Founded in 2013, OPEN FACES is the leading freeride series in Austria. Through the hard work of its passionate supporters, it’s become a valuable organization for amateur and aspiring freeriders in the Alpine Republic and beyond, and an important rung in the qualification process for the Freeride World Tour.
So what exactly is Open Faces, and what makes it tick? We asked head judge Dorian Konrad, aka Dodo, to give us the inside scoop. While he was at it, Dodo also gave us the breakdown on the Freeride World Qualifier circuit as a whole. So buckle up for a deep dive into the inner workings of the freeride world!
Simeon Pavlov takes the plunge at Open Faces in Kappl, 2019. Photo: Andreas Vigl
How it started
It’s hard to believe it’s already been nine years since the first stop of the Open Faces series took place at Axamer Lizum, near the Alpine metropolis of Innsbruck. I’m very happy to be able to say that I was there from the beginning on. It was also the first contest that I participated in. A few years ago, I was offered the chance to be the head judge of Open Faces. Every season, the contests advance a little bit, and I’m excited to give you some insights.
Open Faces founders Markus and Tom Löffler, Maria “Mia” Knoll and Markus “Kogs” Kogler not only managed to organize OF for almost a decade now, but they’ve also succeeded in creating a world-class series of freeride events that are known to every athlete in the scene. The idea of Open Faces was to create opportunities for everyone who wanted to participate in a freeride event.
The name already gives it away: Every “face” is welcome. That’s what OF actually stands for. In the beginning, organizing an entire contest series was not really planned. When the word got out that there was someone who wanted to organize freeride events in Austria, within a very short time the most diverse destinations approached OF to be part of it. This led to the fact that already in the first year, a complete series was created.
More than just a contest series, Open Faces has helped bring the freeride scene in Austria together, like here at Alpbachtal in 2020. Photo: Mia Maria Knoll
Unique in the freeride scene
From the beginning on, the OF crew has always focused on designing well-organized competitions with a modern media approach. Witnessing how the series has improved over the years has been really impressive to me. Today, a strong media presence can be found in all aspects of the event. Every single one of the OF competitions has full live coverage, no matter if it’s a four-star or a one-star event.
In terms of their media concept, no one can beat Open Faces. Within three days after the contest, riders can watch their runs on the Open Faces website, including their result. Several professional photographers also work hard to provide all the photos online for free for everyone who wants to download them.
Christian Gaderer and Flo Orley commentating the Open Faces livestream. Every single contest features a live feed. Photo: Mia Maria Knoll
A glimpse behind the scenes of the livestream studio. It's incredible how much work goes into not just producing these events, but also broadcasting them to the world. Photo: Mia Maria Knoll
On top of that, the OF events are not only competitions. Unique things like live DJs, chill-out areas and a bunch of other little extras create a really nice and exceptional experience for the competitors. In the public area, not only the riders can hang out—everyone is invited to enjoy the good vibes and watch the contest. No matter if you follow the contest via the video wall or with your own eyes, the atmosphere is always excellent.
Longtime commentator Kai Unterrainer and former FWT champion Manuela Mandl fire up the crowd. Photo: Mia Maria Knoll
In the pre-pandemic times, Open Faces was known to draw a big crowd (like here in Montafon in 2018). These times will come again! Photo: Mia Maria Knoll
The Open Faces contest season kicked off in January with the FWQ 3* as well as the 2* FJT in Kappl- Paznaun. The contest in Kappl, also known as “Kapplaska,” as it’s called in the scene due to its steep and spiny sections, was already used twice as a World Tour Face, after the FWT stop in Fieberbrunn had to be relocated to the Paznaun valley. Kappl is one of the most impressive stops of the Open Faces competitions. The summit of “Quellspitze” offers incredible views and opens up a range of creative lines, from fast and fluid to classic steep big mountain lines with massive cliffs. And spectators have an all-day sunny spot in the public area to watch the show.
Kappl's Quellspitze is one of the highlight venues of the Open Faces series. Photo: Mia Maria Knoll
How does the qualifying circuit work?
The Freeride World Qualifiers (FWQ) Tour consists of a series of events with different point values from 1* to 4*. Depending on how many stars the contest has, the point system is rated differently. For example, you get 2500 points for winning a 4* contest and only 320 points for a 1* win. The goal is to attend as many 4*events as possible to improve your overall ranking.
The FWQ ranking consists of the three best results of each rider during the season. Riders can participate in an unlimited number of events.
There are two rankings worldwide: Region 1 (Europe, Asia, Oceania) and Region 2 (USA, Canada, South America). Events held in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand, Argentina, etc.) count towards both Region 1 and Region 2 rankings.
Riders can compete and collect points anywhere in the world, but will only be ranked in the region where the event was held.
THE NEW Freeride World TOur QUALIFICATION PROCESS
The Freeride World Qualifier will benefit from a revolutionary format update in 2022 with the addition of the Freeride World Qualifier Finals, with top riders from around the world battling for a spot on the Freeride World Tour.
Encompassing the last three FWQ 4* events in each of freeride’s two global regions, the FWQ Finals promises electric, high-stakes showdowns between freeride’s hungriest up-and-comers and experienced FWT riders at some of the most legendary FWQ events around the globe.
The new Freeride World Qualifiers format for 2022.
END OF FEBRUARY: THE CUT COMES TO FWQ
The 2022 FWQ series will be split into two rounds of competition. At the end of February, following the preliminary round of FWQ events, top-ranked FWQ riders will gain qualification into their region’s FWQ Finals: after the FWQ 4* at Open Faces Silvretta Montafon, Austria (19-22 February) for Region 1, and after the FWQ 4* Taos, New Mexico USA (1-5 March) for Region 2.
The top-ranked FWQ riders will be joined by FWT riders just eliminated from the Freeride World Tour following the cut at Kicking Horse, Golden, BC (12-17 February). All qualified riders’ rankings begin anew at the first FWQ Finals event, and the battle for the coveted few qualification slots on the 2023 Freeride World Tour begins!
THE FWQ FINALS CALENDAR
Region 1 (Europe, Asia, Oceania) FWQ Finals Calendar:
FWQ 4* NENDAZ, SWITZERLAND | 4 – 9 MARCH
FWQ 4* JASNA, SLOVAKIA | 11 – 14 MARCH
FWQ 4* OBERGURGL, AUSTRIA | 01 – 5 APRIL
Region 2 (Americas, Oceania) FWQ Finals Calendar:
FWQ 4* CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, WASHINGTON, USA | 14-16 MARCH
FWQ 4* BIG SKY, MONTANA, USA | 23-24 MARCH
FWQ 4* KIRKWOOD, CALIFORNIA, USA | 31 MARCH – 1 APRIL
THE NUMBER OF QUALIFIED RIDERS:
60 to 75 riders to take part in each region’s FWQ Finals
Worldwide, approximately 120 athletes will qualify for the FWQ Finals: about 20 riders who missed qualification for the FWT finals, plus the top 40 to 60 FWQ riders from each region at the end of the preliminary round of FWQ events.
18 riders will make it to the FWT 2023
After the dust settles at the end of the three-event finals, riders’ best two out of three results will count towards the final ranking, and the top four ski men, two ski women, two snowboard men, and one snowboard woman from each region—18 riders in total—will be qualified to the following season’s Freeride World Tour.
Feeling confused after all the dates and numbers? This video should help clear things up.
How to sign up as a competitor
Do you want to challenge other riders, why not sign up? This website is the registration site for all FWQ events. There you can find not only all the dates, also rankings and placements of each rider. Or simply follow the instructions on freerideworldtour.com. Just click on the chosen event and you will not only find information about that event, you will be taken directly to the link of the sign-up page.
Before signing up for an event there is a FWQ licence needed, which can be also purchased there. Riders who wish to compete in only one event must purchase the FWQ one-event license (€25), for attending more events a FWQ season license (€70) is needed.
After that, you simply register individually for each contest. The registration fees can be between €80-€130 per event. The registration period opens about six weeks prior to the events, and closes about four weeks before the event.
For all FWQ 2*, 3* and 4* events, riders will be accepted based on their current seeding list ranking. For FWQ 1* events, a first-come first-serve registration system will be used, so better be quick! Apart from that, additional wildcards may be awarded by the organizer and the FWT.
When it comes to freeriding, everyone has a different style of riding and expresses themselves differently depending on the terrain. The role of a judge is considering each athlete’s individual style of riding, and judge who performed the best on any given day.
Whether a rider’s strength is steep terrain, big airs, technical tricks, or speed; it is the judge’s job to decide who rode best depending on the following 5 criteria: Line, Fluidity, Control, Air & Style, and Technique. To evaluate a run, judges use a point system of 0 to 100. The goal of this rider-approved system is to have a unified judging system for all FWT, FWQ, and FJT competitions that takes into account all styles of riding. For more, check out the FWQ 2022 Judges Handbook.
Judges Jochen Mesle, Dorian Konrad and Tom Löffler keep a close eye on the action, while Head of Safety Markus "Kogs" Kogler looks on. Photo: Mia Maria Knoll