Athlete of the Week: Palmer skier latest Alaskan to qualify for Freeride World Tour

Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 1:34 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Leif Mumma of Palmer is the latest Alaskan skier to qualify for the Freeride World Tour, a yearly competition among the world’s best backcountry skiers and snowboarders.

Mumma, a 21-year-old Palmer High School graduate studying snow science at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, took a lighter course load this semester to compete in more Freeride World Qualifier events — and it paid off. Mumma entered his first skiing competition at 12 years old and won his first Freeride Junior Tour event in 2016, and has remained among the top amateur skiers in the country since then.

“There’s not much better feelings in skiing pow and flying through the air,” Mumma said in an interview.

Mumma qualified fourth in this year’s Freeride World Qualifier, realizing a lifelong dream of earning the right to compete with the best skiers in the world on some of the most challenging mountain faces. Mumma grew up skiing at in Hatcher Pass and around Girdwood as much as he could.

“I grew up skiing at Alyeska and would travel around in the winters and go compete in freeride competitions out of the truck with my dad living out of the truck,” Mumma said.

Mumma credits his coaches and teammates on the Alyeska Freeride Team for pushing him to hone his craft. Mumma’s style is not technical, slow or methodical, but instead a mad dash down the mountain as fast as his skis will take him, catching as much air as possible along the way.

“The more I’ve competed, the more I realized that in the competitions, I have a lot more fun and end up doing a lot better when I just ski line that I can ski as fast as possible and go as big as possible, rather than trying to find smaller things to do tricks off of and stuff,” Mumma said. “... I still love doing stunts here and there, for sure. But, in the comps, I really enjoy airing as big as I can basically and skiing as fast as I can.”

Though Mumma is the latest Alaskan to make it onto the world’s biggest stage for backcountry skiers and snowboarders, he is not the only Alaskan to have success on the Freeride World Tour. Homer resident Davey Baird, 28, competed between 2017-2020 on the Freeride World Tour in snowboarding — placing on the podium three years in a row and winning several tour stops.

“The Freeride World Tour and these big mountain competitions, they do not happen on groomed runs, which is a big sort of change from any person that watches the X Games or the Olympics,” Baird said in an interview. “You know, this is something that’s completely different. You’re in these big, wide open wild mountains, and you just have to feel the mountain and feel the snow and it’s different every day.”

Riders are divided up into four categories of men and women who ski and snowboard and are judged on their technique, control, fluidity, jumps and the difficulty of their line on a 0-100 point system. The host mountain staff test the face extensively for avalanche danger and address safety with the riders. Competitions are often delayed or canceled due to poor snowpack or inclement weather. Skiers and snowboarders then are given just a start gate, finish corral and the opportunity to create whatever they like on the way down the mountain.

“When you stomp a run, it is absolutely insane, the feeling, and then coming into the finish corral,” Baird said. “You know, a lot of times people are whooping and hollering and it’s a really good vibe down there at the finish line ... It’s ecstasy. It’s like, pure relief mixed with just like absolute, as happy as you can be.”

While Baird is not planning a return to competitive snowboarding, he remains active in the community at the Homer Rope Tow and skiing in the mountains across Kachemak Bay from Homer. Baird is excited to watch Mumma compete on tour, and perhaps more excited for the snow safety knowledge he will be able to share with those who share slopes with young skiers.

“The knowledge that he’s gathering, that’s going to be able to be used by so many other people to stay safe in the backcountry,” Baird said. “That’s such a big thing. You know, we’re seeing a lot heavier usage of backcountry areas, and along with that comes, you know, the danger of avalanches and crevasses and you know, it depends on where you are, but there’s a lot of dangers out there that can get you.”

Mumma picked up a sponsorship from Icelantic Skis, and like Baird, fishes commercially in the summer months. Before Leif Mumma competed in freeride competitions, his older sister Britt Mumma competed in ski races. His frequent partner in the backcountry, Mumma said that one of the first things he did once he learned he had qualified for the Freeride World Tour was to call his father and share the news.

“He was probably even more excited than I was,” Mumma said.

Mumma hopes to finish his degree and become a ski guide, or do anything that keeps skis and snow underneath his feet.

“I really want to go, just be able to ski some lines that I’m super stoked on and super proud of, and stomp them,” Mumma said. “I really want to make the cut next year, and go ski the Bec (de Roses) in Verbier (Switzerland). I’ve always seen that face and that’s kind of the pinnacle of freeride skiing, so, that’s definitely my goal right now, go over there and and make the cut and just ski around with a bunch of pretty insane skiers and have a great time ... I feel super lucky to be able to go and compete on the World Tour next year and hopefully represent Alaska well.”

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