Pro snowboarder Michael Mawn debuts on Freeride World Tour in Andorra
Former Breckenridge resident next headed to Fieberbrunn, Austria
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Mawn’s place at this week’s competition.
It was while resting in a hotel room — cozy confines barely long enough to fit his snowboard bag — that Michael Mawn thought all the paperwork and hoops he’d jumped through to compete in the Freeride World Tour might be for naught.
Mawn nursed a sickness in Andorra after starting to feel ill during a flight to Spain. It was a deflating feeling for a few days as Mawn had done everything required to travel during the pandemic to compete in Europe, including proving to transit officials at airports that he had completed all the forms necessary to travel.
Though he was sick to the point he couldn’t get out of bed, Mawn tested negative for COVID-19 several times. Once he recovered — and after 11 negative tests — Mawn came out of quarantine to the realization that he would indeed fulfill his dream of dropping into the Freeride World Tour for the first time.
“I’ve had to commit a whole season to getting over here,” Mawn said. “That being said, with all of the restrictions everyone in the world is facing right now, I’m very thankful to have the opportunity.”
Mawn, a Montana State student who used to live in Breckenridge, finished in fifth place at his first Freeride World Tour competition at Ordino-Arcalis in Andorra last week. Then this week, on the same 1,000-foot menacing, mountainous face, Mawn finished in fourth place to put the tour rookie in sixth overall among snowboard men heading into the March 6-12 stop at Fieberbrunn in Austria. The positioning means Mawn is effectively on the bubble to qualify through to the tour’s final stop at Xtreme Verbier in Switzerland March 20-28 — and qualify for next year’s tour — as the top five riders after Fieberbrunn will book tickets to Verbier.
Mawn was proud of each of his runs in Andorra on a slope that averaged 45 degrees but was much steeper in certain spots. Namely, Mawn thought his run Wednesday, Feb. 24, was the better of his drop-ins in a contest format where riders get only one run and don’t have the chance for any warmup. On that one-and-only run Wednesday, Mawn aired off a cliff into a narrow chute where he had to make an exact right turn to avoid consequential terrain surrounding the chute.
What made the riding Wednesday more difficult was quickly assessing during the run whether his pre-race scouting of the snow was correct. At an event like the Freeride World Tour, though athletes can’t ride a line before sending it in competition, event officials do help riders by sharing a high-definition photo of the face. From there, riders can dutifully analyze their line and get an idea of what the riding and snow might be like. Riders and skiers also are able to view the face through binoculars from the bottom of the course with their own eyes.
But actually riding such tricky snow is a lot different than pointing at it on a picture. And after a Saharan sandstorm rolled into Andorra — a mountainous country wedged between Spain and France — and made the snow that much more unpredictable to assess, the fate of Mawn’s performance was left to his ability to read and react in real time while hurtling down the first 200 feet of the course before airing into the couloir.
The former Team Summit halfpipe rider takes pride in being a rider who excels in difficult snow conditions. And he makes it a point to visualize his run hundreds of times before actually dropping in for the real thing.
“It was just what I expected,” Mawn said. “It was hard-pack — almost a little bit of ice in the chute that turned into crusty powder on the run-out.
“Just these two competitions were a huge mental game for me,” Mawn added. “The riders I’m with are incredible, and there’s a lot to learn from out there. And I take away that I do deserve to be here. I’m very happy with the way I rode.”
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