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So, what was it like being a judge of the Freeride World Tour? - James Cove, Tignes.
Thursday March 12, 2009 - Email this article to a friend

Fun, interesting, difficult, flattering and a deep responsibility all rolled into one. It was quite an experience.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been invited to be on a media judging panel.  I’m the only British journalist asked so I better not mess up.

It didn’t get off to a very good start.

I was supposed to meet at the bottom of a lift in Val Claret in Tignes at 8, but I was staying in Tignes Le Lac just a short 5-minute bus ride away.

The only trouble it the buses weren’t running regularly and it’s a 20-minute walk.  It looked like I was going to be late. 

Not a good start.

The face of the Grande BalmeThe face of the Grande BalmeI set off at a brisk pace and as quad bike passed stuck my thumb out. He screeched to a halt and on I jumped with skis and poles held by one hand over my shoulder, while the other hung on for dear life.

I think I made a good entrance for a freeride judge, as character and individuality count in this competition.

As you may have read in a previous story, choosing the winner is not an exact science.

It’s not like ski racing where the fastest person wins. This is far more subjective as it is about impression and feeling.  There are no rules to follow or gates to ski down, but rather a big mountain face to be ridden down in any way the rider fancies.

Head judge and trainee judgeHead judge and trainee judge“Right, I’m the head judge and anything I say goes,” said the legendary skier, Glen Plake, who was there to make sure we knew what we were doing. With that he burst out laughing and told us to chill out. ”We’re here to have some fun so lets see if these bastards can entertain us”.

It was a good way to look at it for at the end of the day free riding is a spectacle.

As soon as you stop being in awe of them as they come down a slope that most mountain goats would never dream of attempting then it helps.  We looked for the balance, how fluid they were, what line they took, how fast they went and above all else if it looked good. 

You just knew when someone did a good cliff jump as it made you gasp. “Trust your feelings,” I kept telling myself.

The more difficult task was judging the middle ranking person.

If someone fell or avoided all the drops you knew where they were.   If a rider did a big cliff jump and the crowd spontaneously burst out cheering then you knew they had done well.

Glen though was on hand to help and steer us in the right direction.

Deep in concentrationDeep in concentration“You need to see if they are positive, if they seem to know where they are going and if they look determined and in control,” he advised us. “You also need to take into account the changing snow conditions as more and more rider come down as some of the traverse had snow onto begin with but now they are just bare rocks.”

At the end of the day we were in almost total agreement with the real judges. The experts.

It had been a fascinating experience to get involved and to really have to concentrate on the event.

In short to see the event through the eyes of the riders and to try to get inside their heads as they were coming down and work out why they did what they did and what feelings they must be experiencing.

It was one of the most interesting days I have had in the mountains this winter, and there’s been a few of them.

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