The best skiers and boarders on the mountain?
Staged over five legs each winter, the world’s best freeride skiers and boarders compete for the Swatch Freeride World Tour title at the final event in Verbier, Switzerland in late March. The winners take home a chunk of the $400,000 prize fund but perhaps more importantly can lay claim to being one of the world’s very best all-round, big-mountain skiers or boarders.
The first three legs have already taken place, with the 4th leg in Haines, Alaska, set to kick off on Friday 13th March. Results from the first three events acted as a qualifier for Alaska, which in turn acts a qualifier for the final event in Verbier. So as a consequence, there really is no room for error and one bad run could easily spell the end of an athlete’s qualification chances.
How does the competition work?
To compete on the Freeride World Tour (FWT), riders must have secured enough rankings points from worldwide qualifier events held throughout the year. These range from relatively small 1* events such as the Coe Cup at Glencoe in Scotland, to 4* events such as the Open Faces Obergurgl. Qualification points are awarded on a sliding scale, so a 1* winner would gather 320 points whereas a 4* win would bag 1,800 points. The riders with the highest number of points then qualify for the prestigious, five-legged Freeride World Tour.
In competition, the riders are judged on the “overall impression” of their run, which is deliberately left as an open definition to develop the most progressive riding. The best runs generally combine big jumps, a difficult line, fluidity of riding and expert control, meaning all facets of big mountain riding are put to the test. Reckless riding is penalised as are crashes or prolonged pauses.
Riders are judged on the “overall impression” of their run
Despite this there are still some athletes who would never compete on the FWT as they believe freeriding should not be judged full-stop. Even the FWT’s own rules contain the following statement:
“By definition, the term ‘freeride’ doesn’t really match to the word ‘competition’. Some riders refuse to enter contests because of this definitional clash or simply would prefer not to be judged.”
However, the calibre of riders competing has always been exceptionally high and judging by some of the lines skied/ridden in this year’s 8th edition of the competition, the standard is world class.
Some of this year’s highlights
The 2015 edition of the FWT has produced some spectacular moments and some of the best runs ever seen in the history of the competition. Sam Smoothy from New Zealand produced the most memorable run of the winter so far, tearing down an almost impossible line on the Portella face in Arcalis, Andorra. I think the mid-run expletive can be excused (for soon to be obvious reasons…) and his POV GoPro footage is seriously worth watching:
Sam Smoothy’s run from Arcalis – click on the image to watch
The third leg, moved from the Austrian resort of Fieberbrunn back to Arcalis, also saw some spectacular action thanks to bright sunshine and a tonne of fresh powder. Check out the footage below of the snowboard event which gives a great idea of the requirements behind a winning run:
Click on the screenshot for highlights of the second Arcalis event
Brits as serious contenders
Two British athletes have been mixing it with the world’s best this season, with Sascha Hamm competing in the men’s snowboard and Neil Williman in the men’s ski event Hamm lies in 8th overall following second place in the first event of the season in Chamonix, whilst Williman sits in a highly credible 24th position. Hamm’s story in particular is very impressive, as he spends four days a week in an estate agent’s office in London before flying out each Thursday evening for three days of riding at the freeride mecca of Chamonix. Hamm came third overall last year in his rookie season so will be looking to repeat that feat in Verbier in the season finale. Click on the video screenshot below for an insight into his life on tour:
Fancy a go? Enter the Coe Cup…
The Coe Cup 1* event is held this weekend (14th/15th March) up at Glencoe on the country’s steepest piste – the Flypaper. Entries for this year’s event are sadly now closed, but a total of 63 entrants from seven countries are set to compete, with the winners taking home 320 ranking points. Look out for this year’s results and announcements about the 2016 edition on the event’s official Facebook page and maybe even consider competing next year…
The Flypaper hosts the 2015 Coe Cup and is in great condition this year