With the later-than-usual start to the 2021 Freeride World Tour (FWT) season, Tom Peiffer admittedly has mixed feelings about taking off for Europe for a late-February start to the season.
It’s not so much to do with any hesitance to start his third season; rather, the extended time at home in Whistler has been a reminder of how good the best skiing of the year is here.
“Our [Whistler] season is off to a sweet start, so it’s just one of those things where everything is working out really well here,” he said. “I’ve felt really active and productive. It’s been nice to have another month here at home.
“It is a little bit difficult thinking about leaving home right now with the way our season’s going … but it’s part of the job.”
While there was never a doubt Peiffer would head over to Europe, calling competing on the FWT “a passion and a dream,” he acknowledged that there are some feelings of apprehension of participating during the pandemic.
“I’m sure once I’m there, I’ll never wanna leave,” he said. “Specifically, this year, with how complex everything is and how it’s not going to be the normal type of season over there.
“Everything feels a little more comfortable and normal here.”
Meanwhile, Cooper Bathgate is excited to join his former Whistler Freeride Club teammate on the world’s top tour in 2021. While this season, operating in a pandemic, is unprecedented, Bathgate said there are several intricacies that Peiffer will help with.
“It’s definitely nice having someone to bounce ideas off of,” he said. “He’s been every place we’re going before, so he knows the ins and outs of the best way to get there, places to go through, where we should stay.”
As for Bathgate’s aspirations in his freshman season, he also looks to Peiffer for inspiration.
“In his rookie season, he got third, so obviously, I’m trying to get second,” he said.
Even though there are a number of curveballs that competitors have faced and, potentially, more ahead, Bathgate said he’s treating the upcoming campaign like any other year.
Bahtgate, who’s living in Pemberton, is working fulltime until the start of February, then hitting the snow hard.
To this point, he’s still been able to go sled skiing in the backcountry in an attempt to discover terrain that will help him prepare for the season, especially with visual inspection, as FWT riders cannot preride the course like North American juniors can.
“I’m heading out in the backcountry to find stuff that is more similar to what a visual inspection competition would be because I’ve skied everything on the hills a bunch,” he said. “I’m just trying to explore new zones and feel it out.”
Peiffer, meanwhile, explained that his snowmobile was inactive for a few weeks, but he’s still been able to get into the backcountry on Blackcomb, Rainbow, Black Tusk and Garibaldi mountains.
“Every time I go out into the backcountry, I might know the area, but it’s still unfamiliar territory, which is why I’m trying to get out there a lot,” he said. “I’m trying to get out there a lot to get out of my comfort zone. I start to ski lines and do stuff that I don’t know how it will go.”
Peiffer has also been skiing in-bounds at Whistler Blackcomb, noting that while it helps to get his legs under him, that type of skiing doesn’t help with his “fear factor.”
The 2021 FWT campaign is set to start with a competition at Ordino-Arcalís, Andorra between Feb. 20 and 26, with the pair heading to Europe in mid-February.
As it stands now, there will only be one other competition at Fieberbrunn, Austria before the tour roster is cut before the final event at Verbier, Switzerland at the end of March, though if conditions allow, there could be two events at the Andorran and Austrian stops.
With little margin for failure, Peiffer said his approach will be to rein things in and ensure that he’s still part of the tour in 2022.
“As it stands now, we only have two competitions so you have to land both your runs. There’s not a lot of room for error and it’s going to be really interesting to see how this plays out, from a competitive standpoint, with skiing,” he said. “The tour likes us to push the sport and try new things and do big stuff, but consistency is also a massive asset as a competitor.
“I really want to be in the starting gate next season when we get a full tour back.”
Peiffer will be looking for a bit of a bounceback. After taking sixth overall in his rookie year, Peiffer slipped to 11th in 2020. Still, it was high enough to be asked back.
“To always re-qualify is a huge one,” he said. “I always try to aim for top 10, if not top five, in the overall rankings.”
With the tour skipping its Kicking Horse stop this year, requalifying for 2022 is a particularly key focus for Bathgate.
“The main focus of this year is qualifying for next year so I can compete in B.C.,” he said.
Both riders feel confident in the tour’s protocols and safety measures, as in addition to common requirements like wearing a mask and keeping physical distance, they’ve set up three bubbles: riders and camera operators; staff and local organizers; and sponsors and media.
They also appreciate that the FWT is covering such costs as hotel rooms for quarantine for athletes who are making the trip overseas.