© Ming Poon / Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Raid Goes Off in Tahoe
After a year off due to the pandemic, winners are crowned in a locals-centric, innovative uphill-downhill ski and snowboard contest.
Red Bull Raid 2021
Red Bull Raid—a unique ski and snowboard competition where the winners are determined by who is the fastest on an uphill touring portion of the event, combined with their score for a judged big-mountain line down—returned to the storied slopes of Squaw Valley, California, on April 2. It’s the only uphill-downhill freeride event of its kind in the US.
Winners of this year’s contest included skiers Trevor Semmens and Camille Conrad—both coaches at Squaw Valley—and splitboarders Garrett Cygan and Jenna Shlachter. “It’s such a cool format, balancing the up and the down,” said Cygan, the men’s snowboard winner. “Having that local crowd with good friendly competition, it was fun to see friends going big.”
The athletes ran off the starting line in two separate heats in a Le Mans-style mass start, toting backpacks, skis, and snowboards. At the transition area, they hastily applied skins to their skis and boards, clicked in, and began hurrying up a timed, designated route that climbed around 800 vertical feet from the finish area toward the top of Squaw Valley’s CII Ridge, off Headwall chair. The fastest athletes completed the ascent in under 20 minutes.
At the top, riders waited their turn to descend the cliff-strewn venue one at a time, while a panel of judges scored them on the difficulty of their line, control and fluidity, and style. “It’s not always the fastest person up who has the best run down. It’s a very well-rounded contest that incorporates inbounds riding with uphill touring, which we’ve never really seen before,” said Mike Laroche, head judge for Red Bull Raid. “This is a way to showcase Tahoe’s talent and their ability to be just as good of a downhill skier or rider as an uphill one.”
It’s also a way to highlight the big, bold lines that people are now climbing and riding on their own power. “People going ski touring and skiing big lines is a huge part of our sport right now,” said John Collinson, a Red Bull athlete and pro skier who competed in this year’s Red Bull Raid. “There are so many great skiers and riders out there who love ski touring and they’re wanting to ride bigger lines, so to move it to a contest format seems like a natural progression.”
Backcountry touring and uphill travel at resorts is gaining in popularity, though normally Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows does not allow uphill access. “This isn’t a mountain that allows uphill travel, so it’s a special chance to be able to go up and down right here,” said Jessica Lisagor, who placed second in the women’s ski division. “It’s amazing to be able to play in our backyard. The combination of uphill grit and downhill flow is a unique mix.”
Red Bull Raid was first held in 2019, off Squaw Valley’s Silverado lift, but the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 contest returned with COVID protocols in place and no spectators—as well as a new twist. The event was only open to athletes from the greater Lake Tahoe area, and admission was free. The idea was to celebrate and uplift the local community after what’s been a hard year for everyone. “We’ve all been pretty cooped up for the past year,” said Collinson. “It’s nice to get people somewhat together and get that sense of community back.”
The top three finishers in each division were awarded prize money as well as a donation to a local organization or business of the athlete’s choosing. This year’s top finishers selected businesses and non-profits that included the Tahoe area’s PlumpJack Café, High Fives Foundation, Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, and the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, and others.
Though it’s a competition, the vibe on the hill felt distinctly friendly and low key. “My favorite part of the day was just the vibes with everybody here together. It’s been a year since we’ve been able to do this,” said Jenna Shlachter, the women’s snowboard champion.
At the finish area, athletes watched and cheered for their fellow competitors. Among them was a 47-year-old splitboarder named Doug Olenic, a Tahoe City resident who was waiting for his heat and scouting the venue for his line of choice down. “I’ve never competed in a competition on snow before,” said Olenic, who ended up taking fourth in the men’s snowboard discipline. “Friends told me to sign up, so here I am. It seemed like a cool thing to do.”
Truckee-based filmmaker Bevan Waite was there, too, as the competition’s lone telemark skier. He’d just dropped a sizeable cliff at high speeds and garnered loud applause from his fellow competitors. “These are all of my friends who I ski with at Squaw, among others,” said Waite, who placed eighth in the men’s ski division. “I’m not here to win the uphill or the downhill. I’m here to have fun, see what my friends can ski, and put down our best lines.”