Last weekend the Freeride World Tour landed in Fieberbrunn, Austria, and Ski Club was at the finish line to watch the most talented freeride athletes make the mountain their stage 

Fieberbrunn was stop number three, slap bang in the middle of the tour, meaning that the riders had warmed up in the previous two resorts. In Hakuba and Kicking Horse they tackled friendlier faces with more freestyle focus, but Austria’s ‘hold the line’ theme and the sheer Wildseeloder face brought an ominous edge to the competition: playtime was over.

What is the Freeride World Tour?

Since 1996 skiers and snowboarders have competed to find the best line on mountain faces across the world. Freeride refers to skiing off piste on mixed and challenging terrain. Athletes from various backgrounds like racing, freestyle and mogul skiing bring their individual talents to the big mountain, and when I say big, I mean massive. Performance is judged on line, air and style, fluidity, control and technique. The catch? Athletes are not allowed to ride the face before the contest day. Instead, they must visually study the natural features of the mountain ahead of the competition and plan their line before actually taking it on. 

Watch the full competition here

Fieberbrunn 2019

Competition day brought an incredible buzz to Feiberbrunn resort. In the lead up to the event, the area had been enveloped in thick cloud, making scoping out the face difficult for the riders. Luckily Fieberbrunn enjoyed dazzling sunshine on Saturday which basked the intimidating Wildseeloder face in light. Half of the mountain remained the shade however, just to throw another challenge at the riders. It is a 2,119m craggy face peppered with razor sharp rocks, natural lips, bowls and a deep canyon. It has a terrifying steepness of 43% which the athletes would descend all 531m of in a matter of seconds. To watch the event, spectators could take the two lifts up to the contest village at Lärchfilzkogel, where a stunning snow amphitheatre awaited. 

Snowboard Men

With bluebird skies and crystal-clear visibility, it was all to play for on the third stop of the tour and the athletes did not disappoint, bringing plenty of creativity to the table. The first category to drop in was snowboard males, showcasing a star-studded line-up including Frozen Mind’s Victor De La Rue, all-star USA athletes Sammy Luebke, Blake Hamm and Davey Baird plus Austria’s very own Gigi Rüf. The face offered a vast playground for snowboarders and everyone in the category stepped up to the plate. We saw plenty of 360 spins, mute grabs and even a backflip. The winner vest was passed between Sammy and Davey until Victor De Le Rue stole the show, stomping three 360s in his run. The judges were losing track of rotations, saying “he must be getting dizzy up there!” 

Gigi delivered an exceptionally fluid and creative run, taking huge carving turns down the right side of the face before dropping into the canyon to make the most of its features. After all that action, it’s safe to say the face was warmed up for the next riders.

Ski Men

The men’s ski category was absolutely stacked with talent, featuring big mountain bosses from all over the world. With double the number of competitors compared to every other field, athletes needed to pull it all the way out the bag to impress the judges. Straight off the bat, the gents showed they were hungry for the podium by throwing backflips, huge gaps, spins and even a cheeky cossack for the judges and crowd. Markus Eder served up a huge laid out backflip after two 360s, landing a colossal score of 92 which put him straight in the champion’s hotseat.

Markus said:

“This is my third time competing on this face and up until today I hadn’t completed a run, so it was super relieving to finally land one. I skied on the looker’s right which I’ve never been in and at the start I had a lot of doubt going through my head. I thought it’s easy to make mistakes and maybe today’s the day, but I brought it down exactly how I wanted.” 

Markus Eder's winning run

FWT

Big Hitters

We saw mind-bending cliff drops from the likes of Andrew Pollard and Berkeley Patterson, along with former FWT champ Leo Slemmet sliding into third place at the last minute with a sky-high line score. All eyes were on freeride legend Tanner Hall who started out strong at the top, but took a tumble after he landed back seat from his backflip. The ‘Believe’ ski movie star was disappointed not to stomp the trick, throwing his poles down in frustration at the finish line.

Without a doubt, the most impressive trick of the day was delivered by Frenchman Mikael Bimboes, who took astronomical speed from the top, gathering enough momentum to gap the whole canyon! He pulled this trick back out the bag from last year, but it certainly doesn’t get old.

Although the 19 men are experts in their field, the mountain is a risky beast. Kicking Horse champion and Kiwi, Craig Murray, overshot a huge 360, landing straight on rocks and tumbling down the cliff. He was quickly attended to by medics and runners who collected his skis and helped him off the mountain. All competitors carry off piste equipment including shovels, probes and transceivers which are tested at two points on their way up the mountain. Control is one of the most important judging elements - the judges don’t like it when riders scare them. Regardless of expertise levels, nature is unpredictable and extreme sports athletes always compete prepared.

Watch Mickael Bimboes' canyon gap here

FWT

Ski Women

Third to drop in were the female skiers and this year heralded a big step forward for women’s categories: all athletes started from the same gate. In previous years, women have started lower down the face but this change marks a notable increase in the overall ability of the females, and the spectators and judges were excited to see the results. 

Starting the competition off with a bang, it was a joy to watch Kicking Horse winner Jaqueline Pollard apply outstanding ski technique to this big mountain face. She showed incredible control and speed, lighting up the rankings with an impressive score of 82. Amongst other riders there was a mix of racing, freestyle and freeride backgrounds. Defending champion Arianna Tricomi and Faction skis athlete Elizabeth Gerritzen delivered stylish runs with huge drops, adding shifty grabs for extra credit. The standout performance however came from Norwegian former mogul skier Hedvig Wessel, a Wild Card addition to the competition. Starting her run high up on the sunny side of the face, she gathered enough speed to confidently throw a huge backflip off a lip, pulling a textbook mogul trick out of her back pocket and executing it perfectly. Her fluid line and impressive control put her firmly at the top of the podium and showed why Wild Cards are here to shake things up. 

Hedwig said:

“I skied on the lookers right because I thought the snow was better and I could do bigger turns. The conditions were amazing I said to myself I’m going to have fun. I’ve picked a line where I’m going to enjoy my skiing and I did. “

Hedvig Wessel's winning run

FWT

Snowboard Women

Last but absolutely not least, the female snowboarders took on the striking Wildseeloder face. The top three from last year went head to head once again with slopestyle champion Marion Haerty taking on Hakuba winner Anna Orlova and FWT 19 overall champion Manuela Mandl on home turf. Anna showed her expertise on a high narrow gulley which wasn’t previously tacked by others and this technical approach was appreciated by the judges, landing her in second place overall. Several competitors dropped into the right hand side of the face, enjoying the new access from the top gate and tearing down the slope with expert precision and huge slash turns.

Kicking Horse local and competitor Nicole Kelly said:

“I’m so stoked on the ladies who asked for the same gate. I thought it was great and I’m proud to start from the top gate with the men. It opened up a lot of terrain for us and was a great move forward.” 

Erika Vikander and Maria Kuzma brought their surf backgrounds to the arena, showing us just how fluid and satisfying snowboarding through fresh powder can be! Unfortunately, Austria’s Manuela Mandl didn’t quite make the podium after a few tumbles but Marion kept hold of her golden bib in first place. 

Hold the Line highlights from Fieberbrunn

The Freeride Family

Although the riders battle for podiums and a cash prize, the commentators often refer to the FWT ‘family’ and that tight-knit bond is something you don’t always see in the live broadcasts. The riders are all incredibly supportive and friendly, which is visible in the finish area where they all wait to congratulate each other on the runs. Riders don’t want to podium by default just because somebody has fallen, they want solid competition and that’s exactly what they got here in Fieberbrunn.

It’s not just a hypothetical family either. In another highlight of the Austrian stop, skier siblings Andrew and Jacqueline Pollard both reached second place in the podiums – those are some strong freeride genes! Twin senders Tom and Liam Peiffer also competed side by side. 

FWT commentator and former competitor Neil Williman said: “We had an amazing event here in Fieberbrunn. The lines have been incredible, the snow was good and the sky was sunny. You can’t really ask for much more!”

For this stop, the Fieberbrunn winners have been crowned and the boundaries of freeriding have yet again been pushed. Next, it’s on to Andorra for ‘Crunch Time’ and Verbier for the spectacular extreme freeride finale. As the sun sets over the Wildseeloder and the flags are rolled up, one on thing is for sure, the FWT promotes the true spirit of freeride which is exploring in the mountains with friends. Together the country hosts, crowds and athletes share a passion for the sport and make it a truly a family affair. We can’t wait to see what’s next!

If you would like to start your own journey into freeriding, we would love to meet you on our Freshtracks holidays or ILG sessions.