Freeride World Tour 2022: Event Four - What to Look Out For in Skiing
The competition heads to Fieberbrunn, Austria, and Ski Expert Michael Dobson gives a state-of-the-game update and recommends which skiers to watch on Stop Four.
The Wildseeloder, just outside of the small Austrian town and ski area of Fieberbrunn, nestled in the Tyrolean Alps, is a legendary mountain that has hosted the Freeride World Tour since 2009. It is an eye-catching cirque with north through east and south-facing aspects and 610m of vertical packed to the brim with ideal freeride terrain. The Wildseeloder, like the rest of the Tyrolean Alps, benefit from their proximity to the Adriatic coast, catching large storm systems that can drop meters of snow at a time.
Unfortunately, despite a strong storm cycle in February, the region has received below-average snowfall this season, and they haven’t seen significant accumulation since the end of February. At nearby Fieberbrunn resort, the area is reporting natural snow depths ranging from 100-160cm. Cirques tend to do a good job of acting like a catcher's mitt, entraining snow across their multiple aspects.
We can expect some higher snow totals in the Wildseeloder, especially in features prone to cross-loading from wind effects. This should benefit the colder shaded north and northeast aspects, with these areas usually sheltering soft snow for days or even weeks after storms. Meanwhile, the sun-affected south/southeast aspects will likely feature more shallow snowpacks and a melt-freeze crust or soft spring-like corn snow depending on the time of day.
As usual, diligent line selection by the riders will be vital to ensure they find the conditions best suited to the terrain features and their styles of riding. This season at Fieberbrunn, we have some rule changes for the finals with organizers having the option of going with a ‘best of two’ option. That means athletes would have two chances at the Wildseeloder face. I for one would love the chance to see this implemented. Having the cushion of two runs will allow riders to explore what the mountain has to offer and push themselves and their riding. Also, who doesn’t love some extra FWT action?
With first and second-place finishes in Ordino and Kicking Horse, Jess turned her season around and is coming into finals ranked first overall. Her gutsy high-energy riding has been a joy to watch this season, and her confidence seems to be at an all-time high. I’m excited to see how she rides this wave of top-tier performances. Riders receive an extra 1.25x the number of points in the finals, so a big win in Fieberbrunn could help her pull away from the pack and give herself a larger margin of error at the last stop in Verbier.
The FWT rookie has truly had a breakout year and proven to everyone that she not only belongs on the tour but is one of the top athletes on the competition circuit. Her first-place finish at Kicking Horse knocked her into a tie for second place and was a perfect exhibition of her playful yet technical style. With a plethora of complex playful terrain to choose from in Fieberbrunn, Lily will have a strong opportunity to shine. There are less than 2,000 points separating her from Jess, so Lily has a great shot at closing out her rookie season in first place.
Currently tied for second with Lily Bradley, Olivia has had a stellar return to the tour after her season-ending injury last season. Her aggressive style has been on full display this year, and I don’t expect her to let up any time soon. Olivia loves to take chances and always seems to have her eye on big cliffs and airs. If given the opportunity, having two runs in Fieberbrunn will play to her advantage and leave her room to seek out her dream line and send it. If she can put a run to her feet, there’s a good chance she’ll be standing on top of the podium at the end of the day.
Maxime couldn’t have a better advantage coming into the finals. With two first-place finishes already under his belt, Maxime is already sitting high atop the leaderboard, and with fellow rookie phenom and second-place overall rider Max Palm dropping out due to injury, Maxime will enjoy a nearly 6,000 point buffer between himself and the next closest contender Andrew Pollard. This puts some serious pressure on the other athletes to perform their best, and Maxime doesn’t seem like the type to let off the gas. His riding is oozing with confidence as of late, and his high octane freestyle approach to the mountain pairs well with Fieberbrunn. Needless to say, the veterans of the tour will have their work cut out for them if they hope to unseat this rookie.
Pollard is the closest rider point-wise to Maxime and didn’t end up there on accident. Having grown up in Utah’s freeride and powder skiing Mecca, Alta, Pollard has spent his life honing a style centered around serious technical prowess with high-speed fluidity and is no stranger when it comes to hucking massive 360s and backflips off of natural features. The most fun part about watching Pollard ride is that he never seems to take the competition, or even himself, too seriously. He always has a smile on his face and is quick to support and embrace his fellow riders. This approach to freeride seems to alleviate much of that pressure to perform and allows riders to ski the way they want to ski. It just so happens that for Pollard, his lines of choice tend to land him on the podium.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about Turdell over the last few seasons on the tour, it’s that you can never count this man out. Just when you think they’ve got him against the ropes, he comes out swinging and lands himself on top of the podium. Sitting nearly 8,000 points behind Maxime in first, Turdell’s got some catching up to do. As mentioned earlier, in the finals, athletes receive 1.25x the normal number of points which provides ample opportunity to gain some ground with a big win. Turdell is a veteran of the tour and is no stranger to the Wildseeloder face. We’ll be looking for him to bring every last ounce of his hard-charging style come competition day.
Finn is an Olympic freestyle skier hailing from New Zealand and will be a wildcard addition for Fieberbrunn. If you’ve watched the FWT in seasons past, Finn’s last name should be familiar. He is the younger brother of none other than Hank Bilous. Of all of the talented riders in the finals with freestyle backgrounds, none can compete with Finn, and despite his park-centered focus, he is no stranger to freeride. I’m excited to see what he is able to bring to the table. A strong run from Finn could act as a spoiler and help reshape the landscape of the finals.
Wrapping It Up
Just because Elisabeth Gerritzen and Hedvig Wessel are currently sitting at the bottom of the finals leaderboard, there is no reason to count them out. Both have proven that they are true competitors and have more than what it takes to grab the win in Fieberbrunn. The women’s field is stacked with top-notch riders this season, and I expect the finals to be another showdown that will come down to the wire.
It is truly a shame that the men’s field will lose Max Palm for the finals. He stole the show in Baquiera Beret and earned himself a spot for the remainder of the tour. After an awkward fall in Ordino-Arcalis, Max hurt himself and hasn’t quite recovered since. At only 18 years old, he’s got a strong future ahead of him, and I commend him for doing the responsible thing and taking the time to properly get healthy again. His presence will certainly be missed, but don’t let that take away from the potential of his fellow riders. The finals for men’s ski features some of the best riders on two planks in the world and they will all be gunning for the top spot.
The competition has been confirmed for Monday, so set your alarms and get ready for one heck of a show. Follow along with myself and fellow Curated Expert Jason Robinson on the snowboard side while we continue to provide in-depth coverage for the Freeride World Tour finals. If you’re looking for ski and snowboard gear, March is the time to buy. Experts like me and Jason are on standby, ready to give you expert advice on the equipment that’s best for you and help you find the lowest possible prices of the season. Reach out and see what Curated is all about.