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.

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

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!

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!