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.

Swatch Xtreme Verbier 2012

My goal of the 2012 season was to qualify for the Xtreme Verbier – the world’s most legendary and important big mountain competition from which the Freeride World Tour was born. The Xtreme Verbier is the final event of the Swatch Freeride World Tour, after which the Freeride World Tour Champions are crowned. After Fieberbrunn, I received a wild card to compete with the best riders on the mythical Bec du Rosse, a really big honour for me. Normally you would expect me to write how amazing it was to be part of such an event, that I was happy to be there etc. and a part of me naturally did feel that, but the other part of me almost dreaded having to compete here yesterday. I partially fractured my hip bone before Fieberbrunn and have not been able to ski much since the 7th March, trying not to aggravate the injury more than I have to. Having had to compete without being 100% has been really tough for me mentally (I competed in the 4-Star FWQ Nendaz last weekend, placing 4th). I just couldn’t get myself psyched up. Add to that that Verbier is one of the harder venues we’ve skied in the tour so far, and the pressure rises. Starting in Verbier as a wild card though also means you have nothing to loose, since wild card holders can’t earn points to advance them in the overall ranking. So it really means go for gold or nothing at all.

Inspecting my line with the women's final venue in the background

And now to my run yesterday: I chose the go for gold strategy, a line with 2 large drops which scored well last year. Current snow conditions actually didn’t allow many variations of line. I also knew I would find this line very easily, allowing me to ski it fast. After hiking up one hour on the previous day of competition, I was further able to inspect the take-off of my first air – not the landing however – from above. I was worried about rocks at the take-off, so my plan was to point my skis and take-off as quickly as possible. I had drawn bib number one and didn’t have to worry about deteriorating snow conditions. And point it I did, skiing fluidly over my first air. But I had miscalculated one thing: the snow was quite compact in the landing, and the ramp I landed on after the first air was somewhat sideways to the direction of my take-off. For bigger airs, it’s always best to land directly in the fall line or otherwise risk crashing, which I then spectacularly did. Luckily I could self-arrest before heading for some serious exposure. That’s one of the skills I have developed as a freeskier: to stop tumbling quickly! Since I had lost a ski, resulting in a “no score” from the judges, I just skied out of the venue after having recollected my ski. A part of me was relieved that it was all over, it sure was a lot of pressure for me to compete in my current condition. Congrats to Christine Hargin and Eva Walkner who slayed the line I had planned to ski despite varying snow conditions, placing 1st and 2nd respectively. Congrats also to Angel Collinson who killed it on the looker’s left side of the venue and placed 3rd.

8,500 spectators watched the event in Verbier and over 40,000 people watched the live stream on the Internet

Freeride World Tour Fieberbrunn

This past weekend, the Freeride World Tour riders experienced the amazing organisation and hospitality of Fieberbrunn, host to the 4th FWT stop. Unofficially, Fieberbrunn is considered the best stop of the tour, featuring a contest village set-up where up to 2,000 spectators watched the competition on Saturday. As in past years, we competed on the Wildseeloder mountain, with the females starting this year on the lookers left side of the venue. The snow conditions on our venue where excellent with around 20cm of fresh powder, the weather blue bird. The women put on an amazing show, skiing fluidly and without hesitation over the features and drops. We were filmed with a cineflex camera from the helicopter, you can check out the best runs here.

The women's venue on Fieberbrunn's Wildseeloder

I felt really good about this competition; I knew the conditions were great and we could see almost the whole run from the start, making orientation in the face easy. Also the venue was relatively easy without any exposure or unknowns, so us girls could really rip it up! I started as second last female and was able to watch most of the runs from above, but this didn’t change anything about my line choice since I really like to focus on the line I planned and not my competition. I like that about freeriding: it’s about you and the mountain, not about beating your opponent with killer instincts as is required in sports like tennis or boxing, so it suits my personality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very competitive, but more in a way of always wanting to do my best, not necessarily of wanting to beat everyone else. So back to the comp: I chose a fluid line in the fall line with 3 solid airs with the goal to ski it fast, stepping it up from my performance in Röldal. And for the first time, I managed to do just that: aggressive and confident skiing in a competition situation. I was really enjoying my run, slashing the wind lip in the top section of my run twice and getting some great powder turns in, taking all my drops without hesitation and stomping everything cleanly.

Getting some pow (Freeride World Tour Fieberbrunn, Photo Jeremy Bernard)

After my last drop I took a lot of speed into the last slope before the finish, and then disaster struck! The snow changed from powder to crud and the slope became significantly steeper, I was just carrying too much speed and got bucked into the air, bounced off the snow once in a spectacular looking crash, because onlookers thought I was about to collide into a tree. I can’t tell you how disappointing and frustrating that stupid crash was, especially after such a strong run and since I really needed a good result in Fieberbrunn to a) qualify for the finals in Verbier and b) qualify for the Freeride World Tour 2013. I’m not letting myself get down about it though. I still feel like I’ve made progress and I’m trying to remember the bigger picture and that all these experiences are a necessary process in order to reach the top. The judges told me if I had not crashed, I would have places third or fourth, and that is encouraging. Eva Walkner had a great run and placed 1st, Christine Hargin from Sweden placed second and Janina Kuzma from New Zealand third. Congrats girls! The excellent news is that I’ve been selected to receive a wild card for the finals in Verbier!! My goal this season was to make it to Verbier, so I’m over the moon about it. I will have nothing to loose in Verbier and will give it my all. Stay tuned!

 

 

2nd Place Freeride World Tour Röldal

Ok I admit I was apprehensive about competing in Röldal. Previously, I had crashed both at the Revelstoke and Chamonix stops of the Swatch Freeride World Tour and the pressure was on to do well in Röldal or say goodbye to qualifying for the finals in Verbier – the highlight of the tour. But once I had arrived in Röldal at the very comfortable Röldal Terrasse Hotel, albeit to pouring rain, I was able to just relax and enjoy the ride. I managed to forget about overall rankings and just focus on the competition at hand. Due to the extremely icy conditions, it was decided that the original competition face we had inspected was too unsafe to go ahead. Also the second option had to be discarded after discovering boiler plate ice and unsafe conditions. It was the third option in the end which became the competition face, so for the riders it was extremely important to be flexible and quick off the mark to pick and memorize a line.

The competition venue in Röldal

I chose a simple line I knew I would be able to find without any problems. The competitors were flown to the start in the heli to save time, a very good decision since the last competitor must have descended around 4:00pm. I felt pretty good at the start, finally not so nervous anymore, and found my line without any problems. The upper third of the venue was extremely icy, which we were aware of. The rest of the venue however offered great snow conditions with around 10cm of fresh powder. I skied a fluid line close to the fall line with 4 cleanly stomped drops, I was really happy with my skiing at the end of my run. I came in second after Christine Hargin, skiing almost the same line as me, however with more speed, especially over her features. That’s something I’m working on right now and hope to improve for the next stop in Fieberbrunn on 10 March.

My last air during my run at the Swatch Freeride World Tour Röldal

 

Feeling very happy in the finish line after my successful run

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!

Swatch Freeride World Tour Chamonix

I just got home from the 3rd stop of the Swatch Freeride World Tour in Chamonix. I wish I could write something more exciting than what really happened at the comp: after hours of travelling, 2 weather days, inspection in challenging weather conditions, numerous riders meetings and interviews, getting up at 5:00am on the day of competition and pouring so much energy into one run, I had a stupid crash at the very start of my line by burying my ski tips into the snow. Sure it was quite flat light and there was a bit of a wind crust, but when I ski normally I rarely have crashes like that. It was super disappointing! My conclusion is that I’m simply too nervous. My plan of action to deal with my lack of contest experience is to ski as many comps as I can, there are a couple coming up in Austria during February before the 3rd FWT stop in Roldal, Norway: the Eric Themel Invitiational in Schruns and the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in Hochfügen.

Regarding the competition itself, all in all it was a big success and a great experience to spend time on and off snow with some of the world’s best freeriders. Kästle team mate Jackie Paaso won the women’s event with a gutsy and strongly skied line, stomping all her cliffs smoothly and with confidence, so proud of her! Angel Collinson who is an amazing skier came in 2nd with a technical line and my room mate and line-discussion buddy Janina Kuzma from New Zealand came in 3rd with a fluid run and some stylish airs to the lookers right of the venue. The women put on a great show and the level of skiing was amazing!

The competition venue in Chamonix

Swatch Freeride World Tour Revelstoke

Today was Day 1 of the Swatch Freeride World Tour in Revelstoke, BC Canada. I came into the comp feeling fit, strong and well prepared. We arrived 2 days early to settle in before competing, get over jet lag and to make sure all our gear is here on time; our planning was great. We got to inspect the venue on skis, giving riders a chance to check out take-offs and landing zones. I chose a line to the skiers right side of the face and felt confident that I could ski it well.

I was pretty nervous this morning before my start. After inspecting the course I had time for some warm-up runs: my legs felt soft as jelly and my muscles were cramping up from tension. On my third warm-up run I started relaxing and having fun. I felt pretty good at the start, chatting with my fellow competitors to distract myself and keeping my body warm. Then it was time to ski!

My first small air led me straight to my second feature: a decent sized cliff with some trees along its edge to guide me. I pointed my skis a couple of metres before my take-off and I flew further than expected, opening up a little before my landing. I backslapped which would have cost me points for lack of control, but I didn’t lose momentum and skied to my third feature: a challenging double.

My double (and nemesis) with an arrow showing the take-off

All I had to do was point my skis and commit to the fall line, keeping my weight over the centre of my skis. I knew I could do it and I knew I would clear the bottom 4 to 5 metre drop for sure since the terrain was really steep. I was too fast on my take-off though, due to nerves I think. I took the double but crashed on landing the bottom air, hitting a large amount of soft snow in a compression I had misjudged at inspection. If I had angled my skis a little more to the skiers right I could have avoided the compression – it would have worked out. Anyway, of course I was disappointed about crashing, that always sucks because you only get one chance. On the other hand I skied fairly well and had a lot of fun doing my line. I’m on the right track and hopefully next time it will work out. Now I just have to figure out how to get my nerves under control!

Revelstoke trees

The steep section through the trees at the bottom of the run at North Bowl

Invite to Freeride World Tour 2012 !

I feel so excited right now because I’ve received an official invitation to the Freeride World Tour 2012!! It’s what I’ve been working towards since 2010 when I ranked 7th overall, a result I wanted to improve, but didn’t get the chance to since I was battling chronic illness last season. The good thing is that I could carry over my points from 2010 to this season. Now I can really utilise all the hard work I poured into the last 7 months of training, here’s my chance!

CALENDAR of the 2012 Freeride World Tour (FWT):

1. Freeride World Tour, Chamonix Mont-Blanc 2012 by Swatch

Dates: 21-27 January  Location: Chamonix (FRA)
Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard

2. Freeride World Tour, Røldal 2012 by Swatch

Dates: 25 February – 02 March  Location: Røldal (NOR)
Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard

3. Freeride World Tour, Fieberbrunn 2012 by Swatch

Dates: 09-16 March  Location: Fieberbrunn (AUT)
Disciplines: Men’s Ski and Snowboard

4. Freeride World Tour, Verbier 2012 by Swatch

Dates: 24 March – 01 April  Location: Verbier (SUI)
Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard

Freeride World Tour stops in Rosa Khutor-Sochi (RUS) and North-America are to be confirmed by latest December 10th.

Training begins, so does the countdown

Today was the third day of training for me after a substantial break of 14 weeks! Yikes! I’m starting with 45 minutes of moderate spinning daily, core work and balancing on unstable surfaces (such as an air cushion) to activate my VMO on my right knee: the all-important muscle on the inside of your knee that stabilises the knee cap. Since I haven’t been able to train my knee’s condition isn’t where I would like it to be.

This is where I train, in the sport.park.lech

It sure feels good to be doing something again and working towards a goal: that is the Freeride World Tour stop for the women in Hochfügen, Tirol, from 4 to 8 February. It gives me 4 weeks to prepare. Health wise I’m feeling better, which is encouraging. It’s slow going though. Since I’m missing 2 major events of the women’s FWT I’m going to have to ski all the more solid once I’m back competing – I need 3 good results to make the finals of the FWT in Verbier. The top 5 women make it. But maybe I shouldn’t think like that because it might put me under too much pressure. Anyway, going skiing tomorrow on my brand new Kästle LX92 (1cm wider than this year’s Kästle LX82) which arrived in the mail on Friday – woohoo can’t wait to ski again and tear up some groomers!

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.