Freeride World Tour is off to a flying start and it’s only going to get rowdier!

The Freeride World Tour is famed for pushing the envelope of what is possible on some of the world’s best known and most intimidating faces. Digital Editor Joe is pleased to report that after the opening round of the 2019 season, it’s business as usual.

Japan is known for its deep, light snow and lift-accessible terrain, but the face chosen for the Hakuba stop of the tour is an altogether more intimidating beast. After a successful 4* trail event as part of the feeder series, The Freeride World Tour Qualifiers back in 2017 the first fully fledged 5* event was scheduled for January 2018.

Unfortunately, ‘Japanuary’ lived up to its reputation a little too well as the event was stormed out. The Pacific weather gods delivered more snow than was required or safe, with the competition face staying untracked by competition riders for 2018. Redemption was certainly the name of the game this year in Hakuba, the resort hosting a field stacked with the best male and female skiers and snowboarders eager to show how hard they had been training in the offseason.

Discover the Hakuba backcountry on Ski Club Freshtracks' Japan Powder Adventure 

What is the Freeride World Tour?

Freeride World Tour is the leading competition series for big mountain skiing. Riders start at a gate at the top of an ungroomed face, sometimes deep in the backcountry. Skiers and snowboarders then have one shot each at descending the face littered with cliffs, pillows and other natural features. The route through these obstacles is chosen by the individual rider, with the only condition that they finish their run through the finish line at the bottom of the course, when they are then allocated a score by a panel of judges.

Riders may choose any route down the face they please, performing tricks along the way, the more creative the line, the more points awarded. Additional points awarded by judges in the following criteria: control, technique, fluidity, plus air and style – the latter of which is a firm spectator favourite.

Full replay of the Hakuba stage of the 2019 FWT

Watch all of the action on the full live webcast

With such anticipation in the lead up to the first event, we were a little worried that riders would play it safe and lay down conservative runs to secure a solid score in the first run. However, competitors didn’t disappoint, with hammers being dropped in all the categories all over the competition face.

The best action from the men's field

The best action from the men's snowboard competition

Watch all of the action from the top performers in the male snowboard competition.

The ‘Art of Flight’ star had a 720 up his sleeve which came out to play towards the top of his run before whipping around a backflip in the more technical sections. Austrian Ruf rode the terrain in his signature style sending it to the moon off features many weren’t even considering with a clean 360 to finish the run. The podium was rounded off by American Davey Baird who impressed in the inaugural 2019 event. Known for his consistency, Baird is no stranger to the podium having featured last season but will be once again be looking to top the rankings later in the season as he did in Kicking Horse in 2018.

In the men’s ski category, the title was contested by keen rookie freshmen, in-form sophomores and freeski royalty, with the podium being topped by one of each. The largest category on the tour is always one of the most hotly contested and this event did not disappoint.

Watch the top male freeriders in Japan

Watch all of the action from the top performers in the male ski competition.

In third was a hotshot newbie to the tour Tom Peiffer who impressed with a technical line that was pulled off with incredible fluidity with a stratospheric 360 announcing his arrival to the top flight of Freeride. Another FWT rookie was on the podium, claiming the second step was 2019 wildcard and all-time freeski legend Tanner Hall. Shredding from top to bottom with his signature infectiously playful style, the American proved that he still had the edge over the young guns in his first freeride competition. Launching two 360s and a backflip on some of the biggest features on the course, Tanner stated his intentions for the season loud and clear.

It takes a lot to top a field as strong as the current stable of men’s FWT ski athletes, but for many Marcus Eder topping the podium was no surprise. The man of the moment was clearly enjoying himself slashing powder banks straight out the gate before laying out a huge flat spin 360, topically grabbing Japan, before spinning a huge corked three in the opposite direction to transfer to a different zone on the course. The winner to be finished on one of the most technical areas of the course, just holding on to stick his line.

Standout female performances

Third to start were the female snowboarders. It may be the smallest category on the tour but that didn’t mean the competition was any less fierce. Anna Orlova claimed her maiden FWT victory in Japan, two years after winning the test event in the same location. The Russian, who has two second-place finishes to her name, finally got her hands on that elusive gold medal. Manuela Mandl of Austria proved to be as consistent as ever, claiming her 6th FWT podium. From 2016-2018, Marion Haerty has finished all but two FWT events with some silverware, and the Frenchwoman was back to her best, claiming another podium. With so much experience in the field, it is going to be an interesting season for the female snowboarders!

Female ski and snowboard highlights

Watch all of the action from the top performers in the female disciplines.

The female skiers drew the short straw in Japan, having to wait until last to drop meaning that the snow was at its heaviest and had been chopped up by the other categories. To add to the impediment, waiting at the top of a mountain can be a chilly affair. Despite the impediment, the ladies still put on a show.

Experience triumphed in the women’s field with Arianna Tricomi topping the judges’ scorecards. The 26-year-olds huge 360 helped her towards the win that meant an Italian stood atop each ski podium. A favourite ahead of the event, Tricomi had an incredible 2018 season, winning three out of the five stops of the tour, can she do even better this year? Hot on the heels of Arianna Tricomi were the Swiss pair Maude Besse in 2nd and Elisabeth Gerritzen in 3rd. The compatriots both stomped solid runs showing style from top to bottom.

Although she missed out on the podium, wildcard Scandi shredder Hedvig Wessel was one of the talking points of the whole competition. The ex-mogul skier who competed for Norway at two Olympics landed one of the biggest backflips of the day at the top of the course and finished in 4th.

Ask the professionals

Next month, the Ski Club is heading to the third stop of the 2019 Freeride World Tour in Austria to find out what makes the athletes tick. We want to know - do you have any burning questions you would like to ask these incredible backcountry daredevils? 

Deadline for submissions: midnight 19/02/2019

From the Far East to way out west…

Next up in the calendar is the North American stop of the tour in Kicking Horse, Canada. Running from 2-8 February. Watch it live via the FWT Facebook channel.

For full results head to the Freeride World Tour website. 

Improve your off piste and freeride skills with an off piste Freshtracks holiday this season.