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

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.

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.

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.

Competition Season 2010

During December and January I’ve been training hard in Lech Zürs to get into the best possible shape in time for the competition season. The biggest highlight for me will be the women’s Freeride World Tour stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria, for which I received a wild card. It is an honour to ride with the world’s best female big mountain skiers and my chance to show what I’m capable of. Fingers crossed! Furthermore, I’m one of 3 women prequalified for the finals at the Engadin Snow, a 3-star Freeride World Qualifier which earns riders double the points of a 2-star Qualifier event.

Check out this impressive teaser to get you pumped for the FWT in Fieberbrunn from 11 to 18 Feb: