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

Go Big or Go Home

Since my last blog update almost a month ago, I feel like I’ve come a really long way in terms of my competition performance, albeit still without results to show for it. At the end of February the whole Freeride World Tour met up in Kirkwood, California, for the 3rd stop (4th for the men) of the tour. I knew it hadn’t snowed there for weeks and that tricky snow conditions would be waiting for us. Combine that fact with the great snow and weather conditions we still had at home, and you need to be very focussed about staying motivated. Still, it’s a lot of fun to compete without any pressure and I wanted to use the opportunity to start in Kirkwood as a great training experience as well as to get to know the face for next year. I traveled with my friend and training buddy Stefan Häusl and we had the whole travel logistics dialled. The trip over went smoothly and we were all rested and acclimatised in time for the comp on 27 Feb.

Cirque Kirkwood

The “Cirque”, competition venue for the Freeride World Tour in Kirkwood

I wanted to do a line on the venue that included the top portion of the face, taking a side door entrance above the lower portion of a double – I knew the snow would be solid ice there but at least you know what to expect. Then I chose to continue over a large drop which I knew would be firm in the landing, but I thought it was doable. I was pretty scared about this line, so scared in fact, that the night before in bed my heart was beating like mad every time I imagined jumping over the airs. But in the end the excitement to do these airs remained, and I decided to go for it. If it’s only the fear that’s in my head and heart I usually change lines.

Kirkwood cliff drop

Getting some air in Kirkwood (copy: Freeride World Tour, D. Carlier)

I was feeling pretty good on competition day, although the nervousness in the morning is almost enough to make me sick. My top air went beautifully and I jumped the second air fluidly, finding my take-off without a problem. The air was huge! On landing the impact was big, I had more weight on my right ski than on my left and couldn’t hold it and spun out of control. What a shame! I had chosen the all-out strategy and this time it didn’t work out for me. Jackie Paaso won with a really nice and fluid line, one of my favourite skiers Christine Hargin also had a pretty bad crash, but fortunately didn’t hurt herself.

Freeride World Tour 2013

During the Freeride World Qualifier in La Clusaz, I received a wildcard for the next three stops on the Freeride World Tour. Just before my Women’s Freeride & Yoga Camp, I competed in Chamonix and placed 4th with a solid run in good conditions:

Tomorrow I’m flying to Kirkwood, California, to compete in the next Freeride World Tour stop. Thanks to my good results on the Freeride World Qualifier tour this year, I already know that I’m qualified for the Freeride World Tour 2014 so I can compete without pressure in Kirkwood and get to know the face there. Wish me luck!

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!

 

A Unified Freeride World Tour for 2013

Event organizers of SWATCH Freeride World Tour, Freeskiing World Tour and The North Face Masters of Snowboarding announced a merger this week that will combine all three tours under one unified global 5-star championship series. The new six-stop world tour – named the SWATCH FREERIDE WORLD TOUR BY THE NORTH FACE – will include freeride skiing and snowboarding at each stop.

This means that the world’s best freeriders will be competing in the USA/Canada and Europe together, increasing competition between riders and hence the level of riding in general. There will be one true Freeride World Tour champion. On the women’s side, there will be 12 strong skiers battling it out for the overall title. I find competition for the women especially important: it brings us together from all parts of the world, allowing us to push the level of female skiing further and faster due to the fact that it’s incredibly motivating to see each other skiing strong, fluid lines with solid airs.

It makes me very sad that I won’t be one of the female FWT riders after my last competition season full of crashes which cost me a place for the FWT 2013. I’m going to be competing on the Freeride World Qualifier events this coming winter, starting with a 4-star event in Chile now in August, with the aim of re-qualifying for FWT 2014. Still, I tried my best last winter and learnt a great deal about competition in general. The Freeride World Qualifier events will be ideal for me to build up confidence and learn to play the mental game required during competition. They will be important stepping stones for me to achieve my final goal: a successful performance on Freeride World Tour level.

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 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