By Hadley Hammer

There were so many highs and lows during my first two competitions on the Freeride World Tour. Even weeks later, I find it difficult to digest everything that happened.

There are staggering differences between the qualifying tour and the “big show.” Some were expected – new competitors, visual inspections, etc. Others, such as having to put on chains on our rental car in the middle of the snowstorm to get to our 7th new hotel room, were not.

Only now, after three weeks on the road for the first two competitions, do I feel like I understand how to handle everything involved with competing on the Freeride World Tour, and skiing is just a small part.

The tour organizers do an incredible job managing the event for over 70 athletes as well as hundreds of sponsors, media, and fans. And an event it is. From huge contest villages, poster signings, live-feeds and interviews…there is a lot going on around the tour. Mountain life is ingrained in the European culture and as a result, there is more support for freeskiing events from both sponsors and fans. This translates into more demands on us competitors.

I had to learn how to balance the demands and expectations of the tour organizers with my athletic need to stay focused on the competition itself.  We athletes are still responsible for a good chunk of the logistics. Travel was on us…how we got to Europe and how we traveled to and between competitions. This meant finding rental cars, shuttles, trains, hotels, and even directions…all in a different languages.

The actual competition was a completely different experience. The qualifying tour events are held over three days with an on-slope inspection day,  semi-finals, and a final run. While it is a lot to concentrate for those three days, when it is over, it feels complete. You come into the finish line into the arms of the other competitors, creating a tremendous support group.

But on the Freeride World Tour, there is a slot of weather days, with a one-run competition held within that set weather window. We have a visual inspection, usually 1/4 mile from the venue face. and then wait anxiously for the email informing the athletes when we will ride.

Then, despite all the pomp and circumstance, after a quick 45 minute hike and a fast 2 minute run, it’s all over. Our competition run is the first and last time we will ski the face.

Scores are immediately given and you wait in front of a camera and the curious stares of your competitors to react to your score.  No hugs and cheers from other competitors. On this stage your a alone, on camera, awkwardly waiting for your score.

There are no second chances…one run, one day, then on to the next event. This was the most difficult emotional component of competing. After training all summer, working multiple jobs to afford the travel, skiing hard all fall and early winter, everything I’ve worked for is up after those two minutes. It’s surreal to put in so much care, effort and focus into one thing, and have it be over so quickly.

I received fourth place in my first competition, 25 points off a podium finish!  I was/am elated. Three years after quitting a desk job and reteaching myself how to ski, I was competing on the highest level of competition for big mountain skiing, and I was hanging in there with girls I’ve admired for years.

No one could wipe away the smile I had on my face at the finish line. But, then a few short hours later, new emotions emerged.

Part of me was disappointed. I couldn’t stop replaying in my mind the one falling leaf turn that kept me off the podium. I’m a perfectionist and I believe that’s part of the reason I am on the tour so early in my skiing career…I like to work at things till they feel great. But it’s also exhausting, being so hard on yourself, all the time.
Because of this, I didn’t bounce back in the next competition, just a few days later. I skied somewhat complacently and didn’t make adjustments from the previous competition. Coupled with having no inspection till the morning of and a less inspiring venue, I failed to learn and adjust.

My dad has been giving me advice since I first decided I wanted to compete. Recognizing that I would have a lot to learn, he tried to teach me about the importance of growth.

One does not plant a garden and then immediately harvest it, rather, there is a time for cultivation in between. Now that I’m home, and have had an incredible welcoming from friends and family, I’ve realized that I am in that period. This is all new, and while I truly do think that I can be at the top, it’s important for me to know that I’m learning and need to stay open to the learning process and enjoy the journey that competing has taken me on.

There are competitors on the tour that have competed upwards of 8 years, usually after quitting competitive ski racing. Even though I will continue to strive for the top (I don’t believe you’ll win if you’re aiming for second), I got to trust that taking time to enjoy and learn from the process will lead me to success.

Hadley is sponsored by Marmot, Line Skis, Smith Optics, GU and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as well as Mountain Athlete. She competes in just a few minutes today at the Freeride World Tour event at Snowbird.

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