On Sunday morning, March 8, the world’s best freeriders took on the Wildseeloder face at Fieberbrunn, Austria—part of the sprawling Saalbach-Hinterglemm-Leogang-Fieberbrunn resort complex. With tickets to Verbier and spots on next year’s Freeride World Tour up for grabs, riders put everything on the line in the Austrian Alps.
Past viewers of the FWT might have noticed the two-start approach this year in Fieberbrunn. Usually, a single start gate at the top of the Wildseeloder is used, allowing riders to ride the whole face from a single entry point. However, despite a recent storm, a brutally warm winter left a major portion of the face melted out, permanently closed and off-limits to riders. Still, the modified venue provided an ample playground for ski wizardry from the men and women.
Despite a low-snow year, Fieberbrunn's Wildseeloder face was still in fine form for the contest. Photo: Dom Daher/FWT
Of the 22 male skiers in the 2020 FWT field, only 13 will get a chance to compete at the finals in Verbier next month. Heading into Fieberbrunn, only a few points separated 13th from 18th position, making for a high-stakes show to see who would make the cut.
Rookies and Kiwis dominated the men’s field in Austria. All three New Zealand riders held the hot seat for a moment, and occupied three of the four top spots by the end of the day. After an explosive, season-ending crash on the face last year, Craig Murray found redemption. Cranking a 360 above an exposed couloir, rocketing through cliffs and floating a flat 3, Murray ripped through the venue, bagging a score of 96.67 and first place.
Craig Murray, fast and furious. Photo: Jeremy Bernard/FWT
Craig Murray. Photo: Jeremy Bernard/FWT
Close behind Murray, Rookie (of the year?) Andrew Pollard combined two 360s, knifing through cliffs, and a creative entry and exit air in the canyon feature at the bottom of the run. A far cry from his playful, freestyle-laden run in Andorra, Pollard’s committed, aggressive skiing put the young American in second place.
Kiwi rookie Hank Bilous landed in third. Starting his run off with a GNAR-inspired pole-whack, he flowed through an unskied couloir in the top technical section, airing in and out of his own sluff, and capped off his run with a monstrous straight air over a clump of trees. Oh yeah, he also skied part of the venue switch. Another New Zealander, Blake Marshall stacked features and a 360, netting a fourth-place finish.
Hank Bilous on his way to third place. Photo: Jeremy Bernard/FWT
Shaking up the leaderboard, overall leader Kristofer Turdell got caught up on some branches near the bottom of his run and crashed. He still finished, but in 17th place, losing the points lead as a result. Tao Kreibich transfer gapped from one couloir to another, a bold move that landed him in fifth place. Leo Slemett crashed after backflipping into a couloir, and Aymar Navarro linked some enormous features but took a slam after a high-speed double. Yu Sasaki and Ivan Malakov went back-to-back on the biggest cliff on the face.
Markus Eder, meanwhile, made full use of his wildcard spot by drawing a creative line down the Wildseeloder. After hanging out with Austrian racing champion Marcel Hirscher in the start gate, the Italian skied like the cheat-codes were on, launching an obscenely large cross-hill backflip and a floaty cork 3, before unfortunately crashing on a lincoln or flat 3 attempt.
In the overall ranking, Isaac Freeland has now taken over the lead, followed by Kristofer Turdell and Andrew Pollard. Craig Murray, Hank Bilous and Blake Marshall all punched their tickets to Verbier, along with Reine Barkered, Carl Regner Eriksson, Drew Tabke, Carl Renvall, Tom Peiffer, Tanner Hall and Kevin Nichols.
Fieberbrunn 2020 men's ski podium: Craig Murray, Isaac Freeland, Hank Bilous. Photo: Dom Daher/FWT
After 22 skiers and nine snowboarders had already carved up the face, the Ski Women had their work cut out for them. With take-offs, landings, run-outs, and traverses all bombed out, the Wildseeloder took its toll. The first three women crashed, and only four women skied through clean. If Kicking Horse was defined by the control in the women’s field, Fieberbrunn was defined by crashes.
Jessica Hotter, on an absolute heater, crashed and tomahawked after a screaming backflip low on the face. Wessel, the overall leader, lost her ski in a weird crash. Emma Patterson got caught up in the canyon after landing a cliff. Elizabeth Gerritzen took a bad angle off a cliff and yard-saled. Juliette Willmann and Nadine Wallner had the same fall in the same area, and Evaline Nilsson bounced, bobbled, and tumbled after a high-speed backflip.
Arianna Tricomi was able to overcome not only the chewed-up course, but torn ligaments in her ankle for the victory. Based on her skiing, you couldn’t tell that she was facing a potentially season-ending injury a few weeks ago. With a technical cliff, mobbing through bomb-holed debris fields and a mid-hill 360, the Italian skied to an 84.67.
Big-mountain specialist Jackie Paaso dropped a huge cliff near the top, rocketed through a choppy run-out, and popped in and out of the canyon at the bottom of the hill. Her fall-line oriented, aggressive skiing earned her a second-place finish.
Jackie Paaso. Photo: Dom Daher/FWT
Fellow American Jacqueline Pollard finished in third by taking a new approach to the venue, linking closeout cliffs and new features that few other riders had hit. Ayana Onozuka, after crashing in Andorra, stacked demanding features and playful airs to land in fourth place.
Overall, Tricomi moved back into a familiar position at the head of the standings, while Hedwig Wessel moved into second. Jackie Passo stands in third overall, followed by Jessica Hotter, Elizabeth Gerritzen and Jacqeline Pollard. These top seven Ski Women have qualified for Verbier next month.
The 2020 Fieberbrunn women's ski podium: Arianna Tricomi, Jackie Paaso, Jacqueline Pollard. Photo: Dom Daher/FWT