Earlier this month, the ski community was shocked with the unexpected news that the International Ski Federation (FIS) had purchased the Freeride World Tour (FWT). Almost immediately, the questions started flying. What does this mean for the Tour, for the athletes, for the future of freeride?
For many freeskiers, the involvement of FIS in anything isn’t viewed in a positive light. After all, many of the founders of what we call freeskiing and freeriding today were originally racers or mogul skiers who rebelled against the constraints put upon them by national teams and international governing bodies. For these innovators, the phrase “FUCK FIS” was a rallying call. There’s a reason why it’s called “free” skiing or “free” riding, after all: The “free” stands for “free from all limitations.” And when FIS gets involved, limitations seem to be the name of the game.
However, there are certainly arguments that can be made in favor of FIS as well. What’s clear is that the FWT buyout has major implications for the sport of freeriding and its future as a competitive discipline. So before jumping to conclusions, we decided to ask around in the freeride scene, and see how athletes and other FWT insiders are responding to the big news. Here’s what we heard back.
Are you surprised about the news that FIS bought FWT?
I am a little bit surprised. Through the years things have changed, we could see that, and I could feel that something was changing in the scene. To be honest, it happened quite fast. I had heard about it some time ago, but I thought it would take a few years to make this happen. -Arianna Tricomi, three-time FWT Champion (2018-2020)
Yes and no. I knew there was some interest from the FIS, as it was with freestyle and more with skimo [ski mountaineering], but it came so fast… I had probably expected to have this kind of news after I’ll be done with the FWT. But I’m still here, and so the FIS. We had the info an hour before it became public. -Dom Daher, veteran FWT photographer
I was very surprised actually, because there was no warning. I don’t know, maybe there were meetings that I didn’t attend, but there was no heads-up about it. -Maxime Chabloz, 2022 FWT Champion
Not as much as other people probably are. I knew that FWT were looking for a buyer, and that they want freeride to be in the Olympics, so if I’d connected the dots I might’ve seen it coming. But surprised enough to be a bit sad to see it going down that path. -Neil Williman, former FWT competitor & commentator
Yeah, I’m quite shocked actually. I’m definitely not stoked on the FIS scheme and wouldn’t have thought this would happen. I was part of this when freeskiing went to Sochi. Already back then I hated that FIS would take over, but I wanted to be part of the first Olympics for our sport. I definitely had very bad experiences but foremost with the Italian federation, even ending up in court. -Markus Eder, 2019 overall FWT champion
Yes and no. I’m surprised about the merger with FIS, but I feel like funding expensive events like the FWT has become increasingly difficult in the last few years. As a commentator I don’t have insights into the commercial side, but I think it has been difficult to get enough financial support to keep the FWT alive. -Anna Smoothy, FWT commentator
I’m not really surprised… I’ve heard some rumors about it. Just wasn’t sure if they were true or not! -Max Palm, 2022 FWT Rookie
I’m a little bit surprised that the FIS and FWT partnered this soon. I had a feeling something like this was potentially on the cards for the future, I just didn’t realize it was going to happen so soon. I’d been told that maybe it was going on. But it came earlier than I thought it would. -Jess Hotter, 2022 FWT Champion
I’m not very surprised. It was clear to me that FWT had been developing the tour(s) as a sports marketing property for eventual sale or incorporation into a larger sports organization. However, I have heard that some people inside FWT were caught completely by surprise by the announcement. -Drew Tabke, 8-season FWT veteran, 2013 FWT champion
Do you expect any changes? If so, what?
There’s a lot of negative reactions towards FIS buying the FWT and I just wanted to give a couple of positive things that I think could come of that. One of them is that we could have increased funding. The FWT gives a minimum amount of money for you dropping in the gate every competition. FIS buying them out could mean that there’s just more money going to the riders, which could make it so it’s more affordable for rookies to do the sport. My first year, I had to work all summer to be able to afford it. So it could make it so there’s more minimum amount of money going to rookies. and also it might be nice having an overseer as far as gender equity goes. Main summary, it could make it more affordable for riders, and it could make it a more equal place for women. So there could be some really good positive changes. -Lily Bradley, 2022 FWT Rookie
I don’t expect any, and I’ve been reassured by the FWT that basically nothing visible is going to happen, at least this season. That’s the guarantee that they gave us. Pretty much, they told me that the only thing that’s going to change is that there’s going to be a FIS logo next to the FWT logo. But for the future, what I hope will change is that we can get some more credit for our sport and some more support from governments and the sports federations. I wouldn’t be able to say what kind of negative points there might be, because I haven’t been involved in it for long enough. -Maxime Chabloz
I don’t really know what kind of changes there will be just yet. We haven’t had a full discussion about it. So I don’t know whether there will be any changes or not, as far as actually on the tour itself, because I believe the tour is still running things as per usual. -Jess Hotter
Hopefully there is a positive outcome, which is that the entire riders’ field gets better support from sponsors. A lot of people on the tour are struggling to finance their season. Also, for the FWT hopefully, there will be some more sponsor recognition as they’re grinding super hard. But that was also the case in slopestyle, halfpipe and big air. People were saying that there will be much more money for athletes to be able to live off it a bit better, which didn’t really happen. In the end, the riders had to bend over to the rules that their national teams put on them—for example, using the shitty clothes from their national federation, which resulted in losing the sponsors they had since they were never allowed to wear them. The individual skills would not immediately pay off in being able to make better contracts with sponsors, since everyone is dependent on decisions by higher-up folks not having a clue about our sport. Other sports would always be more important than freeskiing. -Markus Eder
The same as what’s happened to freestyle I guess: more money, less soul, increase in the level but also the seriousness and competitiveness. I suppose that’s inevitable in some ways once a sport gains momentum, following and popularity. But this was one of the last snowsports that felt wild and raw to me, so it’s a sad day to know it’s going to start being regulated in the same way as ski racing by people that probably don’t care about or really understand the culture. -Neil Williman
It probably won’t change too much at the beginning, but I’m pretty sure that some things are going to change in the coming years. Nobody knows what this could bring. Me personally, I left Alpine skiing and slopestyle because of this FIS thing, its rules and the structure of it. I really enjoyed the freeride scene, because it was kind of independent from it. I hope to see some positive changes and not negative ones. For now, I don’t have an opinion, and we’ll see what the future will bring. -Arianna Tricomi
I don’t think that in the near future there will be any changes! At least this year, it will be exactly the same. -Max Palm
We have been assured there are no on-snow changes for the first seasons, FWT are maintaining management and no rules are changing. What I would like to see is more stakeholder engagement and transparency about the future. I hear the FWT are gathering concerns from athletes, past and present in order to address them. Then it would be nice to see commitment from FIS that any changes down the line will be taken with input from stakeholders (athletes etc), and in good time – i.e., no last minute changes to regulations that will isolate or adversely affect our athletes and community. -Anna Smoothy
Not in the near future. Nico Hale-Woods has been pretty clear they are interested in what the FWT is, and not only the freeride. So what they want from us is to do what we know how to do. Apparently some agreements have been made to protect our sport, leaving full decisions to the FWT. In other words, it’s not Elon Musk coming up and changing everything. We will still manage it our way. So I guess it will not change anything, at least for this season. No doping tests, no crazy rules against the sport’s evolution… -Dom Daher
I don’t expect any changes this year. As FWT said in the announcement, it would still be the same team and rules and organization… at least for now. As far as changes in the years to come, I expect they will come, but I don’t know anything about FIS to be honest, so I don’t know what they will be. -Drew Tabke
Does this change your personal position towards FWT?
No, it doesn’t change my personal position towards the FWT. I can kind of see FIS as being probably a natural progression of our sport—you know, that it was going to probably end up heading in that kind of direction. I mean, things were becoming more official anyway. You’ve got junior competitions, you’ve got coaching happening, you’ve got coaching happening for the open division, for the adults now. So it was kind of looking like it was going to head that way anyway, even if it hadn’t partnered with FIS. It has the potential to bring some good things to some of the athletes, but then also it might change our sport, maybe not for the better. I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m just going to see how it goes. Take it as it comes. -Jess Hotter
Good question, it’s easy for me to stand at a distance and judge the situation now that I’ve just retired from commentating it. But if it was my job or still my career from when I was competing on it a decade ago, it would be hard to walk away from it just on principle. I don’t think many athletes, if any, will do that straight away. But if someone starts something like a skiing version of Natural Selection, then it would be interesting to see which way a lot of the big names go! -Neil Williman
No, it won’t change anything for me, because I don’t know if it is positive or not. We will have to wait to see what is going to happen. My main goal is to compete, so that will be my objective until I have achieved the goal I’m looking for. –Max Palm
Well, I’m out of the Tour anyway, for now. I never said I’m done forever. I was really looking forward to maybe going back for one or two comps someday. It depends on whether it changes on a bigger level—if it gets complicated to compete because of FIS, federations and all the national teams and so on. I’m pretty curious to see what changes this is going to bring. To be honest, I’m super happy that I got to live the last years without the federation. We’ll see. If conditions are good I’d still love to ski a comp, but it will definitely depend on how this whole thing develops. -Arianna Tricomi
I freaking love competing. It’s awesome. I was soooo looking forward to going to Fieberbrunn to hang out, ride and compete with everyone. This year the riders’ field is so stacked and the level will be insanely high for sure. It’s definitely a FWT season that will be on fire! But I promised myself that I’ll never be part of FIS again after Sochi, and after being sued. Every FWT rider now would need to make a FIS membership. That sucks. So I don’t know what to do. Maybe there’s a way around that for me. We will see. -Markus Eder
I am no longer actively competing (never say never), but this changes my feeling towards FWT, yes. I believe Nicolas Hale-Woods (and the other FWT team) has done great things for the sport, and I believe he would make a move like this with the best interest of the sport and the riders in mind. Even with the best people leading the organization, it’s incredibly difficult to make this sport happen. Budget is harder to secure every year, conditions seem to get harder every year, but the sport keeps growing anyway. In my opinion, this means that for the sport to continue growing, business decisions like this are inevitable and necessary. So I think it’s like a necessary evil. I don’t know much about or directly support FIS, and from what I’ve heard from other sports over the years, I am definitely distrustful. But I also think FWT is doing only what they see as completely necessary for the survival of the sport, not like selling out to an evil new master. -Drew Tabke
Of course I’m worried about things like rules for athletes, free viewership for fans, and general bureaucracy of a bigger organization. But I don’t see the point in jumping ship. I would rather be a part of it and although I personally don’t have influence on governance, I think that if we as a community can stay engaged, we have a better hope to steer the ship in the right direction. From some athletes that I’ve spoken to, the merger gives potential to gain support from their nation to pursue freeride, which I see as a big upside. -Anna Smoothy
It doesn’t change anything for me, to be honest—just because but I don’t know the story behind it, and I don’t know who’s behind FIS and what’s going on there. I’ll compete on FWT no matter what, and I’ll keep fighting for the sport for sure. If something comes up, I’ll be the first to fight for what I think is right and what I think the direction of the sport should be. -Maxime Chabloz
Freeriding was kind of a rebel thing when I started to be in the business (back in ’96) so of course I’m not in love with FIS. I know what FIS did to some other sports and it makes me sad. But on the other hand, we work our ass off to make it a must-have event, so it’s a good recognition for our work. If I compare that with the WSL (surfing) competition and other grassroots sports, it can work, even with some OGs. (Well, I hope it will be as late as possible for freeriding to be an Olympic sport). The FIS involvement might give the kids an opportunity to live from their sport, getting recognition. 90% of the athletes on the FWT have to work during summer. As long as FIS doesn’t put their hand in it, I’ll stay. Actually, it might be even more important to stay onboard and make sure they don’t destroy it. The FWT from the inside is very special. It’s a real family, so it’s definitely a rough moment. Keep your fingers crossed to keep our spirit alive. -Dom Daher
Any additional thoughts?
Honestly, i don’t have enough information to have a strong opinion about things yet. It’s not until we’re in the thick of it that I’m really going to know whether I’m stoked on it or not. -Jess Hotter
One more thing that I need to mention is that without the FWT organization, FIS would never be able to pull this comp off. Hosting a freeride comp, especially the tour, needs an incredible amount of experience, know-how, drive and skill to deal with all the complicated weather and snow conditions. The FWT organization is grinding insanely hard, is passionate and is working all winter long nonstop for this. FIS is dependent on the FWT [for that organization], so hopefully not much will change. Nicolas [Hale-Woods, FWT Director] just has to stand strong against FIS. It’s awesome to travel, hang and celebrate around the globe with this huge family of approximately 100 people. Being on the tour as a rider is mentally quite challenging, as there aren’t many chances to deliver, but everything around it makes it all worthwhile! I’m not sure how this all will turn out. Only time will tell. If FIS fucks it up, we’ll just have to create our own circuit! – Markus Eder
From my personal experience, I do think it’s a positive thing. But I understand that there are some things that happened in the past with freestyle that make some people skeptical. For myself, I’m not really the person to comment on that too much at the moment, because I’m pretty new to the freeride scene and I wasn’t involved in any freestyle before. I don’t know the whole story behind it. All I know is my brother competes in alpine racing for FIS, and he seems to have it pretty good over there. So I’m quite confident that it will be good. -Maxime Chabloz
I think the industry is responsible. We have been pushing the sport for more that 15 years and the whole industry doesn’t really care (in my opinion). They didn’t really try to get involved. I know all of them, but I almost never see one of them coming to an event, or giving their athletes some interest if they were competing. If I love skiing and I can’t count on my industry, I have to look in some other direction… so FIS took it. But that’s just my opinion. -Dom Daher
The last point is that FWT, in my opinion, had already fucked up in how they built their production model. FIS or no, there are big changes that would have to take place for me to feel like FWT events legitimately represented “freeriding.” The fixed calendar dates, the locations and venues, the one-run format. These all prevent the events from reaching full potential. My whole career I fought for more flexible weather windows, a wider selection of venues to choose from depending on conditions, multiple-run formats because one run to decide a whole event is crazy, less dangerous venues and judging that doesn’t reward risky-dangerous lines because I’ve seen too many people die already. Those are the changes that concern me more than what governing body is in charge of the events. I wish FWT the best under their new management. But I’m also hopeful that this causes a resurgence of grassroots events at local hills, with local riders and organizers, with creative formats and different styles of venue. That’s where this sport was born and where its soul will always live. -Drew Tabke