Lying flat in his Toyota 4Runner, Davey Baird could see his breath as the morning light peeked over the Rocky Mountains before the start of the Kicking Horse stop of the Freeride World Tour qualifying series four years ago. The cold, lonesome wind blew all night against the car, piling snow high on the tires. His wet gear was ridden hard and put away damp the night before–gloves, snow pants and coat hung near the rear door, stiff as boards.
It was time for the painful morning routine that comes with absolute commitment to a pursuit: he had to crawl out of his sleeping bag, start the car, warm up his gear and get ready for competition. Baird, who’s from Homer, Alaska and learned to snowboard in a gully next to his family home, was working towards earning a spot on the FWT’s main draw, and this is what it took to qualify.
Fast-forward to this winter and Baird has stepped it up, big time. But he’s still living in his rig (more on that later). He’s made the “big boy tour.” But as with any smaller sport, he isn’t living in absolute luxury. Baird loves to ride big mountains and throw down gigantic tricks in pressure-packed situations. The Freeride World Tour is unlike any other sporting event in the world. Skiers and riders are given one chance to show their mettle during a competition, flying down impossibly steep, unfamiliar slopes hoping to capture magic in the eyes of judges.
But the prize money and free gear aren’t enough to sustain a living. Baird works at a lodge in his home state during the summers that specializes in wilderness adventures and travels in his homemade RV on tour each winter during the FWT’s North American stops. And he isn’t the only athlete who’s made the road home. Niki Kelly, an Edmonton, Alberta native who found her way to Golden, British Columbia as a freeride athlete, lives out of her van with her partner who’s also a snowboarder. They spent the entirety of last winter riding snow while living in their Dodge Sprinter with their dog as Niki qualified for the 2018-2019 tour.
“I guess we started downsizing about four years ago,” says Kelly. “We had a full house in Edmonton and we were like, ‘let’s sell it.’ We sold everything and moved to Golden because it was a great place to train (Edmonton’s a long haul from the mountains). We decided to do the van thing because it made sense logistically.”
In the summers, Niki’s partner, Mitchell Stagg (also a competitive snowboarder), works as an industrial mechanic on oil and gas rigs. They take the winters off together and go on tour, from North American events on the FWT to comps like Kings and Queens of Corbet’s at Jackson Hole. “It’s nice to be able to sleep in the same comfy bed every night,” she said. The van is fitted with a Webasto heater, which works off the main gas line, plus an extra propane heater that uses a generator. They cook with an induction cook top. It’s like a cabin on wheels.
Meanwhile, Baird, who travels and lives in his custom-built trailer with girlfriend Lindsey Seneff, has spent plenty of time pounding nails in the far north, building scaffolding in the oil fields. So building a camper trailer wasn’t a big deal. He used an old snowmobile trailer as the base.
“I just planned it in my head, made some drawings and such,” Baird said. “I bought the trailer as a flatbed in Canada when I bought my snow machine so I could tow that with my 4Runner. I stripped everything off it, had it all re-welded and put new electric brakes on it.” He then used insulation on top, plywood flooring and two-inch thick foam board for the walls before fiberglassing the whole thing. He inserted a diesel heater, cooking device and bed to create a cool little living space where he could actually compete in dry gear.
And he’s kind of killed it. Baird finished third on the Freeride World Tour last year and ended third in Japan in late January behind Gigi Rüf and Travis Rice in what was one of the best snowboarding comps in FWT history. Kelly spent last year qualifying, traveling to places like Revelstoke, Crystal Mountain, Wash., Crested Butte, Colo., New Mexico and Kirkwood, Calif., and is just getting her feet under her this year as a rookie on the main tour. But they’ve both got their living spaces dialed–half the battle when trying to compete, both on the slopes and against old man winter.