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Photos: Competitors hike Whistler Blackcomb's Spanky's Ladder for 2023 FWT Challenger

The first stop of the Freeride World Tour's Challenger Series drew 76 skiers and snowboarders to throw down their best runs in Diamond Bowl on March 14

If you were shredding in Blackcomb's Spanky's Ladder zone Tuesday, it was your lucky day. 

Whistler Blackcomb welcomed the Freeride World Tour's (FWT) Challenger Series to its slopes for the first time on March 14, drawing nearly 80 talented skiers and snowboarders to throw down their best runs and put on a high-stakes show in Diamond Bowl.

The resort has hosted Freeride World Tour Qualifiers (FWQ) and International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association-sanctioned contests on several occasions, but Tuesday marked Whistler's inaugural Challenger event. It is the final step of the qualification path, or "pyramid," to the pinnacle FWT, a global circuit that brings the world's best big mountain skiers and snowboarders together to compete on some of Earth's most challenging and renowned alpine terrain.  

The FWQ, on the other hand, aims to foster up-and-coming talent through its 60 events, allowing riders to accumulate points based on the status of the qualifiers they compete in. (Contests are categorized from one to four stars.) The invite-only FWT Challenger Series summons the top-ranked FWQ athletes to compete against current FWT riders who didn't make the cut for FWT finals. The Challenger results are then used to name a total of 18 athletes who earn a spot alongside finalists on next season's FWT roster.

Whistler Blackcomb's 2023 Challenger contest was initially slated to run on Sunday, before being pushed to Tuesday due to weather conditions. 

On March 14, Canadian Erin Sauve emerged victorious in the women's snowboard event, while American snowboarder Tavo Sadeg won the men's division. U.S.A.'s Lydia Nelson landed on top of the women's ski podium, while Whistler local Jackson Bathgate out-skied 30 competitors to win the men's contest on home turf. 

Fellow Whistler Freeride Club (WFC) skier Tom Peiffer stomped his way to fourth, while Whistler's Wei Tien Ho finished sixth and Bathgate's twin brother Cooper scored 12th. Vancouverite Olivia McNeill, also a product of the WFC, earned a spot on the women's ski podium with her third-place result. McNeill made history last season when she finished the FWT season ranked third, making her the first Canadian woman to ever land on the FWT overall podium.

Next up, Whistler Blackcomb will host its National Junior Freeride Challenge over several days this week, before welcoming athletes back for a FWQ 2* event on March 21. 

Hit play on the video below to catch up on the action from Tuesday.