The biggest off piste competition in the world, The Freeride World Tour, charged through the mountains of Andorra this week and Ski Club’s Sophie Mead was at the finish line in Ordino, Arcalís to capture the action.

The contest pits the most talented freeride ski and snowboard athletes against each other on steep, challenging mountain faces across the globe. Athletes descend the face looking for features to link and perform jumps, spins and flips whilst also maintaining control and style. The catch? They are not allowed to practice riding the face beforehand. They are only permitted to have a visual inspection of each mountain-top arena, with judges marking their score based on line choice, control, fluidity, air and style.

LIVE BROADCAST - FWT20 Ordino-Arcalís, Andorra

 

The Freeride World Tour is bang in the middle of its competition circuit which has five stops: Hakuba in Japan, Kicking Horse in Canada, Ordino Arcalís in Andorra, Fieberbrunn in Austria and the grand finale in Verbier, Switzerland. Athletes were lucky enough to enjoy Hakuba’s deep powder and the sparkling sunshine experience which Kicking Horse offers, but over on this side of the Atlantic the story is slightly different. The snow on Ordino’s Quince Metros face was deemed too thin so the comp was postponed. But after receiving a fresh 30cm of snow over the weekend, it got the green light and the freeride elite hiked to the iconic mountain-top start gates. It was game on!

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Quince Metros Face

First up was the women’s ski category and after an incredible performance in Kicking Horse, the ladies had a new challenge on their hands. First to drop was newbie Jessica Hotter who set an impressive standard with five big airs over exposed rocks, executing them confidently and even popping with conviction. Double world champion Arianna Tricomi put down a stylish and speedy run despite recent injury and Swedish Wildcard Evelina Nilsson threw a backflip but sadly crashed. With standards high, former World Cup mogul skier and double Olympian Hedwig Wessel stepped up to the plate and delivered a huge laid-out backflip with a textbook landing, securing first place. Second was FWT veteran Jackie Passo who almost didn’t compete this year, and third was Swiss sender and Faction rider Elizabeth Gerritzen.

Talking to the Ski Club at the finish line, Hedvig said: “I’m pretty happy with my run, I managed to stick to my plan. The conditions were changing, it was really nice pow and good snow and then it got crusty and difficult on the kickers but all in all it was a good comp!”

It was incredible to see the women’s ski category pushing themselves and continuing to deliver outstanding performances. Commentator Derek Foose applauded the wave of women pushing the sport forward and co-presenter Neil Williman said that freestyle is spreading among the international women’s field like coronavirus. He’s not wrong!

Hedvig Wessel’s winning run

  

Next was the women’s snowboard category which only had six competitors but a whole load of talent. The entire field showed excellent technical skills navigating narrow couloirs and hunting rocky sections to throw airs off. Everyone had clean runs and luckily Canadian rider Claudia Avon made it safely to the finish after hitting a rock, showing she is made of tough stuff. Local rider and wildcard Nuria Castán Barón performed brilliantly on her home hill and took the lead but was knocked off by Australian rookie Michaela Davis-Meehan who went huge on her first air and landed effortlessly, scoring highly in the air and style category. Current leader Marion Haerty had barely been challenged but in Andorra she was knocked down two spots and will look to climb back up the rankings in Fieberbrunn.

Michaela said to the Ski Club: “I thoroughly enjoyed my run. It was so good to see all the new powder, I was super stoked! My first drop was probably my favourite, I was a bit nervous to hit it but once I got on it that set me up for the rest of my run and now I can’t get the smile off my face.”

Michaels Davis-Meehan’s winning run

 

Next to drop was the ski men, a category packing heat with triple the number of riders compared to other categories and stacked with talent from all disciplines. After several nasty falls in Kicking Horse (including one backflip into a tree) the men showed they were hungry for points and were perhaps keen to redeem themselves in their new Andorra arena.

Current leader Andrew Pollard showed the crowd why he deserved his yellow bib by executing a lightning fast run peppered with huge airs and even a daffy grab. Hot on his heels was USA’s Isaac Freeland who took a cliff backwards, wowing the judges with a switch misty 540, followed by a mute grab. To top it he crossed his skis during another trick called a screamin’ seamen – another crowdpleaser. His creativity combined with his race background ensured the run was full of variety and fluid, placing him second.

Isaac Freeland’s was awarded the Peak Performance Radical Moment for his switch misty 5

 
There were lots of spins from the male field. Riders Craig Murray, Drew Tabke and Tanner Hall all brought freestyle skills to the table, however the 360s weren’t quite enough to podium. Seeking points for line and creativity, Japanese rider Yu Sasaki dropped from an angle nobody expected, so much so that people were still sitting there when he rode past! The winning run came from France’s Leo Slemmet who dropped effortlessly from a steep start ridge and proceeded to perform a huge backflip and 360, despite being in recovery from an achilles injury! Also throwing hammers was Red Bull sponsored Swede, Kristofer Turdell, who delivered two enormous floaty backflips despite challenging visibility, landing him in third place after Leo in first and Isaac in second.

Leo Slemmet’s winning run

  

Local Andorra competitor Daniel Fornell-Prat, also a dad and a policeman, was representing on his home hill as a wildcard and took a creative line using his seasoned knowledge to find huge airs off as many features as possible. He had a couple of heavy landings but point blank refused to fall, a nod to his expertise and stability as a rider. After an outstanding run he celebrated too early and fell after a premature claim, sadly taking a heavy hit on his score from the judges.

The conditions in Andorra did not give the athletes an easy ride. Thin snow and strong winds rendered the face too dangerous to ride originally and the conditions were constantly changing throughout, challenging riders to re-assess for every run. It is this ability to adapt which demonstrates why the athletes are at the top of their game. Sadly the weather was too snowy for the snowboard men to compete as rightly the Freeride World Tour always puts safety first. Against all odds both the staff and athletes delivered an outstanding and inspirational event. Take a bow freeriders. We look forward to the next showdown in Austria.