FWT 2015 Reflections

What happened previously

My last blog entry about the FWT revolved around learning about how I had been overly focussed on the overall title instead of enjoying each stop for what it was and just thinking about skiing my best. I came to this realisation after having broken my ankle at the start of the season, a good reminder for me that there are more important things in life than winning the FWT. After a sensational third place finish at the FWT Fieberbrunn and a mid-field finish at the FWT Andorra, I had managed to qualify for the much sought-after FWT stop in Alaska, as well as securing my place in the FWT 2016. This in itself is a success, considering my injury and the fact that I had to miss the first stop in Chamonix. I have to keep reminding myself of that however, since I’ve also been struggling with feelings of disappointment after having placed 7th overall in the FWT 2015 ranking. So this is what happened after Andorra.

Haines, Alaska!

copyright: FWT Alaska 2015 by David Carlier

Swatch Freeride World Tour Haines, Alaska, 2015, photographer David Carlier

For me it felt akin to returning home after seeing a lot of familiar faces from having filmed here in 2013 with the Shades of Winter crew. People here are so friendly and welcoming! Hosting a FWT event in the mountains of Alaska is an enormous undertaking. The remote location, accessible only by helicopter, the extremely fast changing und unpredictable weather, all the logistics and technical equipment required to provide a live stream, the list of challenges goes on. For us riders, it meant patience. We had a total of three false starts before we actually were able to compete on the face.

Competition tactics, or lack thereof?

My experience told me that if I played it safe by skiing a clean run, I would probably place very well on this face. I knew the terrain was challenging and that the snow would be unpredictable with all that fresh powder. For me, one thing was clear: I wanted to ski a very special run at this historical event in Alaska. So I decided to go for it! I planned on hitting a big double in the middle of my run, and got to watch some of the snowboard men hit it before being flown to the start. It was good to go! I started my run, excited to be finally skiing the face. I skied beautifully in the top section, then I approached the double, and that’s where everything went pear shaped. I angled the first part of the double a little more to the right, wanting to avoid previous bomb holes, and landed on unexpectedly hard snow from a small slab having broken out there. The snow here was fast, not fluffy powder. The next surprise: the second take-off  of the double was much further away than I had expected (the terrain in this face is just enormous, the greatest difficulty certainly was judging the sheer dimensions of it). Instinctively, I tried changing direction somewhat before the second take-off, since straight-lining this section would have sent me off the jump at mach speed. However, I became unbalanced in the air and couldn’t land the jump on my feet. I crashed, and it was over. In just a matter of seconds, all the build up, all that waiting, all that planing and energy going into one line, gone! I skied down the rest of my line, totally disorientated and demotivated. It was a pretty low feeling and I can tell you, I was bummed. But I was healthy and able to qualify for the finals, the Xtreme Verbier! That gave me consolation.

Here’s the video of my run:

20th year edition of the Xtreme Verbier

It was go big or go home for the women’s ski field at the Freeride World Tour finals in Verbier yesterday. Hazel Birnbaum skied an exceptional line with a huge amount of confidence and control, sending a massive double at the end of her run which hasn’t been done before by a female skier. So inspiring! Silvia Moser came in second with a really creative and new line with lots of features, and Christine Hargin came in third showing super solid and fluid riding in the classic line on the lookers right of the women’s venue. The other five ski women qualified for the Xtreme Verbier, including myself, opted to start from start number two on the lookers left of the venue, featuring an obligatory air of around 7 meters. Due to a bombed and skied out landing area on very firm snow, we all unfortunately lost our skis in the landing and none of us could finish our run. Luckily there were no injuries, especially after such huge crashes.I’m hugely inspired by these ladies and am very proud to be part of such a talented group of skiers!

I wasn’t too disappointed about my crash since I felt really good in the air and was committed to stomping my line, that’s the important thing to me. It’s part of the sport of freeriding that you can’t always know 100% what the snow will be like, and both male and female competitors struggled with the conditions on that part of the face.

Video of my run at the 20th year edition of the Xtreme Verbier 2015

Photo gallery Freeride World Tour 2015

Freeride World Tour 2015 Update

What a season of ups and downs! The down was mainly comprised of a broken ankle after skiing into a hidden rock just after Christmas; the up was my rapid comeback and third place finish at the Freeride World Tour Fieberbrunn just 5 weeks after the accident.

But lets go back a step. Last season, I came closer than ever before to achieving my goal of becoming Freeride World Tour champion. After a crash at the finals in Verbier, I placed second overall behind Arlberg local Nadine Wallner, who showed nerves of steel with a solid run that placed her in second on the day, and first overall. I had tasted blood however and was super motivated to keep training and improving. During my off-snow training, my main motivator was the overall title. My thoughts returned to that title often. From July to December, I worked with my conditioning trainer, Phil Anker, and we made great progress in getting my body strength almost perfectly symmetrical (an issue I had been battling with ever since I ruptured my ACL and MCL in 2007).

Training with Phil Anker. Photo: Marius Schwager

Training with Phil Anker. Photo: Marius Schwager

Come December, I was at the top of my game, feeling physically and mentally stronger than ever and also excited about skiing on the new Kästle BMX skis I had helped to develop. Then, on 26 December, disaster struck. It was a low tide season with little snow fall, and that day it started snowing in earnest. All day we had been skiing low angle, grassy slopes and were having a ball. Suddenly, while skiing in the Seekopf area in Zürs, I hit a rock hidden under 30cm of snow and came to a complete stop. I broke my ankle on impact. I can tell you, it bloody hurt. When I heard my doctor give me his diagnosis of 5 to 6 weeks rest, my world started crumbling around me. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in my eyes. That means I’m going to miss Chamonix, and maybe also Fieberbrunn! After all that hard training, I’m forced to stay off skis! I had built the main purpose of this season up on the FWT championship, and now that goal seemed far beyond my reach.

I worked day and night to help my body heal from my ankle injury. My family was also an invaluable support to me.

I worked day and night to help my body heal from my ankle injury. My family was also an invaluable support to me.

It took me all but a day to build myself up again. I quickly realised there were more important things in life than winning the FWT. I had to use crutches for 4 weeks. I mostly missed being outdoors and up in the mountains, where I get a lot of my energy from. I missed that even more than the skiing. All I wanted was to just get back on my skis in time to join my friends at the FWT stop in Fieberbrunn. The title lost a lot of the importance it used to hold for me.

Psychologically, that was a really interesting learning curve for me. I realised then that I had focussed too much on the overall title the previous season, instead of directing my focus from one event to the next, aiming to just ski my best at each competition.

Since I was so happy to be back competing on the FWT only 5 weeks after breaking my ankle, I was completely free in my mind during the competition. That, and a good dump of soft, fresh snow, helped me in skiing a solid line and finally placing third in the women’s field.


FWT15 – Run of Huber Lorraine – AUT (Lech… by FreerideWorldTourTV

Swatch Freeride World Tour Fieberbrunn Kitzbüheler Alpen 2015

Swatch Freeride World Tour Fieberbrunn Kitzbüheler Alpen 2015, Ski Women podium

Things weren’t as easy for me during the following stop in Arcalis, Andorra. The hard snow, flat landings and bad visibility at inspection freaked me out. Would my ankle be able to handle that hard, tracked out snow? And those flat landings? I was little inspired in choosing a line, but finally settled on one after getting some help from my mates, and decided it would be ok. I placed midfield in Andorra after skiing a solid line, but one that lacked any higher airs or highlights. I just scraped through to qualify for Alaska, and for the FWT 2016, in seventh place overall. Puh! What a relief. My heart went out to the many good riders who weren’t able to make the cut, which is a particularly hard one this year.


Run of Huber Lorraine (AUT) – Swatch Freeride… by FreerideWorldTourTV

I’m going to use the time now until Alaska to ski as much as possible, get my skiing legs back and get completely dialled in with my new skis. Find out more about the 2016 Kästle BMX lineup here.

Runner-up Freeride World Tour Champion 2014

Two days have passed since I competed in my most important event of the season last Saturday, the Verbier Xtreme, the finals of the Freeride World Tour. For the first time since I started competing on the FWT in 2010, I was skiing for the overall FWT Championship title after a very consistent season of three back-to-back podiums. Mentally I was feeling strong and ready to give it my all, deciding against skiing a safety line. I knew I had to place at least 2nd in order to improve my overall ranking made up of a 1st and two 3rd places.

The "Mini Bec", the Verbier Xtreme women's venue

The “Little Bec”, the Verbier Xtreme women’s venue

Unfortunately, I fell ill with acute bronchitis right before Verbier, forcing me to stay off skis for the entire week leading up to the big day, but by Saturday I felt strong enough to compete. A final inspection on Friday showed the Little Bec much changed since the snowfall and I decided my line was good to go.

To our dismay, the mountain guides had dug a snow pit right in the landing of the top standard air the women like to take on the looker’s right side of the face. We were assured that the hole would be filled up however and wouldn’t pose a problem for the competitors.

I took the hike of 60 minutes nice and easy, arriving at the start in time to take a look at the top of my line. I really didn’t like the look of the landing of my first air, the dug snow pit had created a large flat, compressed area of snow. I decided I needed to jump over it, but not too far either in order to still reach my second feature I had planned.

Then I was ready to start, and I was pumped to ski my line. Finally, after all the waiting, it was time! I line up my first air, but too slowly, landing right in the middle of the snow pit. Immediately after landing I get a huge compression, back slap and spin out of control. Three seconds into my line at the most important event of the season and I loose everything! Immediately I knew the chance at the overall title was lost, from one second to the next. It was such a crushing feeling to have such a stupid crash only three seconds into my run.

Then I decided I may as well continue skiing my line, it’s not every day you get to ski the Bec. That was hard to do since I was disheartened and a bit disoriented, but I did enjoy some good turns on the way down to my last exit drop. Here I made the second mistake of the day, not lining up the direction of my take-off correctly, landing across the fall line, which proved fatal in the punchy and wind-affected snow in the landing. I crashed badly and narrowly missed some rocks lower down in the landing.

Taking my last exit air on the Mini Bec

Taking my last exit air on the Little Bec, Photo: FWT Verbier Xtreme 2014, D. Carlier

Here’s the video of my run:


FWT14 – Run of Bib #2 Lorraine Huber AUT… von FreerideWorldTourTV

Congratulations to the Arlberg’s Nadine Wallner, who, amazingly, won her second FWT championship title in a row, and to Norway’s Pia Nic Gundersen, who executed a beautiful and enormous air with total confidence and style, winning the Verbier Xtreme 2014.

Freeride World Tour 2014 Overall Ski Women's Podium

Freeride World Tour 2014 Overall Ski Women’s Podium

Despite the disappointment of not being able to ski my line on the Bec as I had planned, I am very happy with my skiing this past season. I feel like I’ve made huge progress this year both technically and mentally, managing my first win on the FWT in Snowbird. Despite the challenging conditions, I was also able to thoroughly enjoy the competitions this year and had some great days skiing with fellow competitors.

I want to thank my family, my friends, my sponsors Lech Zürs, Kästle Skis, Bergans of Norway, Scott Sports, Snowlife Gloves, Pieps and Sportservice Vorarlberg, and all the people supporting me online who I don’t even know personally. You created an amazing pillar of energy for me which already made me feel like a world champion. I would have loved to win the title just for you guys who all believed in me.

I’m proud of the runner-up Freeride World Tour title, but it has left me hungry for more and I’m already looking forward to charging hard on the tour next year. I’ll be back!

Victory at Freeride World Tour Snowbird!

Finally! My first victory at a Freeride World Tour event! And “Finally!” is what so many people said to me after my win, people who have known me, skied with me and seen me compete over the past years. People who knew I had it in me to win, but I just never seemed to be able to deliver under the pressure of a competition situation.

Maybe the long run up made my victory in Snowbird, Utah/USA all the sweeter, where I skied a fast and smart line with a big obligatory air in the middle.

FWT14 Snowbird | Photographer: David Carlier

FWT14 Snowbird Women’s Ski Podium | Photographer: David Carlier

Here is the video of my run:


FWT14 – Lorraine Huber – Snowbird, UT par FreerideWorldTourTV

And the video of my GoPro footage (I almost prefer this footage):


FWT14 – SNOWBIRD GOPRO RUN LORRAINE HUBER par FreerideWorldTourTV

Good Start to the Freeride World Tour 2014

Stop 1 and 2 of the Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face 2014 are done and dusted! The first stop in Revelstoke had to be postponed to March 2014, making Chamonix the first FWT stop for the women on 25th January. I was more than ready to compete by this stage, really hungry to finally get the competitive season started. At inspection I could see that there was a metre less snow in the competition venue compared to last year, making the airs significantly bigger. Additionally, you could see that the snow was very wind affected. That’s competition for you! We often have to deal with challenging snow conditions, quite different to filming. I opted for an easy line and aimed to ski it was fast as possible. I also noticed that the judges were rewarding powerful skiing at the men’s stop in Courmayeur. With a fairly simple line skied well, I came third in a stacked field of ripping female skiers. Here’s my run:


FWT14 – Run of Lorraine Huber – Chamonix Mont… von FreerideWorldTourTV

I was happy with my run run, which was fluid, and for reaching the podium with my first contest of the season. One good result in the bag – nothing better than to take pressure off!

Pic: Freeride World Tour 2014 Chamonix, by D. Daher

Pic: Freeride World Tour 2014 Chamonix, by D. Daher

Pic: Freeride World Tour 2014 Chamonix, by J. Bernard

Pic: Freeride World Tour 2014 Chamonix, by J. Bernard

Soon after, after a detour to Münich for a presentation of our film ‘Lorraine. The Movie’ at ISPO, we arrived in Fieberbrunn for the next FWT stop. Snow conditions were very thin, but the venue was deemed doable. That was before two days of Föhn set it: warm wind from the south of up to 100 km/hr, cleaning out the Wildseeloder face entirely and creating a lot of wind slabs just waiting to be set off by a skier. The organisers has to cancel Fieberbrunn, painful as it was. Within a few hours, it had been decided to relocate the entire tour and production team to Kappl, Tirol, only an hour away from home. The snow here was good enough for us to compete on, and Kappl offered us riders a great venue starting on the ‘Quellspitze‘ at 2700m.

fwt14_thaller-3950_hdtv_720FWT14_Kappl_StephaneDelecluse

In Kappl we couldn’t inspect before the competition day due to bad weather preventing us from seeing the face. The women were first up to start so we were up on top of the mountain by 7.15am to pick our lines. Again I opted to ski something simple I knew I would be able to find without having to slow down. I skied fast and came in third, again! A fantastic start to the season! I felt very comfortable competing and enjoyed it a lot, not being as nervous as I have in the past. I have two weeks at home now to recharge the batteries and get some serious ski mileage in before heading on 25th February to California, USA, for the next FWT stop. Keep you posted!

Pic: FWT2014 in Kappl, by T. Haller

Pic: FWT2014 in Kappl, by T. Haller

Mastering the Little Bec

Competing at the Verbier Xtreme, the Freeride World Tour finals, is different from any other tour stop. The terrain is extremely steep and rocky, with a lot of sluff and consequences if you fall in your run. Jumping a cliff in this terrain means you fly a lot further and get very fast after your landings due to the steepness. Add to this the huge spectator and media interest (the FWT is expecting 100,000 viewers to be watching the live stream online) and you’ve got every reason to feel nervous up there at the start. More than ever I had to remind myself that we’re just skiing here and it’s just a run, not the final day of judgement 😉

The women's venue to the lookers right of the Bec du Rosse at the 2013 Verbier Xtreme, taken on inspection day

The women’s venue to the lookers right of the Bec du Rosse at the 2013 Verbier Xtreme, taken on inspection day

The female competitors were flown to the start by heli because the hike up was deemed too avalanche dangerous and exposed by security, a call I was very grateful to hear. We were six ski women and five snowboard women at the start, including three wildcards given to Matilda Rapaport, Estelle Balet and me. We were all really quiet at the start during the wait for the flat light to improve, the tension was palpable. I was the last girl to ski the Little Bec which I actually liked since it gave me a chance to get a bit of a feel for the conditions. Generally the snow was excellent, nevertheless there were sections to be aware of, such as the take-off of my first air which was peppered with rocks.

Dropping my first air in extremely steep terrain

Dropping my first air in extremely steep terrain (copy Freeride World Tour, J. Bernard)

I was able to ski my line as planned with the goal to ski as fluidly as possible on the face. I had some bad memories of the top air where I crashed above exposure last year, but I knew conditions were much better this year and I adjusted my take-off angle somewhat. My top air went really well without getting caught on the pepper and I landed cleanly. I was very fast upon landing, the light was quite flat and I was surprised by a small fracture from a slab avalanche which I couldn’t see. All I had to do now was ski down the gut to my second and bottom air. As I had expected the snow here varied quite a bit due to old sluff which had set up and become firmer than the fresh powder. After jumping over my bottom air without hesitation I became so fast, all I could do was straight line out of the venue and loose speed once the terrain flattened out again. I was super happy with my run and very happy to be at the bottom all safe and sound!

I came second behind Matilda Rapaport who’s line was very similar to mine with Nadine Wallner coming third with another solid run. Congratulations also to Nadine who won the overall title this year with very consistent and strong skiing, very impressive for her age and for being on the tour for the first time!

The female ski podium for the Verbier Xtreme 2013 (f.l.t.r. Lorraine Huber, Matilda Rapaport, Nadine Wallner)

The female ski podium for the Verbier Xtreme 2013 (f.l.t.r. Lorraine Huber, Matilda Rapaport, Nadine Wallner)         copy: Freeride World Tour

 

FWT Fieberbrunn Frustrations

After 7 days of waiting for better snow and weather conditions, we finally could compete on the Wildseeloder at the 4th stop (5th for the boys) of the Freeride World Tour 2013. As always, we were welcomed and treated like real stars in Fieberbrunn and the local organisation team was simply fantastic. We passed the time during the waiting period just fine though, skiing together, jumping off anything we could find in the warm, slushy snow, extended pool, stretching and sauna sessions in our hotel, some partying, meeting new people at The North Face tent in the expo area, and even sight seeing in Innsbruck. I went home for a few days to spend my birthday in Lech, and then it was on! The last days had brought fresh snow and Saturday was going to be bluebird.

Wildseeloder

The “Wildseeloder” at Fieberbrunn, with the women’s venue on the looker’s left, taken before the snow falls

The day before the comp we didn’t see the face due to thick fog, so that meant that the girls, who were starting first, would have only around 30 minutes the next morning for one last look at the face before hiking up to the start. That made it a bit tougher, but luckily the face is easy to orientate in. On contest day, we got up at 5:00am in order to have a good breakfast and go up with the first cable car at 6:15am. Seeing the Wildseeloder that morning, I ruled out the big cliff I had planned to take due to the not so ideal snow conditions. The take-off looked bony (i.e. only covered only by a thin layer of snow) and the landing looked like a sheet of ice, although a little lower down there was some good, blown-in powder. Instead I opted for a smaller double I knew would be fine to take, and, if skied fluidly, would still score well with the judges.

Start gate FWT Fieberbrunn

Ready to rock and roll! (Copy Freeride World Tour Fieberbrunn, J. Bernard)

I skied really well in the top and main section of our women’s venue on the lookers left of the Wildseeloder, taking a first double without hesitation and continuing on to a further double over a cliff band. After the airs I got a lot of speed and the snow varied from powder to sheets of ice. I was at my limit but still in control. I took a fair bit of speed over my last air, feeling confident that the landing there would be soft. I was wrong. I landed on pure ice and didn’t have a hope in hell to absorb the huge impact. Looking at my run on video at home, I realised that I did everything right, had a good amount of speed over my air, maybe not hitting the transition perfectly, but with good form in the air, I just didn’t calculate with the landing being so hard. Looking on it now after watching all the runs, I could have had a top scoring run by just popping over that air almost from a stand-still or by even just skiing down to the finish line without taking any further features, but you don’t know that at the start, you just have to give it your all to land a good scoring run. That’s the really frustrating part, and I was so close this time! I was feeling pretty down yesterday, but after waking up today the world always seems to be in order again. My goal after my run in Chamonix was to ski faster, and I’ve certainly achieved that, so I’m heading in the right direction and I’m going to stick with it!

The great news is that I’ve received a wildcard to the Freeride World Tour finals in Verbier and I’m so excited about that!! I won’t be able to score any points to improve my FWT ranking, but I will have the opportunity to compete at the most famous and mythical freeride competition in the world, on a beautiful face. Last year I also received a wildcard to Verbier but I was injured and more scared than anything else. This year I’m going to really enjoy it, I’m heading there already tomorrow. The snow conditions are looking really good, so stay tuned!

Go Big or Go Home

Since my last blog update almost a month ago, I feel like I’ve come a really long way in terms of my competition performance, albeit still without results to show for it. At the end of February the whole Freeride World Tour met up in Kirkwood, California, for the 3rd stop (4th for the men) of the tour. I knew it hadn’t snowed there for weeks and that tricky snow conditions would be waiting for us. Combine that fact with the great snow and weather conditions we still had at home, and you need to be very focussed about staying motivated. Still, it’s a lot of fun to compete without any pressure and I wanted to use the opportunity to start in Kirkwood as a great training experience as well as to get to know the face for next year. I traveled with my friend and training buddy Stefan Häusl and we had the whole travel logistics dialled. The trip over went smoothly and we were all rested and acclimatised in time for the comp on 27 Feb.

Cirque Kirkwood

The “Cirque”, competition venue for the Freeride World Tour in Kirkwood

I wanted to do a line on the venue that included the top portion of the face, taking a side door entrance above the lower portion of a double – I knew the snow would be solid ice there but at least you know what to expect. Then I chose to continue over a large drop which I knew would be firm in the landing, but I thought it was doable. I was pretty scared about this line, so scared in fact, that the night before in bed my heart was beating like mad every time I imagined jumping over the airs. But in the end the excitement to do these airs remained, and I decided to go for it. If it’s only the fear that’s in my head and heart I usually change lines.

Kirkwood cliff drop

Getting some air in Kirkwood (copy: Freeride World Tour, D. Carlier)

I was feeling pretty good on competition day, although the nervousness in the morning is almost enough to make me sick. My top air went beautifully and I jumped the second air fluidly, finding my take-off without a problem. The air was huge! On landing the impact was big, I had more weight on my right ski than on my left and couldn’t hold it and spun out of control. What a shame! I had chosen the all-out strategy and this time it didn’t work out for me. Jackie Paaso won with a really nice and fluid line, one of my favourite skiers Christine Hargin also had a pretty bad crash, but fortunately didn’t hurt herself.

Freeride World Tour 2013

During the Freeride World Qualifier in La Clusaz, I received a wildcard for the next three stops on the Freeride World Tour. Just before my Women’s Freeride & Yoga Camp, I competed in Chamonix and placed 4th with a solid run in good conditions:

Tomorrow I’m flying to Kirkwood, California, to compete in the next Freeride World Tour stop. Thanks to my good results on the Freeride World Qualifier tour this year, I already know that I’m qualified for the Freeride World Tour 2014 so I can compete without pressure in Kirkwood and get to know the face there. Wish me luck!