Second Victory in Hochfügen!

After a disappointing run at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in Engadin on 31 January where I placed 4th, I was determined to give it my all at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in Hochfügen, the fantastically organised Big Mountain Hochfügen. I came into the contest knowing that a first or second place would clinch the deal for a spot on the Freeride World Tour 2014. At the same time, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself by thinking too much about results. A mental game!

Snow and weather conditions were perfect; the right conditions to choose a big air to impress the judges. Sweden’s Matilda Rapaport, who has been skiing very consistently this season with a podium at every contest, and Austria’s Nadine Wallner, who has placed second at stop 1 and stop 2 of the Freeride World Tour this year, were also at the start, as well as some other experienced female skiers. I knew it was time to step it up.

I chose a line I could ski very fast in the top and middle section, coming into a steep section of around 45 to 50 degrees in the bottom part of the venue and ending in a big cliff drop. I chose this specific cliff because the landing had a perfectly clean run-out, although I knew the run-in would be very skied out with bib number 42. There would also be sluff to deal with, which can be compared to a small loose snow avalanche. It can knock you off your feet so you have to think about where the sluff is going to fall down to make sure you’re out of the way.

Big Mountain Hochfuegen Venue

The competition venue “Ostwand” at the Big Mountain Hochfügen, a gorgeous face!

For this contest I was very well prepared, I had studied photos and previous competition videos for the past two days and I could visualize my line in my mind and how it would look like from a skiers perspective. Being well prepared helps me feel less nervous at the start, and I was looking forward to skiing the amazing, fresh powder and dropping my big cliff at the bottom. I skied my run almost just as I had planned with a lot of fluidity, landing all my drops cleanly. It was an amazing feeling!

Big Mountain Hochfuegen_Straight line

My goal was to ski fast. Photo credit: Michael Neumann

Big Mountain Hochfuegen_Lorraine Huber_Cliff

Committing to the last drop in my run. Photo credit: Michael Neumann

I knew it was a good run but I didn’t allow myself to think much about what result I would get until the prize giving ceremony at 4pm. When my name was called out last of all for the top of the podium, I couldn’t have been happier. All the hard work, all the perseverance and all the determination were worth it now. And lets be honest, winning is so much more fun if you’ve made it back through the tough times, right?  

Big Mountain Hochfuegen, Podium Ski Women

The podium ski women at the Big Mountain Hochfügen (f.l.t.r. Matilda Rapaport, Lorraine Huber, Laure Vailley)

Sweet Victory in La Clusaz!

Last weekend I was able to place first at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in La Clusaz, France. Conditions we’re excellent: 50cm fresh powder and blue skies. We couldn’t inspect the competition venue as planned the day before due to bad weather. With bib number 12, I only had 10 minutes to decide which line I would ski. I pictured the line in my mind on my way to the start; luckily I had some time in the cable car. Usually, that would have made me very nervous, as well as the fact that I was competing on new skis – the Kästle BMX118 in 183cm – but on this day I was calm and confident. I skied a fluid and perfectly executed run with 3 cliff drops and a steep, technical middle section and scored a run of 8.80 points. Sweden’s Matilda Rapaport came 2nd and Geli Kaufmann from Lech came third, a fantastic result for Geli.

La Clusaz competition venue

La Clusaz competition venue

Women Ski Podium La Clusaz Radikal Mountain 2013

Women Ski Podium La Clusaz Radikal Mountain 2013

This victory is my first since 2009 and it is an especially meaningful one to me after a difficult 11/12 season of crashes and small injuries. The season before that I was battling a long term illness and basically had to quit skiing for the season. I started believing that although I was a good skier, I just wasn’t cut out for competition. Now though my hard work and dedication is paying off and I’m so very happy.

Boys La Clusaz 2013

Revelling in some male attention after the competition in La Clusaz

FWQ Dates 2013

Since I have already researched the FWQ-organisers’ websites and contacted some of them directly so that I can plan the upcoming winter season, I thought I would share the already published FWQ events here with you:

FWQ 4-Star

La Clusaz, France: 12 – 13 January
Hochfügen, Austria: 9 February
Eldorado Freeride, Andorra: 21 – 24 February
Taos, USA: 28 Feb – 2 March
Nendaz, Switzerland: 15 – 19 March
Röldal, Norway: 25 – 28 April

FWQ 3-Star

Stubai, Austria: 23 February
Chandolin, France: 9 – 10 March
Kitzsteinhorn, Austria: 23 March

In Austria there is also a new freeride series called Open Faces for skiers and snowboarders consisting of six FWQ events of 1 to 3 stars: open-faces.com.

According to the Freeride World Tour, there will be more than 40 FWQ events held during the 2012/2013 season, to be announced on the second week of November. A lot of these events will be one or two star events to make it easier for first-time competitors to start collecting points in the ranking system, since it can be difficult to get a starting place in the 3 and 4 star events if you don’t have a ranking yet from the previous year. This is because local FWQ organisers use the world wide seeding list to help them select athletes from the hundreds (!) of applications. More about that here. Realistically, anyone serious about qualifying for the Freeride World Tour needs to have some good results at 3 and 4 star events to be able to make the cut.

Six female skiers can qualify for FWT 2014: the top 3 from Region 1 (Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania) and the top 3 from Region 2 (North America, South America). So on the FWQ level, there is no competition between the European and the American riders.

Feel free to add any other events you know of in the comments section below!

 

Last chance at Röldal Freeride Challenge

After a  Freeride World Tour season of ups and downs and multiple crashes, I headed to the Röldal Freeride Challenge in Norway at the end of my season in hope of gaining more points to qualify for the Freeride World Tour 2013. I had a second and fourth place at two 4-Star FWQ events, and knew that I needed at least a second place to qualify for the tour through the FWQ ranking system, where the top three girls earn themselves a spot on the FWT13. After many weather and snow condition complications, typical for Röldal, the final day of competition was held on a south facing face close to the Röldal ski resort. Conditions were tricky due big cracks in the snowpack and avalanche debris in many of the run-outs (the areas under the landings of cliffs), but the snow was softening up us we made our ascent of 60 minutes to the start.

Finals venue on Saudasvingen for the Röldal Freeride Challenge 2012

I decided that conditions weren’t on for dropping cliffs in the steeper, more impressive lookers right of the venue, but those Norwegian girls sure showed me otherwise! Pia Nic Gunderson (1st place) skied a hard and fast line in the steepest area of the venue, stomping a scary cliff above a no-fall zone and holding it together through horrible avalanche debris in her run out. Ex-racer Tone Jersin Ansnes (2nd place) also skied fast in the steep and technical part of the face, and Anne May Slinning (3rd place) chose a difficult line with a big drop despite her broken arm. Nadine Wallner from the Arlberg, Austria, also had a great run showing super solid skiing, but unfortunately she crashed on her last cliff and lost a ski. Too bad! Anyway, she has still made it to the Freeride World Tour next year after a successful FWQ season so all is good.

f.l.r.t. Lorraine Huber, Pia Nic Gundersen, Tone Jersin Ansnes, Kristina Slinning, Matilda Rapaport

I chose an easy line with 6 small jumps on the lookers left of the venue, it was enough to place fourth, with only 0,4 points separating me from Anne May Slinning. I was happy at least because I skied the line I had planned and found all my features, but as soon as I was in the finish area I realised I had made a mistake by choosing to ski lookers left. In the end this means I’m not qualified for the Freeride World Tour 2013, but I’m not giving up! I will be competing next year in one form or the other, more news on that later.

As for the male skiers, the conditions sure were tricky to air anything bigger. Out of the 20 skiers that were able to start, 9 crashed mostly due to not being able to hold their speed after their landings. Sadly, there was an accident when a competitor landed in a big crack in the snow pack, and immediately after that a speed rider (small paraglider with skis) had an accident in the face, ultimately forcing the organisers to cancel the competition. There are hence no results for the men ski category.

Conditions really weren't on for anything bigger at the Röldal Freeride Challenge 2012. Here you can see a competitor receiving medical attention after a crash which crushed his ankle.

2nd Place Big Mountain Hochfügen

I finally have some good news to blog about regarding comps: I came second at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier Big Mountain Hochfügen last weekend! I came to Hochfügen mainly for training purposes of being able to compete in a low-pressure environment (compared to the Freeride World Tour events) and get over my nervousness at the start. The contest itself is very professionally run and amazing to be part of. The contest face “Ostwand” is awesome with lots of different options and the snow conditions were great with plenty of fresh powder and good snow coverage. The judges told me that the high level of the female skiers surprised them and that it wasn’t much lower than at the FWT events. Yay girls! On another positive note, the female prize money was only EUR 100 to 200 less than the men’s, usually it’s only half the amount.

BM Hochfuegen Women's Podium

The ski women from Big Mountain Hochfügen: 3rd Matilda Rapaport, 1st Pia Nic Gundersen and 2nd Lorraine Huber (f.l.t.r)

I chose a line which I knew I could ski easily, that was also a reason I wasn’t really nervous at the start. And further more I was really looking forward to skiing that line! I drew an early start number (30) and it is really so much better to be able to start earlier in the day as opposed to having to wait for the entire men’s field to race before the women can start – that’s just so nerve racking for me still! This good result gives me confidence for the next FWT event in Röldal, Norway on 25 February. Stay tuned!

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!