In only two short seasons, The North Face Ski Challenge Tour has become known as the premier event for young European freeskiers. Now in its third year, the increasingly popular event will up the ante this winter with an expanded competition format, as well as new rules, prizes and qualifying destinations.

Launched during the 2006-2007 winter season, The North Face Ski Challenge grew last year to include a pan-European qualifying tour, concluding with event finals in Val Thorens, France.

Open to all European residents-both boys and girls-between the ages of 12-18, The North Face® Ski Challenge Tour is arguably the most important competition for younger skiers hoping to break into the circuit. The event promotes all mountain skiing, as each kid competes in both big-mountain freeride contests and slopestyle in the park.

This winter, The North Face® Ski Challenge tour will include five grassroots-style qualifying sessions in both freeride and freestyle ski categories, running from January through March 2009. A resort with a longstanding commitment to youth culture and sport, Val Thorens, in the Trois Vallees region of France, will again host the finals for The North Face® Ski Challenge, on March 27-29, 2009. The preliminary tour schedule is as follows:

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Jan 31-Feb 1, 2009
Ruka, Finland Feb 7-8, 2009
Âre, Sweden Feb 14-15, 2009
Chamonix, France Feb 28-Mar 1, 2009
Jasna, Slovakia Mar 7-8, 2009
Val Thorens, France Mar 27-29, 2009 *Final*

"Last year, we saw a huge response from kids who wanted to demonstrate their skills in good conditions," explains event creator, J.P. Baralo. "So, this year we're expanding the length of the qualifying events to an entire weekend each, to allow for variability in weather and snow conditions." The event finals in Val Thorens will also be expanded to a three-day competition, with the first compulsory day focusing on mountain safety and avalanche rescue.'' Says Baralo, "We have a responsibility to show the kids not only how to improve their skiing, but also how to improve their safety in the mountains."

In fact, to further stress snow safety, the 2008-2009 event series will now require all competitors to wear a helmet and back protector, and in the freeride events, to carry a backpack with a shovel, and avalanche probe. Avalanche beacons will be available for all competitors.

In order to help further the careers of Europe's most talented young freeskiers, the top three podium finishers in each category at the finals will be invited to stay in Val Thorens for an additional three days of filming and photography. "This way, they'll take home something concrete-a photo portfolio and video reel-with which they can bolster their skiing careers," offers Keith Byrne, strategic marketing manager for The North Face® EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).

Continuing from last year, the top freeskiing finisher in the 16-18-year old category at the Val Thorens finals will win two-year sponsorship contracts from The North® Face, Dynastar and Lange. And, all finalists will be rewarded with a slew of prizes and gear giveaways

To reach more young skiers from Eastern Europe, the event series has added a new destination for the 2008-2009 season: Jasna, the renowned Slovakian ski resort located in the lower Tatras Mountains. "We've always had great response from Czech and Slovak skiers, so it seems only fair to go meet the kids in their home turf," explains Byrne. "Jasna is centrally located and very popular, so we're hoping to make it easier for kids from all over Eastern Europe to participate in the event."

To apply, competitors will visit www.thenorthface.com/skichallenge to download a PDF application form in English, French, German, Finnish, Italian, Swedish, Czech, Slovakian and Polish. In addition to basic contact information and birth date, the application form asks competitors to include two identification photographs for event credentials. The application process comes at no cost to competitors, although all participants will be responsible for their own housing and ski pass, and must show proof of current skiing insurance coverage.

Competitors will have their parents or ski coaches sign the application form, and will bring their completed form to the event organizing team on each event site. Competitors may apply to participate in more than one qualifying event, and each event is limited to the first 75 skiers to apply.