BANFF – Michelle Locke is on the road to redemption.
Last year, the Banff freestyle snowboarder qualified for the 2020 Freeride World Tour, which begins later this month in Japan.
It is the second time the 41-year-old has reached the highest level of competition for her sport to snowboard down some of the most challenging mountainous terrain in world – and she is focused on making it through to the finals.
"Every time I have started an event since I fell off the tour, I have treated it like it was a world tour event because I had that experience and that has helped propel me to where I am now," Locke said.
"I want to ride those faces and do better – I want redemption.
"I got so close that I could taste it and I have to get back, but it has taken me four years to get back, which is a long time especially at my age."
The Freeride World Tour includes men's and women's competitors in both skiing and snowboarding on some of the most technical and steep terrain available at ski resorts around the world. After the first four stops on the tour, however, only the top three competitors for women's snowboarding continue onto the final competition to ride Le Bec Des Rosses face at Verbier in Switzerland.
"You have to kind of prove yourself that you are able to send it before that event," Locke said.
The first stop on the tour is at Hakuba in Japan and runs from Jan. 18-25. The competition requires a window of time for organizers to ensure they are able to put on the event successfully, safely and broadcast it around the world.
In February, the tour comes to B.C.'s Kicking Horse Resort and then heads to Ordino Arcalís Andorra in Spain. In March, the tour continues to Fierberbrunn Austria and if Locke qualifies in the top three, she will continue to the final stop in Verbier.
Being able to compete as the only Canadian female snowboarder at home is something Locke is looking forward to. Kicking Horse has been a staple on the tour since 2016.
"It is the first time I will represent my own country on the world tour in Canada and that is kind of a big deal for me," she said.
She has been training to prepare by focusing on her physical fitness, visualization and studying videos from past events.
"It is easy to see other styles of riding, where they excel and where I can excel and make it different," Locke said. "The judges do not want to see the same style, they want originality.
"Coming from the Rockies, we definitely have a different style of riding here. It is steep, it is rocky and it is difficult terrain, which you don't always find at other resorts."
Locke is up against five of the world's best in her sport on the tour, including France's Marion Haerty, the U.S.'s Erika Vikander and Australia's Michaela Davis-Meehan. She said while they have more of a freestyle approach, her style if more of a big mountain fast and down approach.
"I like the ice and rocks and the steep [terrain]," she said. "That will be where I excel and set myself apart from the other competitors."
In 2015, Locke was the first female Canadian snowboarder to qualify for the Freeride World Tour, and while she did not make it past the fourth stop on the tour to the final competition in France, she is focused on achieving that result in 2020.
Competitors are judged on their runs for the line they chose to take on the mountain face, their style, the fluidity of their run and speed.
"When I do a run, I lineup five features I want to do," she said. "If I do them all and do them better than I intended, I feel great – that is the best feeling in the world.
"It is a big mental game, knowing what you are capable of and what you are willing to do.
"As a freerider [on the world tour] you get to go to the world's best [ski resorts] and you get to ride these massive faces you probably would never ride ... it is like Disneyland and it is hard to walk away from if you have the opportunity to go."
The hardest part, she said, has been fundraising to support her efforts – as athletes have to cover their travel costs, the cost of accommodation and meals while not in competition between venues and she has to take time from work at the Keg in Banff to make it all happen.
"The biggest challenge for me definitely is the money aspect," she said.
A fundraiser is planned to support Locke's Freeride World Tour next Wednesday (Jan. 8) at the Banff Rose and Crown 7:30-11:30 p.m. The event includes silent auction, a 50/50 draw and live music.
"It is a comeback for me, but it is a send off too – it would be amazing to see everyone's faces there," Locke said.
For more information about the event, or to contribute, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-762-1074. You can also follow her on Instagram @michellelockesnow.