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

The Alaskan Reality

Now, after having had the incredible luck of four blue-bird days in a row of skiing in Haines, Alaska, I feel like my life as a skier has changed forever. The Alaskan mountains are like nothing I’ve ever seen before; skiing this terrain is completely different to anything else I’ve ever done before. First of all, the sheer size of the mountains, with their steep spines, enormous glaciers and crevasses, and ridge lines crowned by meter-high cornices completely overwhelm you. The helicopter can drop you off on the top of lines that are otherwise simply impossible to access.

Ready to drop in!

Ready to drop in!

On my very first day, my very first line, I was towed in by the helicopter and dropped off on a small pyramid-shaped peak on top of a ridge line, offering just enough space for me to get my skis on. A second later the heli and the noise was gone and I was all alone, standing there quite petrified, without time for my mind to adjust to the steepness and exposure. On top of that, there’s a film crew waiting and ready for me to drop in. In that moment I really felt like everything I’ve ever learnt as a skier, all the skills I’ve acquired and all the experience gained, would be put to the test. But I also kept calm and believed I could do it, and then I nailed that run.

Haines, Alaska, is home to the most beautiful mountains to ski in the world

Haines, Alaska, is home to the most beautiful mountains to ski in the world

Alaska makes you a better and stronger skier, especially mentally, because here there is no room whatsoever for self-doubt, hesitation or uncertainties. If you’re skiing big mountain lines here, you better know what you’re doing and you better send it, because there can be serious consequences if you don’t.

You can check out my facebook album of photos from this Alaska trip so far here.

 

 

The Alaskan Dream

Alaska – the mythical last frontier on every skiers’ bucket list, the most filmed mountains in the world due to their beauty and insane terrain, countless stories of skiers waiting for weeks on end just for that one epic day in the mountains with the heli. When Sandra Lahnsteiner sent me an email on 18 March asking whether I wanted to join her and Matilda Rapaport for 2,5 weeks heliskiing and filming in Haines, Alaska, I couldn’t refuse. I’ve never felt ready to ski the terrain and spines I always see in the ski films from Alaska, but I just figured you have to start somewhere. So here goes!

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 12.20.41 PM

We’re here to ski the Chilkat mountains accessible by heli just 33 miles north of the town of Haines in South-East Alaska. We’re living in the Funny Farm at Mile 27 so we can be close to the heli port when the weather pops. We’re flying with Alaska Heliskiing, one of two heli-operations in this area. Haines has apparently not the extent of terrain Valdez offers for example, but the mountains here are meant to be the most beautiful in the world if you’re a skier/snowboarder.

Hanging with the girls at the 33 Mile House next to the heli base

Hanging with the girls at the 33 Mile House next to the heli base

Getting a glimpse of the mountains when we first arrived

Getting a glimpse of the mountains when we first arrived

Today is our 6th day without skiing. We’re waiting for good light conditions to fly in the heli and also to film. The great news is that it snowed 70 to 100 cm two days ago above approx. 800 metres, and we’ve got a good weather window from tomorrow onwards for a couple of days. We can hardly believe our luck, but we’re still trying to keep our expectations low because you never know what’s going to happen.