Meet Drew Tabke. As the last USA rider standing, he currently ranks 12th in the Swatch Freeride World Tour. In both 2011 and 2013 he took home the tour's #1 ranking, in addition to a first place finish at Chamonix in 2013. Tabke demonstrates true passion for the sport while balancing a life in the city. We caught up and spoke to the ever changing world of competing.
Where did you grow up skiing, and how has that shaped the skier you’ve become?
Park City, Utah, then moved to skiing Snowbird/Alta more when I was in high school, and full time up there in college at the University of Utah. Basically growing up in PC makes you spoiled as fuck. I was there before the big growth in their terrain parks, we were just skiing the whole mountain, riding pow, hitting kickers in the forest. It was a three minute drive from school to the chairlifts, so being from there makes skiing part of your day-in day-out life. It’s amazing. Park City did start to have their olympic superpipe the last few years I was there and I'd spend most afternoon sessioning there with the guys I skateboarded with. I never got to a high level of technical tricks in the pipe but loved simple big airs, flips and grabs. I think pipe makes a sick foundation for any type of skiing you want to do.
I was told you reside in Seattle where you’re engaged to a professional ballerina, do you find it helpful to be able to step out of the skiing scene every once in awhile?
Most definitely. I can see both sides, I mean sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had moved to Nelson or Golden, got a snowmobile, and shacked up with a skier chick and just gone all-in on the ski lifestyle. But my city-mountain lifestyle and my relationship with my fiancé works out really well for me. It helps me maintain perspective on the fact that climbing and skiing is a thing that society looks at as basically near-insane. I think you need to see both sides of the coin to fully appreciate what we get to do, which is a point of view that says, "look, we aren't interested in the 9 - to - 5 office job and retirement plan we are expected to have. We want to pursue this other pathway to personal fulfillment, which may not make sense on the metric that society generally uses to determine success. But to us dedication to sport, interaction with nature, and shared experiences are what we value most."
Where in the world would you be if you never got serious about skiing?
I've been asked this before, I've thought about it, and I have no idea what else could have been. I was born skiing. The clichéd answer is probably living a similar lifestyle around surfing, but even that is hard to fathom. I just feel at home around skiing.
FWT Snowbird 2014 // David Carlier photo.
What else do you do when you’re not skiing?
Climb mountains. Surf. Write. Work in ski shops as a bootfitter. Ski guide. I've done about 10 summers in Chile traveling, guiding, skiing so I've been doing close to the endless winter thing for nearly a decade.
How have freeride competitions changed since you began participating?
They have changed so much since my first events ten years ago it is virtually a different sport. At the start we had a three day window to run two full days of competition with like 150 people. We'd run rain or shine, fog or snow, ice or powder. Onsite inspection meant that even if there was pow after the 100+ people went down the thing a few times it was pretty much guaranteed to be moguls or at the least crud. Maybe pictures and video would be uploaded sometime, maybe not. Now its like a 10 day waiting period for one run with 30-some competitors, visual-only inspection, ABS bags required, a cineflex filming the whole damn thing, live-steaming to audiences of nearly 200,000. Its been insane to watch the growth.
What’s the most frustrating part of competing? Most rewarding?
Traveling around the world for just one run is tough. I've been arguing that we need an updated format to allow us multiple runs. I also disagree with selecting venues that are generally pretty similar - its almost always big steep rocky faces. I would prefer a more in-bounds style venue like at Snowbird, a huge rocky face in the Alps, a spine wall in AK, a pillow area in BC, just more varied terrain cause that's what all of us ski. The most rewarding is when it all comes together, which is crazy uncommon but for that reason feels amazing. Good snow, nice venue, good light, feeling healthy and strong, pick a good line and ski it how you imagine. Crossing the finish line on a day like that is pretty magical.
How do you mitigate fear- is that something you have to deal with a lot during competition runs?
Not me really. Maybe other athletes could speak to this better, some people definitely step up to some fall-you-die shit and you'll see them freaking out at the top. That just isn't my style. Doing this sport I've seen too many people die and I've seen too many people go to the hospital in the heli. I don't have any illusions that you can be 100% safe, but in general I try to pick runs based on quality snow, fun airs with steep landings, and generally avoid stuff with no-fall zones and big exposure. Skiing should be fun and doesn't have to be death-defying, and I try to show that with my skiing.
DT: I'd like to end by thanking everyone who skis, whether your'e a pro rider, a weekend Jerry or upper management at Vail. Skiing is a frivolous, ridiculous and massively wasteful way to spend time and money. But as long as we all keep doing it together, the dream can continue.