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.

Nissan Tram Face Squaw USA – 3rd Freeride World Tour Stop

The 3rd FWT stop was held yesterday, Monday, on the Silverado venue in Squaw Valley USA. We couldn’t ski the ledgendary Tram Face due to the snow conditions. The wet snow from the day before was frozen solid from the temperature drop and clear skies during the night. Lots of competitors were feeling nervous about skiing the Tram Face, then we had a large slab avalanche which was triggered from a person walking on the ridge above, and that was the end of that. The Tram Face remains unskied.

The FWT venue in Squaw, Silverado. The start was right next to the High Camp building.

Instead, Silverado offered competitors playful terrain to put up a great show for the hundreds of cheering locals, with riders pushing the limits with a ‘best of two runs’ format. It was the strongest female field I’ve ever competed in, with the 10 top riders in the world competing. The high point of the day was the women skiers stepping up the game with a great level of riding, taking the same big cliff jumps as the men and creative line choices. Local Squaw Valley skier and Freeride World Tour wild card Jackie Paaso was without a doubt the biggest crowd pleaser. She took a massive cliff jump at the bottom of the face, faster and higher than most of the men, challenging them for the second heat. Ane Enderud skied a solid technical line, placing her in 2nd place, and Squaw local and ski movie star Ingrid Backstrom executed a balsy move with a difficult air into a transition.

Henrik Windstedt won it for the men’s ski and Xavier de Le Rue for the snowboard with Shannan Yates winning it for the women’s snowboard.

Jackie Paaso killing it!!! ©NISSAN TRAM FACE 2010 SQUAW VALLEY USA / C.MARGOT

After landing on a rock and crashing on my first run, I decided to ski the same line I had planned for my 1st run, this time giving it some more juice so I would clear the rocks in the landing on my second air. I cleared the rocks all right, flying way further than I had thought, which meant I was too low to access the line I had planned on the skiers right. So my line lacked good drops in the lower section. I came in 8th, which has moved me down in the Freeride World Tour 2010 ranking to 7th place. As only the top 3 female skiers are invited to compete in the FWT finals at the Verbier Extreme, it probably means I’ll be ending my competition season now.

All in all, it was such an honour for me to be skiing side by side with undoubtedly some of the best female skiers in the world, to be part of it. I had a great time.

First podium at the Freeride World Tour

At the start of the winter, I was lucky enough to receive a wildcard for the 2nd – of a total of 4 – Freeride World Tour women’s stop, the SCOTT Big Mountain Fieberbrunn in Austria. The contest, also a 3-star Freeride World Qualifier for the men, took place yesterday in generally good weather conditions. The quality of the snow on the “Wildseeloder” face was good, however due to the lack of a good snow base, options were limited to 3 to 4 main lines. As many competitors discovered, there was often only a thin layer of snow on relatively rocky terrain.

Women's podium ski @ SCOTT Big Mountain Fieberbrunn

Female riders who chose a relatively easy line with good snow conditions, but able to ski fast and fluid, came out on top. Norway’s Ane Enderud, Freeride World Champion 2009, dominated with a fast line in the furthest couloir on the skiers right, incorporating several airs.  Sweden’s Janette Hargin also showed great skiing with no hesitation in a similar line, while I was placed 3rd by the judges for a fast and smooth line with one big air. New Zealand’s Janina Kuzma was close on my heels in 4th place with a well-skied, creative line she seemed happy with.

Excitement and nerves at the start of the race

Wille Lindberg dropping the same air as I did

Probably the most enjoyable competition run I have had to date...shredding the pow

In the men’s field, Austria’s Matthias “Hauni” Haunholder, a local of Fieberbrunn, and Switzerland’s Simon Andermatten, shared the podium with 2 quite different, but very impressive runs. Third place went to Austria’s Stefan Hofer, followed by my skiing buddy and fellow Austrian Stefan Häusl.