BC skier Tom Peiffer hungry for more as new Freeride World Tour season kicks off
Last year, at the first stop of the Freeride World Tour in Japan, Whistler skier Tom Peiffer found himself on the top of the hill with those he’d grown up watching ski, TV production crews, crowds. He had arrived.
“I remember being up at the top of the venue and watching all the guys I looked up to as a kid dropping in and sending big backflips and tricks and just saying to myself you're here now. F--k it, just ski.”
And he did, landing on the podium in third place in his first-ever competition.
Freeriding is what some might call the purest form of skiing in a competition where the best top-to-bottom run wins, no set course, no clock. At the Freeride World Tour level, the best freeride skiers in the world compete in five events to determine the world champion.
The tour, which has been running since 2008, kicks off again this year in Hakuba, Japan on Jan. 18-25 before returning to Golden, B.C., Feb. 6-12. The finals are in Verbier, which happens to be Peiffer’s favourite stop on the tour.
“The whole town transforms into a party, it's definitely pretty epic,” he says. “And for the regular comps though I would say Fieberbrunn, Austria. They set up a huge viewing area and a jumbotron, Red Bull sponsors that event so they kit it out. The after-party is a blast.”
Peiffer finished his rookie season in sixth overall. Now, entering his second year on the tour, he is hungry for more.
“I'm feeling strong on the skis for what the season has been here,” Peiffer says, alluding the inconsistent snow at Whistler this year. “I'm excited to get back to Japan and get back into the competition scene. Just gonna try my best and have fun this year.”
When Peiffer was just 13 years old, he began competing at the junior level in big mountain competitions. One result led to another, and soon the young shredder was 19 and doing the North American Freeride World Qualifiers.
“Those were some of the most fun competitions, but also really gnarly,” Peiffer says. “In my second year on the Qualifiers, I was fortunate enough to walk away with the top spot on the overall podium and a ticket to the Freeride World Tour.”
But, it was a long and winding road to get to that point.
His first introduction to skiing was watching his father, who was a doctor on the Snowbird ski patrol while the family was living in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It is definitely in the family,” Peiffer says. “I started skiing when I was two and just kept going from there. I initially started in racing and when I was 10.”
After a move to Switzerland, Peiffer continued racing and then hit a wall.
“I clearly remember the day in Switzerland when I had enough of racing. It was bluebird pow day, there was at least 30 to 40cm of fresh snow,” he says. “I thought to myself, surely we aren't going to do gate training today. And sure enough, our coaches, both who were extremely intense and driven as well as ex-world champions, told us to start slipping the course. I was just so astonished and frustrated, and since that day I didn't want to race.”
And the search for fresh powder was on, which eventually led to the freeride scene as the family relocated to West Vancouver, British Columbia. Emphasis on the word free.
“I think having the freedom to choose what you want to ski, how you want to ski and when you want to ski it,” Peiffer says. “There is still a huge component of technical skiing involved in freeride that is often overlooked so I also get to build that aspect of my skiing as well as tricks, and cliffs and speed. Freeride is a bit of everything, it's not just one flavour.”
Peiffer and his twin brother Liam, who also competed on the World Freeride Tour last year, entered into the Whistler Freeride Club. At the time, there were only 15 or 20 kids, but the program, founded by Derek Foose, has grown exponentially and numbers are generally around a hundred.
“The club focuses on building the parts of skiing that are essential to freeride, as well as working on freeride skiing,” Peiffer says. “There are kids who come from racing, moguls, freestyle, and kids who weren't interested in any of that.”
For Peiffer, what continues to appeal about the freeride scene is the sense of community, especially evident at the competitions.
“Everyone is having a great time, and everybody is so genuine and passionate about the sport. I personally enjoy that pressure or that edge that you feel when you're in the start gate. It's hard to put a precise definition on it,” he says. “And then the feeling of freedom, yet uncertainty you feel in your run, and then when you come into the finish corral it’s all smiles, support and hugs no matter what and that weight just gets lifted off your shoulders.”
Currently, Peiffer lists Austria, Revelstoke and Kicking Horse as his favourite spots to ski. When he’s not skiing, training or in school, he likes to play rugby.
But as of now, with the first event in the Freeride World Tour this weekend, it’s all about the season.
“I am definitely looking to walk away in the top five overall,” he says. “I also want to stay in the top 10 at every comp, and hopefully, stand on the podium at the comps. I mean, everyone's goal is to walk away with the crown at the end of the season so that is given for me as well.”
Check out the season preview trailer for the Freeride World Tour below, and check out their YouTube channel to watch the competition.