The Freeride World Tour continued its 2023 season at Ordino-Arcalís this Wednesday, February 2. In a quick follow-up to the tour kick-off in the Spanish Pyrenees last week, this time around the world’s top competitive freeriders wrestled with the Pic de les Planes, a craggy peak deep in the heart of the Pyrenean micro-state Andorra.
In contrast to last week’s event, the Pic de les Planes offers a longer, steeper fall line, with more cliffs and technical zones. Though not as bony or slushy as we’ve seen Andorra in the past, the snow situation remained challenging, with several riders getting caught up in deceptively clean-looking landings.
After the snowboard fields, the ski women took the stage. American Olivia McNeill started the show, moseying down the face before launching the biggest cliff on the women’s side of the field, but couldn’t hold on in the landings. Verbier local and tour favorite Elisabeth Gerritzen followed up with a smooth, creative run, capped off with a solid double-hit at the bottom, cruising into third place.
Molly Armanino flashes a technical section on her way to second place.
Molly Armanino caused a collective breath-hold in Ordino-Arcalís when she nearly pin-balled herself off the rocky cliffs after straightlining a narrow couloir. The American rookie held on as she shed her speed, and popped off more cliffs down below, for a speedy, complete run worthy that of second place. To close out the field, Olympian Justine Dufour-Lapointe cruised through several straight airs and a cross-hill windlip transfer. With the combination of features and fluid skiing, the Canadian earned the top spot for the day.
Regarding the overall points standings, Molly Armanino moved into first with two second-place results, followed by Justine Dufour-Lapointe. Despite a crash in her run, rookie Addison Rafford holds on to third overall, buttressed by her win in Spain last week.
Ordino-Arcalís women's ski podium: Justine Lafour-Dupointe, Molly Armanino and Elisabeth Gerritzen pop bottles.
The ski men were last out the gate in Andorra. The snow held up decently well through the first three categories, and the ski men found new pockets of fresh snow for their landings. First up, Abel Moga took the same straight line as Armanino, but cut skier’s left and got ejected out of the chute in a spectacular tomahawking crash.
Ross Tester, no stranger to Andorran slopes, set the bar high with a run that felt almost formulaic for the FWT in 2023. The American laced two near-perfect 360s and a backflip, for a 90.00, and second place. Valentin Rainer also put together a textbook FWT run, with two 360s and two backflips. Overcome with emotion in the finish corral, the Austrian rider edged out Tester for the top step by a single point. He dedicated the run to his friend Christoph Schöfegger, who perished in an avalanche in Japan a few days ago.
Valentin Rainer spun and flipped his way to his first victory on the Tour.
Several riders had control issues, backslaps or pseudo-crashes that put themselves and the judges in a tricky spot. How much can you recover in a run with a hip-check or a backslap? Does a bonkers trick or moonshot feature make up for silly control mistakes? Can you ski your way back into a good score despite a bobble up top? Xander Guldman and Marcus Goguen clawed their way back into the top ten after control issues. And Maxime Chabloz was able to remedy a backslap with a cork 720 and a double backflip, earning third place.
Maxime Chabloz corks out a 720 on his way to third place.
German rider Max Hitzig struck to the textbook, linking a backflip and a 360, and opening two new cliff lines for fourth place. Finn Bilous rounded out the top five with one of the more complete and unique runs: technical billy-goating at the top, more cliffs and degrees of spin than I can count, a switch takeoff and a hand/torso drag 360.
Also, can we acknowledge Reine Barkered for a second? The man is forty years old and still throwing backflips in competition against riders half his age.
Men's podium: Valentin Rainer, Ross Tester and Maxime Chabloz.
In the overall standings, Maxime Chabloz takes the lead, followed by Max Hitzig and Max Palm.
Regarding last week’s event, the judging felt more consistent with what we’ve come to expect from the FWT. In my opinion, no one got openly robbed, but no one tried anything out of the ordinary. The winning runs were what I’d call textbook FWT runs: fluid, clean controlled, with a mix of 360s and backflips. The athletes that attempted creative or newer lines and tricks, like Maxime Chabloz, Max Hitzig and Finn Bilous, were appropriately compensated. Still though, it is worth noting (and being concerned about) the fact that the winning runs at a freeride competition have looked more and more similar with each passing event.
The 2023 Freeride World Tour continues in Kicking Horse, Canada on February 17-22.