HOMER — When Davey Baird was a kid growing up here, he caught the snowboard bug. Never mind that Homer is not exactly a ski or snowboard town, and options were limited to the 260-foot-high Homer Rope Tow and whatever hills he could get his father to pull him to on the family's snowmachine.
But Baird, whose older brother introduced him to the sport, persevered. He describes his early boarding years as fantastic.
"There were a few ravines my dad and I would go to and he would tow me behind him on the snowmachine," Baird said. "Those were the awesomest childhood snowboarding experiences."
The passion has paid off. Baird, now 23, recently earned a spot on the Swatch Freeride World Tour, a series of backcountry events spanning the globe. There are some 50 competitors selected through qualifying events, which Baird competed in the last two years.
A fundraiser will be 5-8 p.m. Nov. 12 at Alice's Champagne Palace to help Baird pay travel expenses, which are not covered by the competition. He'll need airfare to France, Austria and Switzerland. A Go-Fund-Me site has also been set up to help defer costs, which Baird estimates may run upward of $10,000.
Baird was a natural on snow from childhood, his mother Carla recalled. He was 5 when he first took a ski lesson at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, and it was obviously his thing, she said.
"He shot down that mountain so fast, we were way behind," she said.
Years of snowboarding in the Homer hills followed, with occasional trips to Girdwood. When Baird graduated from high school a semester early, he immediately moved to Girdwood to be near the slope. He tried heli-skiing too, and considered becoming a guide, but he quickly ruled it out as too much responsibility and risk, Carla Baird said.
"He's not a fearless person," she said.
But that's not to say her son doesn't take risks. Snowboarding in the backcountry is inherently risky because of the number of variables — including weather and snow conditions. Still, Davey Baird said he gradually found himself spending more and more time snowboarding in Alaska, Canada and Utah while fishing and working construction during summers.
But Baird said he never really thought much about competing until he heard about the Freeride competitions.
"I found out about it through a friend," Baird said. "It's not on the main stage — there's not much media surrounding it — but it's definitely growing."
Last year, he got into his first competition and surprised many people by placing second in Red Mountain, British Columbia. As he continued to compete, he found himself typically among the top four finishers.
At the end of the qualifying competitions, Baird said he wasn't sure if he or another boarder had won a spot on the tour. He was fourth in his last competition and thought he was out of the running, but the next closest competitor was pretty sure he'd won the spot. He wouldn't know for sure for a month.
"I was in shock for a while," he said.
Baird said competing is very different than riding on your own. You spend days scoping out your line, because the lines you choose earn you points.
"It's a lot more pressure," he said. "Your heart's beating, and you prepare so hard for this one moment."
But unlike more-popular resort competitions, the Freeride World Tour locations are remote with few spectators.
"It's a very different vibe," he said. "There's not that super high-end competitive factor where everyone is training 300-plus days a year. This is what people love to do — the ones that are good at it."
Baird said he doesn't know how far he will make it in the Freeride World Tour, which starts in France at Chamonix Mont-Blanc on Jan. 28 and continues to Vallnord, between France and Spain, in February. A March event will be held in Fieberbrunn, Austria, after which the first cut will be made. If he makes it through that, he returns to Alaska on March 18 for a competition in Haines before the final cut and a return trip to Europe to snowboard on Swittzerand's Verbier Mountain in the final competition.
Regardless of how far he goes, Baird said he is excited to see more of the world, compete in extraordinary locations and make friends worldwide.
He says the outpouring of support from the community as well as friends and family across the country has been humbling. He said while it's not normally his style to ask others to contribute, he realized people are enjoying the opportunity to participate.
"I've definitely got to figure out a way to give back to the community," he said.
More on the competition can be found at freerideworldtour.com.