Freeride World Tour 2022: Event Three - Highlights in Snowboarding
Saddle up as Snowboard Expert Jason Robinson grabs the reins and takes you on a ride to Kicking Horse, BC for the third stop of this year's Freeride World Tour.
Well folks, if you haven't been following the tour thus far, I can assure you that this third stop had spectators, competitors, and event staff all guessing up to the very last minute. An extreme wind event occurred just before the competition, lasting a couple of days and leaving the original venue, Ozone, unsafe for competition. The high winds removed any and all of the soft snow that was on the face, leaving the surface extremely hard and riddled with sastrugi, which is a hard wave or ripple formation cemented into the snow. When the safety team did their safety check the day before the comp, you couldn’t even see any tracks where they had skied. The snow conditions were rock hard, and the safety criteria were not met. The athletes and safety team made the call that the venue was unsafe for competition, and I believe they made the right call.
The New Venue
The event staff scrambled to find viable options to continue with the event. A possible replacement venue had been identified: T1 South in the Super Bowl—coincidentally the day before the actual Super Bowl. After the safety check, they deemed this was going to work as a replacement for the original venue. The east/southeast aspect saw the wind deposit snow on its surface and it was deemed to be the best skiing in the entire resort.
T1 South is a much shorter face than Ozone, but it’s very featured and even gets some sunshine in the morning when the event runs. Not the most vertical drop, but a very wide venue, so there are still plenty of options for athletes to pick their own lines. It’s worth noting that this face has been open to the general public all winter. Typically these courses are closed for 30 days before the comp, but since this was not the planned venue, it had been heavily skied and certainly looked that way. That said, the top of the face still looked super fun, even with the existing tracks. Up top, there are a few small rock bands stacked on top of each other that could be one of the most interesting parts of the face. Down low on the face and far looker’s right there is another rock band that certainly caught my eye as one of the most appealing areas on the face. Unlike most of the tour venues, you can see the whole face from the summit which will help boost riders confidence when charging down this heavily tracked mountain.
Conditions were far from ideal, however, when you consider that the event was nearly canceled altogether, everyone is pretty thankful a viable option was found on such short notice. Us viewers can thank the event organizers and athletes for making such a quick and concise call. All the athletes agreed that the backup option was looking much more appealing than the original run, Ozone.
The FWT staff never ceases to amaze! The work it takes to run an event like this in these remote locations is no small feat. Not only did the high winds destroy the snow on Ozone, but they also damaged or destroyed much of the broadcast equipment and flattened a few of the tents they had staged. The staff worked particularly hard at this stop, saving the event from being canceled and working tirelessly through the night to ensure the live feed would still go off without a hitch.
First up were the ladies! Unlike the Natural Selection Tour where the men drop first, chivalry is not dead here on the Freeride World Tour. The announcers referred to the current snowboard women's rankings as a “hot tub full of snakes,” and yes, the tour ranking is a bit jumbled up. Going into Stop Three, there was a tie for first place between Erica Vicander and Tiphanie Perrotin. There is also another tie for third between Manuela Mandl and Núria Castán Barón. This means that there were four women making up the top two spots, and only three of them will be moving on, so the pressure was certainly on for them, and the final tabulations may perhaps even require a calculator.
Tiphanie Perrotin opened up the course for the day. She rode very strong and lined up a solid air. She lost control in a couple of spots and had one major butt check that docked her some points, putting her in fifth out of the six ladies.
Spain's Núria is competing with an ankle injury that she sustained riding the resort during the days leading up to the event, but she says that she can currently snowboard better than she can walk! I was extremely happy to see that she started from Start Zone Two. This entrance was not open to the public and required a harness and rope to get to the top, so she was able to start off with some soft, untracked snow. After a few nice turns in untracked powder, she headed down the fall line with confidence, finding a good little air into a pocket of soft snow. Not the fastest of runs but Nuria was able to keep in control the whole run, just barely missing the podium by a few points for a 4th place finish.
It’s no surprise that Katie Anderson, a former boardercross rider, brought power and grace to this venue. The challenging and firm conditions didn’t seem to knock her off step. She managed to find a couple of pockets of soft snow and had one of her best runs of the tour thus far, putting her in a close second. Personally, I thought this may have been the women’s run of the day, yet I’m not one to judge.
Manuela had one of my favorite lines off the top, choosing to drop in from Start Zone Two. She did well managing her speed, found the most hits of any of the ladies, and earned herself the highest line score and a well-earned podium. The Austrian rider lost control a couple of times and got docked pretty hard on her fluidity score, otherwise, she may have found herself in first instead of third.
For good reason, Erika was voted the fan favorite to podium here at Kicking Horse. She started off with a lot of speed and found a few solid, albeit small airs. She hit one great surf-turn up top that really stood out to me which showcased her great board control. Her line score was lower than some of the other women, opting for a more “safe” line–she pretty much just took it fall line the whole way, skipping some of the more interesting sections. However, she rode it with style and confidence and wound up with a well-deserved first-place finish.
Blake Moller is first to drop for the men, and according to this young American, he doesn’t ride for the judges at all but strictly chooses his lines and tricks based on the way that he wants to ride personally. Very commendable, and honestly, that’s the safest way to approach these high-risk runs. Blake started off pretty strong and rode fast toward one of the better-looking hits on the face. He laid out a sizable backflip, something he’s become quite well known for. He put it down to his feet but just couldn’t hang on during the high-speed ride out—the rough snow conditions getting the best of him.
French powerhouse and two-time FWT champion, Victor de Le Rue, starts off the run with a massive half cab and a ground-shaking stomp. He rode with his usual high speeds, remaining fast through the tracks and hard bumps. Vic found a few more opportunities to get off the ground, keeping the airs small but smooth, topping it off with a little frontside 360. Unfortunately, toward the bottom of what was otherwise a clean run, he lost control and had to sit it down just before the finish line.
Camille Armand was the first of the men to begin from the alternate Start Zone Two. He found some great snow off of the top, carried good speed from the untracked into the tracked-out portion of the course, before lining up a nice take-off to launch a backflip. He kept heading rider’s left toward an area of the course where I would have gone had I been a competitor! He got into the most technical terrain of the face, and with some skilled navigation, he picked his way through a steep section that was holding good snow. Camille made a few critical turns above the exposure and lined up a nice committed exit, dropping twenty feet or so off of a cliff. He touched down in some soft snow which helped him with a clean landing and ride-away. He had made the best line choice of the day, in my personal opinion, and the judges seemed to agree—giving him the high score, an even 80, and ultimately the win for the stop.
This is Mathieu Martineau’s first time on tour, but he is a local to Golden, BC so has certainly ridden this face before. The hometown hero, Mathieu had some serious fans present that were cheering for him the entire time. Unfortunately, he crashed early in his run after getting bitten by a snow snake. He took a nice drop but wasn’t able to land it.
Living legend and modern-day superhero, Manuel Diaz needed a podium here or he certainly was not going to be moving on to the next stop. A propensity for sniffing out the best snow on a face, he has the technical savvy to know exactly where to place his turns, when it’s time to ditch speed, and when it’s time to open up the throttle. He came off the top from Start Zone Two, just like I knew he would. He had the best top section and found the deepest snow on the entire face. Riding with speed and confidence, he made it look fun and carried momentum off the top, bombing straight at a nice lip, and throwing a massive backside 720. He wasn't able to stomp it clean, however, it was by far the best trick attempted by the snowboarders all day. It put him in fourth place, however if he’d had a clean landing on the seven and kept things rolling, he’d have certainly made the podium, but this will be Manuel’s last FWT stop for the season.
Cody Bramwell out of Great Britain, of all places, put down a smooth backside 360 up top. He rode fast and kept it under control the whole way through. Obviously a strong rider, he just didn’t quite do as much as the French riders to impress the judges in the line choice department. Probably the cleanest and fastest run of the day, he made it into an easy third place but no higher.
All and all, it was a pretty strong showing from the snowboarders at Kicking Horse this week, and despite the particularly challenging conditions, the riders rode well. Of course, the snowboarding can, at times, look a bit dull when compared to the skiing on tour, and these harsh conditions only made that more apparent. The reality is that skiing is easier, and when the snow is as variable as it was here, the four edges instead of the two really help. Additionally, the ability to utilize independent suspension becomes a very clear advantage on the ski side. That said, my hat is off—a handful of the skiers went absolutely bonkers!
The world-class freeriders moving on to Stop Four in Fieberbrunn, Austria are Erica Vikander, Tiphanie Perrotin, and Manuela Mandl for the women. The men advancing to the next stop are Camille Armand, Blake Moller, Michael Mawn, Ludovic Guillot-Diat, and Cody Bramwell.
Check back in with me here in a few weeks for a rundown on what to expect from these three ladies and five gentlemen as they head to the Alps for Stop Four in Austria. Until then, like these athletes, I hope you will be getting some quality time on snow. And of course, if you’re looking to upgrade your current setup or are fired up to find the equipment your favorite FWT athletes are riding, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or another knowledgeable Snowboard Expert. 'Til next time!