Vail trio makes World Freeride Tour | VailDaily.com

Vail trio makes World Freeride Tour

Nichols brothers, Blake Moller make the big show

Local big-mountain skier Kevin Nichols qualifies for the Freeride World Tour after winning two races this season and finishing second in a third.
Special to the Daily

Oh, brother.

Vail is making waves on the Freeride World Tour with a pair of brothers. On the skiing side, Kevin, 20, and Jack, 22, Nichols finished first and third, respectively, on the Freeride World Qualifying Tour, which ended last weekend in Kirkwood, California.

Those top three season finishes qualify the Nichols brothers for next year’s world tour. Meanwhile, Vail’s Blake Moller won the snowboarding Freeride World Qualifying Tour event in Kirkwood to clinch the season title and the bid for the Freeride World Tour next season as well.

Moller’s brother, Grifen, who was on the big circuit this year, had a tough season and will drop back to the Freeride World Qualifying circuit next winter.

But still having three from Vail, which is considered a little bit wimpy for big-mountain skiing — please don’t shoot the messenger — is quite the accomplishment.

The sport

The reason Vail isn’t considered big-mountain county is that on the Freeride World Tour, there are no trails. That’s the whole point. At its highest level — read not in the United States; we’ll explain shortly — skiers or snowboarders get a look from the bottom at an untamed mountain face, have to determine their line and whatever features on said face they will tackle and they get one shot.

A judged sport, skiers or snowboarders get points for taking the more difficult line — say going down a steeper grade than a gully — bigger jumps off features — a nice word for cliffs or drops — and tricks like grabs, flips, iron crosses or combinations.

This is not for the faint of heart, but the Nichols and Moller brothers have found a place for themselves.

The Nichols boys grew up on Vail Mountain chasing after their oldest brother Christian, 25. Jack and Kevin were in Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. They bounced around from traditional programs like Alpine and freestyle moguls, but once they ran into the club’s freeriding coach Garrett Scahill, they found home.

“I think it’s mostly that you can do what you want,” Jack said. “You can look at a (mountain) face, and we find different styles to get down, as opposed to doing the same old thing.”

It’s a natural thing, says Kevin.

“I sit at the bottom of a face, and see what looks like fun” he said. “Some people think of it like puzzle pieces. The cool thing is that it’s creative and can get super funky.”

The Freeride World Tour is not for the faint of heart, but local athlete Jack Nichols doesn’t appear to be too intimidated by tough terrain.
Special to the Daily

And, yes, like any big-mountain skier, both have has their “Oh, fudge,” for lack of a better family newspaper phrase, moments. Growing up with Ryan Wachendorfer and Windham Miller, both snowboarders, they grew up in action sports, pushed each other and have had yard sales.

“It’s no big deal,” Kevin said. “It’s part of it. We’ve had our fair share of injuries. It’s just too fun. I know that sounds kind of weird, but that’s just kind of us.”

Climbing the ladder

Going to the qualifying tour to the Freeride World Tour is like going from NorAm to World Cup in Alpine, except there just aren’t as many spots. On the snowboarding side, Blake Moller had no margin for error.

Only the top point winner all season got an invite. Moller had to compete in 13 different events throughout Region 2, aka North and South America. He clinched last weekend by winning his third comp of the season in Kirkwood. He also won at Revelstoke (in British Columbia) as well as in Taos, New Mexico.

The Nichols brothers had a little breathing room. There were three spots for racers from two continents.

Kevin had locked up his spot, by winning at Crested Butte, Taos and a second-place finish at Revelstoke. Jack, however was on the bubble going into Kirkwood for the third and final spot.

Kevin said he was more nervous than if he were skiing watching his brother. Jack, meanwhile just wasn’t sure where he stood with the mass of permutations depending on his and other racers’ finishes.

“I landed a run, but I had a bobble and I wasn’t sure,” Jack said of the final comp last weekend in California. “It was pretty tight and I was expecting the worst. I didn’t think I was third.”

He was, and both brothers, who spend the winter in Bozeman, Montana, are stoked that they’re going to the big show together.

“Oh my god, it’s so perfect,” Kevin said. “It’s an ideal situation. I ski with him every day. We trust each other and push each other everyday.”

The tour

The Freeride World Tour has only 58 spots for skiing. The tentative 2020 schedule has racers going to Japan, Canada, Austria and Andorra with only the elite making the finals in Verbier, Switzerland.

One notes that there are no events in the United States. That’s primarily because liability laws and insurance don’t allow it. At the Freeride World Tour level, only inspection from the bottom of the mountain face is allowed before the racing starts.

The Nichols brothers and Moller will have to get used to competing without an inspection run to which they are used in competitions here in the states.

Yet there is no place these two would rather be.

“We’re not making tons of money doing this,” said Kevin — the next order of business for the brothers is finding jobs to finance next winter. “It’s a cool way to see the world, meet cool people, have a good time and ski.”