The Freeride World Tour 2023 was off to a flying start on this Sunday, January 29 in the Spanish resort of Baqueira Beret—literally. A stacked field of riders put on an amazing show which saw Max Palm from Sweden and American tour rookie Addison Rafford as deserved winners. However, the rest of the results left room for a lot of debate.
To get a few things out of the way. It was the first event of the FWT co-labelled FIS, and there was no way to tell this besides maybe the fact, that the official FIS website had an announcement of the event prominently on their homepage as if it was just another normal event of their calendar. That doesn’t hurt and is probably not a bad thing for the sport. So all good on that front.
Now, I understand that judging any sport is difficult, and judging a sport like freeriding is particularly so. (I did quite a bit of judging myself back in the day.) I also don’t want to debate the actual result in too much detail, particularly since the winners are well deserved, but I definitely feel like there is some discussion necessary. So if you continue reading from here, please be prepared for some opinion. There’s also the official press release underneath for a maybe less opinionated information as well as the full results, but if you simply want to be informed of what happened, I suggest to watching the full replay. It’s definitely worth it!
The contest in Baqueira Beret was the first of this season and even in late January, it still suffered from the slow start to the winter in Europe. The face for the Baqueira Beret Pro (the event’s official name) is a rather classic freeride peak; however, the top part of the peak was mainly rocks, so the judging only started some hundred vertical meters down from the official start gate, and stopped quite a ways before the official finishing area. Nevertheless, the venue was worthy of a FWT contest and it looked like the ongoing clash of “Freeride vs. Freestyle” could at least be balanced. The snowboarders had the pleasure of going first, but the conditions stayed pretty consistent throughout the competition, and it was no question of luck in the bib numbers’ draw what chances the riders would have on the face. A clever line choice was nevertheless mandatory, and some riders were cut short on their efforts by sharks hidden underneath a shallow layer of soft snow biting rigorously into the P-Tex.
Sybille Blanjean steps to a big drop on her way to third place in the women's contest. Photo: Bernard/FWT
On the women’s side of the ski contest, many were curious to see how wildcard entry Justine Dufour-Lapointe would perform. The Canadian won an Olympic gold medal in moguls back in 2014 and almost repeated the feat four years later, earning a silver medal in South Korea. She told me before the contest that she had followed the FWT for a while and was inspired by former-mogul-skier-turned-FWT-hero Hedvig Wessel. Her run made perfectly clear that Justine is completely serious about freeriding, a valuable addition to the tour and a candidate to win an FWT tour stop in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, she couldn’t quite stick the landing of a backflip high up on the face, but fast and controlled skiing plus a big drop to a very comfortable landing still earned her a respectable sixth-place finish in her first-ever freeride comp. With a clean landing on that backflip, it would have quite likely been a winning run. Instead, the top spot on the podium went to tour rookie Addison Rafford from Sun Valley, Idaho, who showed a very solid run including two sizable straight airs. Another rookie from the US, Molly Armanino, finished second after skiing a pretty technical couloir, while Swiss skiers Sybille Blanjean and Elisabeth Gerritzen finished third and fourth respectively, both with strong skiing but a little trouble landing big airs due to getting stuck a bit in the sharky conditions.
Two big airs helped FWT rookie Addison Rafford clinch the win. Photo: Bernard/FWT
Over on the men’s side, local hero Aymar Navarro skied a unique line far from the other runs on a very steep and exposed section of the face, basically consisting of a big double cliff drop, the second being a mandatory air out of a hanging snow field. Aymar executed it perfectly and finished in tenth place. From a traditional freeride perspective, this scoring was a little disappointing. But it was an understandable result since the long traverse to his start cut Aymar’s run much shorter than everybody else’s. The situation was a bit different with rookie rider Leif Momma, albeit with a similar result. The skier from of Alaska chose a very technical line (almost the same as Molly Armanino) consisting of a very steep, rather narrow couloir to a mandatory cliff. He skied it very fast and comfortably despite variable snow conditions and made it look like the nicest of powder runs. The air at the bottom transformed into a double due to his speed, sending a roller incredibly deep into a gully but with another effortless landing. It’s hard to imagine how one could ski that line with more style and finesse. The only thing missing were tricks, since there was just no option for a trick air in this line. The judges rewarded this run with a score good enough for eighth place.
Finn Bilous earned even less points for a completely different, but—at least in my mind—completely mind-blowing run. The Kiwi skier with a strong freestyle background entered into the judged zone of the face with a stylish butter, sent a nice 360 over the first small cliff, only to hit a windlip directly after with a cork 540. That’s right, a switch landing on top of an exposed face! Finn managed to handle the switch landing with great confidence and reverted to forward with ease, went on to ski above one of the biggest cliffs of the face, aired with a super smooth 360 and basically straight-lined the rest of the face with great confidence. How this run could end Finn in ninth place is completely beyond me.
Max Palm on his way to a well-deserved win—his second in a row in Baqueira Beret. Photo: Bernard/FWT
The win was well deserved for Max Palm, though. The young Swede managed to repeat his victory from last season in Baqueira Beret with a quite different run. He aired into a complicated section of the face with a clean 360, managing the landing perfectly in a very confined and steep place and continuing to ski a tight couloir with good speed and control before airing out over a sizable drop, and finishing his run with a huge backflip off a drop at the bottom. This run combined awesome skiing with great tricks, perfect control and lots of style like no other run of the day. The judges definitely got this one right. Second and third place may cause a bit more debate, though. Oscar Mandin out of France finished second showing an all-out run with full throttle skiing, including a very sizable straight air up top, a huge backflip and another big straight air, all linked together with huge speed, but arguably lacking a bit of control. Carl RegnÉr Eriksson basically showed the exact same line as Finn Bilous, minus the butter on top and with a cork 720 instead of Finn’s cork 540. I might not be the most savvy in freestyle judging, but in my book Finn’s landing plus revert of the cork 5 was more controlled than Carl’s cork 7, and Finn’s lower 360 off the cliff was definitely more effortless than the exact same move by Carl. Don’t get me wrong, Carl’s run was great. But comparing particularly these two runs, the judging was, at the least, questionable.
Oscar Mandin sends a clean backflip. Photo: Bernard/FWT
The biggest problem from my perspective arises from fourth and fifth place finishers Max Hitzig and Maxime Chabloz, though. Both had very clean runs with good speed, good control, sizable airs and good tricks (a 360 and a backflip each for both), but their lines were pretty standard, with roomy landing zones for their airs, and—it has to be said—a 360 and a backflip are pretty standard in 2023. So what we saw here was basically two safety runs, though perfectly executed, still a representation of current riding standards. Those runs scored better than either cutting-edge freestyle-oriented runs (Finn Bilous) or cutting-edge traditional freeride runs (Leif Mumma). If judging keeps going in that direction, I am afraid the sport might head towards a much more standardized approach to competition freeride skiing. Maxime Chabloz and Max Hitzig are great skiers, as both have proved often enough before, but their approach in Baqueira Beret wasn’t the most inspired, and it could be copied by lots of other athletes. I hope that’s not what will happen.
The Baqueira Beret Pro was a great event, I just wish it wouldn’t have been judged. At the least, judging deserves an open discussion on the direction it’s going. I know it’s incredibly difficult to combine traditional freeride aspects and modern freestyle aspects into one balanced system, but I think outstanding efforts on either side of the spectrum should be awarded more in order to keep the sport diverse and interesting. And we haven’t even talked about Abel Moga’s absolutely incredible front flip yet. Go and watch this!
The women's Baquiera Beret podium: Addison Rafford, Molly Armanino, Sybille Blanjean. Photo: Bernard/FWT
Here is the official press release for a less opinionated event report:
FWT23 kicked off in style in the Spanish Pyrenees today, with athletes in all disciplines going large in front of a massive regional crowd.
Baqueira Beret, Spain – January 29, 2023: Sunny skies greeted athletes today in Baqueira Beret for the first stop of the 2023 Freeride World Tour season. The day lived up to the anticipation, and the world’s best freeriders held nothing back to secure some early-season points.
Conditions proved tricky for competitors at the Baciver venue, with wind-affected snow at the top opening up to more playful powder in the lower sections. But this didn’t deter the athletes, who all went large to impress the judges and gain those valuable points. Here’s what went down today.
FWT21 runner-up, Katie Anderson (CAN), found a playful line, linking multiple airs and grabs with incredible board control, before cruising through the lower powder field with style. Anna Orlova finished in second place, ahead of long-time FWT athlete Erika Vikander (USA) in third.
“It’s really awesome to be back here with all the FWT people, and the fans especially. I changed my run last minute and was pretty nervous, but the snow was better than I thought. I had a lot of fun, and I am stoked with the win. Shout out to Tiff [Tiphanie Perrotin] for the massive air!” – Katie Anderson
Michael Mawn (USA) took the win for the second consecutive year with a strong technical line. He threaded the needle at the top of the course, airing into a tight couloir, which threw him out at high speed into the face. He then sent multiple critical airs while maintaining complete control of the board under his feet. Holden Samuels (USA) was close in second with 90 points – an impressive feat in his first FWT performance – and Ludovic Guillot-Diat (FRA) rounded off the podium.
“It’s so good to be back here; this is my favorite stop, and the fans are so welcoming. An avalanche took out my planned line, and so I had to pick out another one, which I was a bit on edge about. But I found some good snow and went full throttle – I was really pushing it! I just felt really happy to be here with everyone.”
– Michael Mawn
Addison Rafford (USA) couldn’t have kicked off her FWT career any better, claiming victory with a fluid run from top to bottom. She begun with multiple airs from the start of the judging zone, before sending it deep off a cliff into a tight couloir, linking a few turns into a final air with a grab. Compatriot Molly Armanino (USA) finished second, and Sybille Blanjean (SUI) third.
“My run was so much fun. I found it hard to pick my line from the visual inspection, but it turned out well, and I really enjoyed it. It’s my first time in Europe, and I’m super stoked to be in Baqueira Beret – this place is unreal!” – Addison Rafford
Max Palm (SWE) backed up his debut FWT win last year at this venue with another near-faultless display of freeriding. The young Swede opened his account with a super critical 360 into a tight zone, before linking aggressive big mountain turns into a tweaked-out air. He finished with a huge backflip and another air at high speed, cruising through the gates for the win. Oscar Mandin (FRA) and Carl Regnér Eriksson (SWE) finished second and third, respectively, each with mind-blowing runs.
“I am so stoked to be back in Baqueira after getting the win here last year. Since I woke up this morning everything has gone well: I had the best runs on piste, and I just felt it was going to be a good day. I put down my run and stuck to my plan, ending up in first position. Baqueira is the best place ever, I just love this place!” – Max Palm
The first event of FWT23 was one to remember, with athletes delivering explosive action in front of an impressive Spanish crowd. Freeride fans watching on were going insane for the local contingent – Aymar Navarro, Abel Moga and Elisabet Marina – while an emotional Aymar officially announced his retirement from the FWT.
The world’s best freeriders will only have a short time to rest and prepare for the next event – the Ordino Arcalís Pro, running February 4-9 – as the quest for the coveted FWT trophy continues. For a full replay of today’s action, visit www.freerideworldtour.com, and stay tuned to the FWT social channels to stay up to speed with all the latest news as it drops.
1. Addison Rafford (USA) 72.67
2. Molly Armanino (USA) 70.00
3. Sybille Blanjean (SUI) 66.33
4. Elisabeth Gerritzen (SUI) 64.33
5. Olivia McNeill (CAN) 62.33
6. Justine Dufour-Lapointe 53.67
7. Delila Quinn (USA) 52.33
8. Jessica Hotter (NZL) 36.00
9. Elisabet Marina (ESP) 29.67
10. Megane Betend (FRA) 12.67
1. Max Palm (SWE) 86.33
2. Oscar Mandin (FRA) 83.67
3. Carl Regner Eriksson (SWE) 81.67
4. Max Hitzig (GER) 79.00
5. Maxime Chabloz (SUI) 75.00
6. Simon Perraudin (SUI) 73.00
7. Abel Moga (ESP) 72.67
8. Leif Mumma (USA) 71.00
9. Finn Bilous (NZL) 67.67
10. Aymar Navarro (ESP) 66.67
11. Jack Nichols (USA) 64.33
12. Xander Guldman (USA) 64.00
13. Manu Barnard (NZL) 64.00
14. Andrew Pollard (USA) 62.67
15. Valentin Rainer (AUT) 60.67
16. Reine Barkered (SWE) 58.00
17. James Hampton (NZL) 55.00
18. Ralph Welponer (ITA) 52.67
19. Jedidiah Kravitz (USA) 48.33
FWT Baqueira Beret men's podium: Max Palm, Oscar Mandin, Carl Regnér Eriksson. Photo: Bernard/FWT