Big changes to the Freeride World Tour 2011 – for better or worse?

The organisers of the Freeride World Tour, into its 4th year, have recently announced some big changes for 2011. This blog is about how these changes might affect female ski and snowboard competitors. Previously, male and female competitors participated on the tour stops together, skiing or riding the same venues, with the exception of the finals in Verbier. For 2011, female competitions will be integrated within Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) events, with the final in Verbier as in previous years. The FWQ events, totalling 14 ski and snowboard events held mostly in Europe, were created to give the next generation of freeriders the opportunity to qualify for the FWT and compete with the world’s elite. So for next year, the women will be fighting it out for points in the FWQ events to decide the undisputed Freeride World Tour Champion. Should this really be seen as a step backwards for the women as the first online reactions of the female riders have shown?

Jackie Paaso clearing her winning air at the FWT10 stop in Squaw, USA

On the positive side, the level of women’s competition will increase due to the larger numbers of female competitors allowed to start at any one event. In the final at Verbier 2010, 23 male skiers competed compared to 7 female skiers. A larger female starting field will progress the sport. Furthermore, there will still be an undisputed female Freeride World Tour Champion at the end of the season, which apparently, is the whole point.

On the negative side, the women may yet again be marginalised at FWQ events as male competitors are given priority on a competition and media level.  There will likely also be financial implications for the women. Whereas competitors are payed to start at the FWT events, the FWQ events have no such financial support. If competitors can’t afford to do as many FWQ events as others, it puts them at a disadvantage (NB: the top 3 results of an unlimited amount of FWQ11 events will determine which riders are qualified for the finals in Verbier).

The role of the women in the Freeride World Tour previously has been insignificant. Media interest has primarily focussed on the men’s competitions. The highly expensive cineflexx camera for example, operated from a helicopter, was reserved for filming the men only at the FWT stop in Chamonix. Furthermore, the Eurosport 26 minute highlights of each FWT stop covered men’s competition only, never even mentioning that women were also competing. One must conclude therefore that the women, on a business level, don’t add any additional value to the FWT events so long as they are thrown in with the men. In this constellation, the men are the show, and it’s not doing the women any favours to have them tagging along.

The solution is a separate world tour for the women, such as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in women’s professional tennis or the ASP Women’s World Tour in professional surfing. Separating the women from the men allows the creation of an entirely new product which becomes attractive to a new group of sponsors wishing to advocate their women’s line or products. Such an event can be furthermore geared to women’s specific media. On a competition level, the venues and judging can be designed to progress women’s big mountain skiing and riding to the highest degree. It seems that FWT management is heading in the right direction. The organisers state that “female competitions will be featured (in 2011) within their own media showcase with on-line video features and a specific 26 minutes highlights show”.

Finally, I think it’s very important to appreciate what the FWT organisers have done so far for the sport in regards to making it more professional, especially in the eyes of the media. It’s by no means an easy job to do. The female competitors have worked hard to represent the sport well, and together we can make the FWT even better in future.

3rd Place at the NZ Freeski Open

The big mountain contest for the NZ Freeski Open was held today in the Motatapu Chutes at Treble Cone. Conditions turned out to be better than expected, with firm yet grippy snow. Shutting down after any bigger drop was very challenging today, so most skiers opted for more technical lines in steep and rocky terrain which is actually very suited to the chutes. I decided to ski the venue on my Kästle FX84 (84mm under the binding) which I usually use for groomers and firm snow conditions. I was able to come in third after a fast run with good technique. New Zealand Olympian Mitchey Greig came in 2nd with Janina Kuzma taking first place for the 6th time in a row. Yeah girls!

Womens podium NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain

The next contest in the NZ Freeride Series is the K2 Big Mountain Chill Series, a 2-star event from 25 to 29 August in Craigieburn and Mt. Olympus, followed by the Export Gold Extreme, a 3-star event in Mt. Ruapehu, which I will hopefully be starting at!

NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain On Tomorrow

The NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain comp, which has been on hold due to unfavourable snow conditions and bad weather, is being held in the Motatapu Chutes at Treble Cone tomorrow.

The snow conditions have improved since Monday, with a nice light layer of chalky snow last night and some softening at the top of the terrain. It is forecast to snow slightly more overnight which should hopefully top up the snow in there. Head judge Dion Newport reports that there are some wind drifts and pockets that should allow some good lines, however, difficult conditions will demand technical skiing. Competitors will only get one run to convince the judges.

Storm coming in over Wanaka this afternoon

New this year is that the winners of each catogory (mens and womens ski and snowboard) of the New Zealand Freeride Series receive a wildcard for the 2011 Freeride World Tour stop in Squaw, USA. Read more about how the points are calculated here on the Freeride World Tour website. This represents a huge chance for New Zealand and international riders alike to get a foot in the door to the renowned Freeride World Tour where starting places are offered to a select few riders around the world.

With the comp on hold, I’ve had extra time to treat my patella. My knee feels stronger today and if the conditions are ok, I’ll start at the comp tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Training and Playing in Wanaka, NZ

I decided to spend 2 months in Wanaka, New Zealand, again this year. I felt fantastic after 3 months training and competing here last year, and was skiing stronger than ever. There was a down-side though: after back-to-back winters of skiing and not enough time in the gym, I’ve started developing tendinitis in my patella on my operated knee. Wake up call! So it’s back to the gym to do some strengthening work. Luckily for me, I’m under the very competent care of Ginny Bush from Wanaka Physio, chief physiotherapist for New Zealand’s Winter Olympics team.

Strength training in the gym

Lots of strengthening work can be done outside the gym too

As a skier, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to train than Wanaka. Freeriding at Treble Cone ski resort, park skiing at Snow Park and Cardrona resort, mountains for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing, 2 fully equipped gyms, Wanaka skate park, olympic sized trampolines, Yoga, Pilates, you name it!

Hiking up Mt. Roy

It's never too late to learn something new!

After a week off skis, I was able to head up to Treble Cone again today on a perfect, blue-bird day. Conditions have improved after a substantial dump of fresh snow of 20cm on 7th August. Temps have been low since then so the snow is still dry. The knee is feeling good.

View from the Summit at Treble Cone. Notice Mt. Aspiring in the background, top right.

The New Zealand Freeski Open Big Mountain, which I’m prequalified for, is on 16th August. Other comps here include the K2 Big Mountain Chill Series and the Export 33 Extreme in Mt. Ruapehu. I’ve decided to compete if I’m feeling fit and strong enough, so stay tuned to see how I go!

New Partnership with KJUS

I’m proud to announce my new partnership with KJUS Skiwear (LK International AG) headquartered in Cham, Switzerland. KJUS is now my exclusive skiwear outfitter until at least 2012.

Silvia Huston, KJUS Sponsorship Manager, is happy about the partnership: “Lorraine is not just an outstanding freerider, she also has a positive attitude and a strong sense of professionalism. Lorraine will be able to help us develop our skiwear and we look forward to a successful partnership with her.”

I’m excited about working with the young and dynamic KJUS team in creating outstanding, freeride-oriented ski wear of the highest quality. Founded in 2000, KJUS now manufactures and sells worldwide in 32 countries. KJUS stands for uncompromising skiwear, which is characterized by linear design, perfect fit and optimum freedom of movement.

I’m travelling to Wanaka, New Zealand, next week to ski, train and compete for the next 2 months. Check back on my blog soon for some motivation and inspiration from the mountains!

Testing the new KJUS skiwear at Skeena Heliskiing, Canada. Pic: Peter Mathis

Season Wrap-up in Engadin

I love ending the season with some ski touring in beautiful weather. It is relaxing and reviving at once to be surrounded by snow covered mountains, sliding one foot ahead of the other, constantly uphill, on a pair of ski touring skis. Together with my sister Tamara, Jake and Anselm, who is in the middle of the Swiss mountain guide course, I took advantage of the sunny weather to go ski touring in the Engadin. Starting from the Diavolezza cable car, which takes you up to 2973m, we skied down to a gently rolling glacier at the base of the impressive Piz Palü (4048m).

Piz Palü (4048m)

The sun is relentless and I can’t remember ever feeling so hot while in the mountains as we cross the glacier, heading towards “Gamsfreiheit“. Arriving at a plateau, we decide to scramble up and down a rocky ridge. Anselm and Jake guide us on the short rope, good practice for the upcoming mountain guide to master undoubtedly the most tricky technique in mountain guiding.

My sister Tamara sampling Anselm’s already confident guiding techniques

The run over the Fortezza glacier, offering beautiful views of the Bianco Ridge, was awesome! Super fast snow. I laughed at myself that I still could get this excited about skiing after such a long and busy season.

Tams enjoying her last turns of the season

My plans now are to head to Australia for the Warren Miller film tour and get some surfing and sun in Bali in before heading back to Wanaka for a New Zealand winter season. I love skiing and training in Treble Cone, while still enjoying the snow-free valleys which offer trails around the beautiful Lake Wanaka, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing.

The Search for the Perfect Heliski Terrain at Skeena Heliskiing

Sometimes I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Imagine being invited to Canada for a week, together with some of your best friends, to help a heliski operator scout and ski previously untouched mountains in search for new heliskiing terrain. So it was that in April, I flew to Smithers, B.C. Canada, to join Giacum (Jake) Frei, owner, operator and head guide at Skeena Heliskiing, to scout the enormous heliski terrain in the Skeena Mountains, 2 hours north of Smithers.

Griffin, Mcfly and me: the luckiest people in the world!

The existing lodge, the Bear Claw lodge, is located in the southern part of the tenure and offers luxury accommodations for 10 to 15 guests. Although the first runs are only a 6 minute flight away, the size of the tenure, which encompasses 8,500 km2 and represents the second largest heliskiing area worldwide, means that the most northern mountains are a 45 minute flight away. Most of this area is rarely skied, not even Jake was familiar with the mountains there.

Endless possibilities

The next week consisted of poring over maps, spending a ridiculous amount of helitime, analysing and observing snow pack, terrain forms and potential dangers. We scouted and skied amazing runs over wide, endless glaciers, fun pillow lines, and through glades and gullies.

Endless challenges

The perfect cliff band

Is this a dream?

We documented our experiences on film, which will be out next winter.  Stay tuned!

Freeride World Tour Finals: Verbier Xtreme

This Tuesday, I witnessed the best freeriding ever seen during the last 15 years of the Verbier Xtreme competitions. The most famous and respected freeride competition in the world, this could have well been the most amazing freeride spectacle ever. 22 of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders were presented with perfect conditions on the extremely steep and rocky face of the formidable Bec du Rosse. I was in awe to watch the single-minded decisiveness and control the competitors executed while flying over 10+ meter cliffs in 45 to 50 degree exposed terrain. There weren’t just a few top performances, the majority of the field rode super strong. The breathtaking performances of Swede Kaj Zackrisson, ski, and Frenchman Xavier de Le Rue, snowboard, took them to the first step of the podium. 

The mystical Bec du Rosse, finals venue of the Freeride World Tour

The female competitors, a total of 12 skiers and snowboarders, competed on Saturday 20th March on the Shoulder of the Bec du Rosse. This is a much less steep and shorter face than the actual Bec, but nevertheless beautiful with many options, enabling the women to put on a great show for spectators. Female skiers used to start from the Bec in past years, and due to the increasing level in the women’s field this year, I’m speculating that they might be starting from the Bec again in future.

The female finals venue of the Freeride World Tour, the Shoulder of the Bec du Rosse

The win went to Norway’s Ane Enderud, securing her Freeride World Tour champion title twice in a row, followed by Jess McMillan and Olympic medallist Julia Mancuso, both from the USA.

Women's podium ski at the Verbier Xtreme, by DDaher

Although I’m so grateful to have competed on the first 3 Freeride World Tour stops this season, the disappointment is pretty big not to have qualified for next year’s Freeride World Tour by only 50 points! My overall ranking is 7th in the world, compared to my 2009 ranking of 11th. I can’t wait to compete in the tour again next year, and hopefully do better.

Women’s Freeride & Yoga Camp

From the 19 to 21 March 7 ladies attended my Women’s Freeride & Yoga Camp of the Kästle Adventure Tours in Lech am Arlberg. The camp covered improving technical off-piste skiing skills, video analysis, freeride tactics, line selection and jumping technique. Participants also enjoyed two Yoga sessions to stretch and mobilise weary limbs from a full day of skiing, something you don’t usually do at home but would really enjoy.

Of course, the perfect ski equipment was also provided to the ladies, who were able to test Kästle’s range of off-piste skis, including the FX94 model coming out next season. Both the 166cm and 176cm length, 94mm underfoot, were super popular.

Subscribe to the Kästle snow letter to receive updates about future Women’s Freeride Camps with Lorraine.

The girls feeling great after a busy but fun weekend with Lorraine Huber

Warren Miller Film Shoot @ Lech Zürs am Arlberg

Last year I was lucky enough to film a segment for Warren Miller’s “Dynasty” in the Lyngen Alps, the very north of Norway. So when Kästle told me I was to film with Warren Miller again this season, what’s more in my home town, I felt like the luckiest person on earth.

For once, snow and weather conditions totally cooperated, the film shoot from 7th to 17th March was a huge success with cold powder and one sunny day after another. My Kästle buddies Karine Falck-Pedersen and Hugo Harrisson were with me, and I found myself guiding the crew including camera director extraordinaire Tom Day and camera assistant Hanno Mackowitz to my favourite spots around Lech Zürs.

Setting up for the perfect shot. From left to right: Tom Day, Peter Mathis, Hanno Mackowitz

Hugo Harrisson shredding the pow in Zürs

The segment will touch on the long history of skiing at the Arlberg, as well as my own family history in Lech, which goes back 400 years. One of the oldest families in Lech, the Huber family resided in the “Huberhus” for 200 years, one of the oldest buildings in Lech and currently a museum.

And here's a taste of what's to come in next year's Warren Miller movie!