposure. We basically operate in big mountains every day, and that environment demands you stay focused all the time.
What elements make for a winning line?
Our sport is judged on overall impression. So while there are criteria that make up the judging, such as line choice, fluidity, creativity, and technique, it really comes down to something that impresses the judges. The winning line has rhythm and flow, it has to be creative, it has to be fast with big airs, the skiing has to be done with impeccable technique, finding the best snow on the venue for that particular day. But it really just comes down to the best top-to-bottom run.
What made the second tour title different than the first?
The second title included basically all the riders from the world of freeride, whereas in 2011 with my first title, there were two parallel world tours. So 2013 had a much more comprehensive feel to it, a more legitimate claim to world champion.
What is the toughest part about winning the FWT championship?
The sport is immensely challenging, in that no matter how prepared mentally and physically you are, the mountains can throw out a curve ball that you simply can’t be prepared for. The sport goes down in a very uncontrolled environment, unlike a perfectly manicured superpipe or GS course. Those unpredictable aspects make it really hard to consistently finish on top.
What is the best venue on the Freeride World Tour and why?
They’re all epic, but my favorite is Mount Mackenzie, also known as “Mac Daddy” in Revelstoke, BC. It’s just such an aesthetic face, in such a beautiful part of the world, really steep, really stellar snow quality, and a vast array of options to choose from.
In addition to the competitive aspect, what else do you enjoy about the tour?
I love traveling, and the tour takes me to lots of wonderful ski destinations. The people who gravitate towards freeride, whether they are organizers, competitors, fans, or other athletes, are typically really excellent people to spend time with. Everyone tends to love skiing, love the mountains, love to party, love to travel, and that makes for a really good atmosphere.
What is your goal for the year and where will you be competing?
My goals for the year are to ski in new places, learn more about ski mountaineering, get better at skiing and push my personal limits, and keep myself and my friends safe. If I can do those things, everything else will fall into place. The tour will be going to the same places as the year before: Italy, France, Austria, USA, Canada, and Switzerland.
What are the biggest challenges of being a professional skier, but living in a big city like Seattle?
Getting enough ski days in can be difficult, being based in Seattle. I’d go skiing every day when I lived in Utah; here, I have to pick and choose the best days to go up. But the benefits are a great base to work and travel from, a stimulating lifestyle in the city, surfing to the west, and skiing to the east. So I’m happy.
Where is your favorite place to ski, and why?
Crystal Mountain, Washington. It’s the best resort in the Northwest. It has amazing skiing off the lifts and gondola, extensive backcountry if you want it, and views of Mount Rainier that inspire future missions.
Why did you align yourself with Eddie Bauer?
I really want to further my knowledge and abilities in the big mountains, not just with the FWT but also with climbing and guiding and expeditions. The foundation of Eddie Bauer First Ascent is that it was built and designed by guides, and I want to be a part of that knowledge base, both learning from the deep experience of the guides and athletes who make up the company, as well as contributing my own input into the development of the products and brand. It’s also really cool to have a huge and reputable company just a 10-minute drive from my home, with roots in the Northwest, which in my five years here I’ve really come to love.
What is the most distinctive aspect of the gear compared to what you’ve seen from other brands?
You can tell that the items in the First Ascent line are built for professionals in a variety of fields, from heli guides to mountain guides to researchers in icy climates. Each piece really shows that it was made with professionals in mind.
What is your favorite piece so far?
The Neoteric Shell is amazing. I’ll probably use it every day.
Do you feel a link to the Northwest roots of the brand?
Totally. Mount Rainier especially ties us all together in the Northwest. So many great American alpine guides and ski mountaineers cut their teeth on the Great One, and any gear that works in the gnarly terrain and inhospitable climates of the Cascades is approved for use anywhere.
Where does your “Flyin’ Hawaiian” nickname come from?
From Freeride World Tour announcer Frankie Alisuag. Years ago, I had no sponsors, no resort affiliation, nothing, so I listed my home mountain as “Mauna Kea, Hawaii,” since I spent some years there as a young lad. He picked up on that, and the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” nickname has followed me around since.
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