Archive for the ‘Freeride World Qualification Tour’ Category

Big changes to the Freeride World Tour 2011 – for better or worse?

September 5, 2010
The organisers of the Freeride World Tour, into its 4th year, have recently announced some big changes for 2011. This blog is about how these changes might affect female ski and snowboard competitors. Previously, male and female competitors participated on the tour stops together, skiing or riding the same venues, with the exception of the finals in Verbier. For 2011, female competitions will be integrated within Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) events, with the final in Verbier as in previous years. The FWQ events, totalling 14 ski and snowboard events held mostly in Europe, were created to give the next generation of freeriders the opportunity to qualify for the FWT and compete with the world’s elite. So for next year, the women will be fighting it out for points in the FWQ events to decide the undisputed Freeride World Tour Champion. Should this really be seen as a step backwards for the women as the first online reactions of the female riders have shown?

Jackie Paaso clearing her winning air at the FWT10 stop in Squaw, USA

On the positive side, the level of women’s competition will increase due to the larger numbers of female competitors allowed to start at any one event. In the final at Verbier 2010, 23 male skiers competed compared to 7 female skiers. A larger female starting field will progress the sport. Furthermore, there will still be an undisputed female Freeride World Tour Champion at the end of the season, which apparently, is the whole point.

On the negative side, the women may yet again be marginalised at FWQ events as male competitors are given priority on a competition and media level.  There will likely also be financial implications for the women. Whereas competitors are payed to start at the FWT events, the FWQ events have no such financial support. If competitors can’t afford to do as many FWQ events as others, it puts them at a disadvantage (NB: the top 3 results of an unlimited amount of FWQ11 events will determine which riders are qualified for the finals in Verbier).

The role of the women in the Freeride World Tour previously has been insignificant. Media interest has primarily focussed on the men’s competitions. The highly expensive cineflexx camera for example, operated from a helicopter, was reserved for filming the men only at the FWT stop in Chamonix. Furthermore, the Eurosport 26 minute highlights of each FWT stop covered men’s competition only, never even mentioning that women were also competing. One must conclude therefore that the women, on a business level, don’t add any additional value to the FWT events so long as they are thrown in with the men. In this constellation, the men are the show, and it’s not doing the women any favours to have them tagging along.

The solution is a separate world tour for the women, such as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in women’s professional tennis or the ASP Women’s World Tour in professional surfing. Separating the women from the men allows the creation of an entirely new product which becomes attractive to a new group of sponsors wishing to advocate their women’s line or products. Such an event can be furthermore geared to women’s specific media. On a competition level, the venues and judging can be designed to progress women’s big mountain skiing and riding to the highest degree. It seems that FWT management is heading in the right direction. The organisers state that “female competitions will be featured (in 2011) within their own media showcase with on-line video features and a specific 26 minutes highlights show”.

Finally, I think it’s very important to appreciate what the FWT organisers have done so far for the sport in regards to making it more professional, especially in the eyes of the media. It’s by no means an easy job to do. The female competitors have worked hard to represent the sport well, and together we can make the FWT even better in future.

3rd Place at the NZ Freeski Open

August 19, 2010

The big mountain contest for the NZ Freeski Open was held today in the Motatapu Chutes at Treble Cone. Conditions turned out to be better than expected, with firm yet grippy snow. Shutting down after any bigger drop was very challenging today, so most skiers opted for more technical lines in steep and rocky terrain which is actually very suited to the chutes. I decided to ski the venue on my Kästle FX84 (84mm under the binding) which I usually use for groomers and firm snow conditions. I was able to come in third after a fast run with good technique. New Zealand Olympian Mitchey Greig came in 2nd with Janina Kuzma taking first place for the 6th time in a row. Yeah girls!

Womens podium NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain

The next contest in the NZ Freeride Series is the K2 Big Mountain Chill Series, a 2-star event from 25 to 29 August in Craigieburn and Mt. Olympus, followed by the Export Gold Extreme, a 3-star event in Mt. Ruapehu, which I will hopefully be starting at!

NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain On Tomorrow

August 18, 2010

The NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain comp, which has been on hold due to unfavourable snow conditions and bad weather, is being held in the Motatapu Chutes at Treble Cone tomorrow.

The snow conditions have improved since Monday, with a nice light layer of chalky snow last night and some softening at the top of the terrain. It is forecast to snow slightly more overnight which should hopefully top up the snow in there. Head judge Dion Newport reports that there are some wind drifts and pockets that should allow some good lines, however, difficult conditions will demand technical skiing. Competitors will only get one run to convince the judges.

Storm coming in over Wanaka this afternoon

New this year is that the winners of each catogory (mens and womens ski and snowboard) of the New Zealand Freeride Series receive a wildcard for the 2011 Freeride World Tour stop in Squaw, USA. Read more about how the points are calculated here on the Freeride World Tour website. This represents a huge chance for New Zealand and international riders alike to get a foot in the door to the renowned Freeride World Tour where starting places are offered to a select few riders around the world.

With the comp on hold, I’ve had extra time to treat my patella. My knee feels stronger today and if the conditions are ok, I’ll start at the comp tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Training and Playing in Wanaka, New Zealand

August 11, 2010

I decided to spend 2 months in Wanaka, New Zealand, again this year. I felt fantastic after 3 months training and competing here last year, and was skiing stronger than ever. There was a down-side though: after back-to-back winters of skiing and not enough time in the gym, I’ve started developing tendinitis in my patella on my operated knee. Wake up call! So it’s back to the gym to do some strengthening work. Luckily for me, I’m under the very competent care of Ginny Bush from Wanaka Physio, chief physiotherapist for New Zealand’s Winter Olympics team.

Strength training in the gym

Lots of strengthening work can be done outside the gym too

As a skier, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to train than Wanaka. Freeriding at Treble Cone ski resort, park skiing at Snow Park and Cardrona resort, mountains for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing, 2 fully equipped gyms, Wanaka skate park, olympic sized trampolines, Yoga, Pilates, you name it!

Hiking up Mt. Roy

It's never too late to learn something new!

After a week off skis, I was able to head up to Treble Cone again today on a perfect, blue-bird day. Conditions have improved after a substantial dump of fresh snow of 20cm on 7th August. Temps have been low since then so the snow is still dry. The knee is feeling good.

View from the Summit at Treble Cone. Notice Mt. Aspiring in the background, top right.

The New Zealand Freeski Open Big Mountain, which I’m prequalified for, is on 16th August. Other comps here include the K2 Big Mountain Chill Series and the Export 33 Extreme in Mt. Ruapehu. I’ve decided to compete if I’m feeling fit and strong enough, so stay tuned to see how I go!

Lorraine podiums again at the Engadinsnow!

February 10, 2010

The Engadinsnow is undoubtedly one of the best freeride events in Europe, running for the 8th time this year. For me it was the first time I was to compete on the legendary Piz Corvatsch, a north face which instils respect in even the most seasoned riders. I was feeling nervous while waiting for the cable car to take us to the first pylon, from which we abseiled down to reach the top of the face.

The Piz Corvatsch north face of the Engadinsnow

The women were to start after the men, which gave us ample time to check our line from the start and watch some of the male skiers and snowboarders in action. I decided to go for a fast line with a small but exposed air on a ridge before dropping another small but fast air into a couloir. I exited the couloir at full speed, probably over-excited, and wasn’t able to hold myself together for the next turn, which resulted in a full somersault before I was back on my feet and heading towards my last air, which I stomped. Although I was disappointed about not staying on my feet, I was happy with the rest of the line, which I skied fluently and aggressively. First place went to my Girls Ski Movie filming buddy, Pia Widmesser, for a smooth and controlled line, while France’s Olivia Benoit skied into 2nd place with a very technical line in steep and exposed terrain. New Zealand’s Sam Smoothy stole the show in the male ski field with a fast and aggressive line including some difficult airs, followed by French men Mathieu Imbert and Thibauld Duchosal.

From left to right: 3rd Lorraine Huber, 1st Pia Widmesser, 2nd Olivia Benoit

Engadinsnow Winner Sam Smoothy. Yeah bro!!

Visit the Engadinsnow website for complete results as well as great heli and cable camera footage of each rider’s run.

3rd Place FWQ: Freeride de Flaine

February 10, 2010

After 2 days of filming in Lech Zürs with the girls for our Girls Ski Movie it was off to France again for a Freeride World Qualifier in Flaine, for which I was prequalified for the finals. A total of 10 female skiers and snowboarders were qualified for the finals. The finals venue offered numerous options and features to hit, but proved quite difficult to orientate in due to the characteristic rollers and convex shaped terrain, which makes finding take-offs challenging.

The finals venue at Flaine

A 1.5hr hike awaited competitors before their start for the Freeride de Flaine

Snow conditions were on our side with 50cm of fresh powder, very rare contest conditions indeed, but the initial blue bird skies clouded over around midday. As a result the women’s field was moved down to better light and started their run half way down the face. Unfortunately, I had a major bum check in my line but still managed to place 3rd after banking some nice pow turns and landing a double, as well as a nice air at the bottom of the line. Sweden’s Janette Hargin skied a fast and fluent line to the top of the podium and Australia’s Hanna Fisher cruised into 2nd place. The male field made the most of the great conditions, choosing huge air and often technical lines in order to impress the judges. French men Mickael Bimboes and Bertrand Clair placed 1st and 2nd respectively, while Finnland’s Joonas Karhumaa, telemarker extraordinaire, took out third.

1st Janette Hargin, 2nd Hanna Fisher, 3rd Lorraine Huber

Competition Season 2010

January 24, 2010

During December and January I’ve been training hard in Lech Zürs to get into the best possible shape in time for the competition season. The biggest highlight for me will be the women’s Freeride World Tour stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria, for which I received a wild card. It is an honour to ride with the world’s best female big mountain skiers and my chance to show what I’m capable of. Fingers crossed! Furthermore, I’m one of 3 women prequalified for the finals at the Engadin Snow, a 3-star Freeride World Qualifier which earns riders double the points of a 2-star Qualifier event.

Check out this impressive teaser to get you pumped for the FWT in Fieberbrunn from 11 to 18 Feb:

1st place Export Gold Xtreme, Mt. Ruapehu

September 16, 2009

From Temple Basin we drove in convoy with Smoothy and Pete to Blenheim, stayed the night at Pete’s place and took the ferry the next day from Picton to Wellington.

Ferry ride from Picton to Wellington

Ferry ride from Picton to Wellington

The obligatory fish and chip stop on our way to "the Kune"

The boys catching up on some reading on our way to "the Kune"

Our destination: Okahune, the town at the southern gateway to the Tongariro National Park World Heritage Site, at the foot of Mt. Ruapehu. One of the world’s most active volcanoes which last erupted in 2007, Mt. Ruapehu is actually New Zealand’s largest ski area offering two different ski areas: Turoa and Whakapapa (and yep, you pronounce the “wh” as an f). The latter was to be our playground for the next week, which is the perfect description for it. Never before have I seen so many cliff bands and rocks to jump off.

The Turoa ski field side of Mt. Ruapehu

The Turoa ski field side of Mt. Ruapehu

Perfect corn snow conditions in the sunny aspects prevailed,  however the take-offs over rocks had melted so far back that one could only ollie over features with a truck load of speed to take any air. Challenging for spoilt me, used to skiing in Europe. Oh and did I mention that it’s pretty exposed here?

Terrain at the "Policemen's" for the Export Gold Xtreme

Terrain at the "Policemen's" for the Export Gold Xtreme

We had 2 comp days – the weather gods truly blessed our event as so many good weather days here are unheard of – 2 runs each day, a total of 4 runs, with the 2 highest scoring runs going toward the final score. I skied a nice solid 1st line in some exposed terrain, the snow had softened up by the afternoon and it was great! For 1 day now I had been eyeing a straight-line at the bottom of the venue which required you to ollie into it blind. I decided after much lining up and psyching myself up, that I just had to do it.

My line on comp day 1 for the Export Gold Xtreme

My line on comp day 1 for the Export Gold Xtreme

I felt really good during my second run and decided to go for it. After all, I had everything lined up and it has just got to be here, right? Well without hesitating I launched myself – I knew I didn’t even have to go that fast to make it over the rocks into the straight line – and landed with both skis smack bang on the rocks. Aaarrrrggh! The moment I touched down I tried jumping right off the rocks again, did a forward somersault and miraculously just skied out of it, albeit in a lot of pain. I got a good smack on my upper back and neck, ouch!

The boys put on an awesome show, with Geoff Small in the lead but plenty of younger skiers on his heels. Sam Smoothy had a scary crash above exposure on his first line but got it together for a second solid run. Pete Oswald skied a really nice, technical line no-one else attempted, airing over exposure onto a small snow pocket followed by a gnarly straight line requiring a whole heap of commitment. Mt. Ruapehu local Nathan Johns skied mostly in the fall-line, straight-lining basically through the gnarliest terrain and just able to hold his speed together during the second half of his run. Click here for the video of comp day 1 on snowtv.

My goal for comp day 2 was simply survival skiing: on pain killers and after much icing I hiked up to the start for my run. I pretty much decided already that this was going to be my only run for today, so I wanted to make it solid. On inspection even the smallest drop seemed kinda big to me, I was hurting and not really having much fun but I had to get this run done to get a score and those Freeride World Tour points. I choose to ski the venue on the skiers left today, with an obligatory cliff band to drop in the middle. I was so nervous at the top of my run, but my nerves settled as soon as I was given the all clear to start. Now I could just concentrate on my line, which I (almost) skied as I had planned. Nice!

Smoothy managed to come out on top by a mere 0.2 points after an awesome and very balsy line. Geoff Small had the crowd cheering with a 360 over his last cliff, the guy can spin! All in all it was an amazing show and an awesome after party.

Click here for the video of comp day 2 on snowtv.

Women's podium ski

Women's podium ski

Smoothy and I got the cash!

Smoothy and I got some cash!

Chill Series Part 2: 1st Place at Mt. Olympus

August 31, 2009

From the start it was clear that the normally 2 day big mountain event at Mt. Olympus of the 2009 Big Mountain Chill Series would be reduced to skiing on Saturday only; so far the event had been plagued by wind, rain, and gale force winds, and the same was forecast for the last day on Sunday. Luck was on our side though as we awoke to blue bird skies on Saturday – comp day! The chosen venue this year was a ridge line referred to as “Little Alaska”, where competitors are given the chance to ski two lines to impress the judges: one on the left and one on the right of the venue .

Comp venue 1, Little Alaska, Mt. Olympus

Comp venue 1, Little Alaska, Mt. Olympus

Comp venue 2, Little Alaska, Mt. Olympus

Comp venue 2, Little Alaska, Mt. Olympus

Us comp girls before skiing the first line

The first line I skied was more technical than I usually choose at a comp, but I liked the challenge it posed for me and I decided to hit it. I carved the first two turns in beautiful dry powder over a spine and wind lip before the terrain narrowed into two tight chutes (tighter than I had anticipated!) separated by two large rocks. Taking the skiers right chute I managed to stay on my feet, a couple of hop turns between 2 boulders, and then I came maching out of the chute at full speed. The remaining 150 vertical meters went by in a blur of 3 huge turns. Thankfully I managed to hold it together, what a rush!

My first line, Little Alaska

My first line, Little Alaska

I really was looking forward to skiing my second line – the face was quite short but packed with features to play with. As I was watching the competitors before me at the start, it became quite clear that the conditions were icy. Should I change my line? Ski a more mellow one but be sure to stay on my feet? No I decided, I know I can do this! Finally it was my turn to start. My heart pounding, I waved my poles above my head before dropping in. As anticipated, the snow was wind-scoured and icy, and I was only just able to make a turn to the left and to my first drop after my steep entry. Two turns later and I was at the first cliff, I hesitated briefly seeing some rocks in the landing, but managed to land to the left of them. The snow was fast, but I could use the terrain to my advantage by making a long turn to the right, taking out speed before turning to the left towards the largest cliff at the bottom of the venue.  Sliding over the snow band on the top of the cliff, I jumped at an angle to the left and stomped it! I was so stoked to have skied my line just as I had planned!

My 2nd and winning line, Little Alaska

My 2nd and winning line, Little Alaska

I was able to take first place, with Katerina Kuncova from the Czech Republic and Naomi Richards from Australia taking 2nd and 3rd place respectively.

A well deserved beer after a strenuous comp day

Marc and Jake enjoying a well deserved beer after a strenuous comp day

1st place at the Big Mountain Chill Series 2009

1st place at the Big Mountain Chill Series 2009

Chill Series Part 1: Craigieburn Valley

August 31, 2009

The Chill Series big mountain competition, held this year for the 10th time at Craigieburn Valley and Mt. Olympus, is renown in New Zealand for its challenging terrain and positive vibe. I couldn’t wait to be part of it this year and finally get the real New Zealand “club field” experience. The club fields are usually non-profit organisations run by enthusiastic club members and seasonal staff. They exist solely for the purpose of skiing and snowboarding, not for commercial gain. These grassroots, unpretentious club fields also have one more enticing element—namely, steep, gnarly terrain that remains relatively untouched. Bowls, chutes, cliffs, short and long hikes are the flavours of the day. Terrain is accessed using high capacity rope tows and so called nutcrackers – more about that little adventure later!

After a 6 hour drive from Wanaka with Jake and Freeride World Champion Susan Mol, we arrived at the cosy alpine lodge nestled in the native bush of the Craigieburn valley. It had been absolutely pouring all day, so our expectations regarding the snow conditions weren’t too high. Furthermore, we were being pounded by gale force winds of up to 120 km/hr. The rope tows were forced to remain closed the following day, so we made use of a brief clearing to explore the area by foot, before it started snowing again in earnest.

Craigieburn's Siberia Basin, with 1st to 6th Gut visible in the background.

Craigieburn's Siberia Basin, with 1st to 6th Gut visible in the background.

Day 2 brought more snow and gale force winds, but luckily for us we were able to ski 5 runs before the rope tows were closed again due to the wind. However, the comp was on hold for today. But we did get to learn, albeit in extreme conditions, how to clamp our nutcracker onto a high speed rope for the first time. What scared me most were the pulleys which hold the rope in place – never once did I forget to take my hand off the rope so as not to get it caught in-between the rope and the pulleys. Without a doubt this day was one of the funniest ski experiences ever!

We were almost blown off the mountain but had a great time

We were almost blown off the mountain but had a great time

Day 3: The Expression Session

Really strong winds again today. The clouds whipped past the mountains so fast it looked like a time lapse. The top rope tow remained closed but that didn’t stop the event staff from organising an expression session in Gut 2 and 3. What looked like a ho-hum little area turned out to be a great playground showcasing the talents of the New Zealand freeskiers: getting super creative and throwing down in terrain a European skier would simply overlook. Super inspired and motivated, I joined the skiers and snowboarders in finding sketchy straight-lines and doing ollies over rocks at high speed, something I would otherwise not attempt. What a great day of skiing! To top it off, I was awarded the best female performance for skiing strong lines from top to bottom. A great way to end the Craigieburn Valley section of the 2009 Big Mountain Chill Series.