Max Hitzig spins over a ridiculous gully gap. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

Event News


The FWT pushes the limits

Astrid Cheylus and Ben Richards win spectacular Fieberbrunn event

By: Klaus Polzer March 15, 2024

The first of two final events of the 2024 Freeride World Tour took place on Fieberbrunn’s legendary Wildseeloder face on Thursday. Despite non-ideal conditions with mild temperatures and thus a consolidated snow pack, skiers and snowboarders didn’t hold back at all and put up yet another amazing show, helped by a best-of-two-runs format. Astrid Cheylus from France won the ski women’s with an outstanding run right through the cliff-barred central section of the face, leaving her toughest competition for the overall title in second and third place respectively, Hedvig Wessel from Norway and fellow Frenchwoman Manon Loschi. In the ski men’s it was Ben Richards from New Zealand who stole the show in Austria with an amazingly fast run full of 360s and backflips over a selection of tough terrain features. The 24-year-old scored 97.00 points in his second run after he had terminated run one and an arguably even better variation of his line with an unlucky crash at the very bottom. Germany’s Max Hitzig offered another amazing performance including a 360 over a little couloir at the top of the face for second place which brought him close to his first overall title. The only skier who can fend off Max’ overall campaign at the final event in Verbier is Marcus Goguen from Canada, who finished third in Fieberbrunn. It was the start into a busy week at Skicircus Saalbach-Hinterglemm-Leogang-Fieberbrunn that also sees the Alpine World Cup finals. However, the show of world-class big mountain freeriding is hard to beat for any winter sports discipline at the moment.

The conditions in Fieberbrunn weren’t the best during the past week with unseasonably mild temperatures and a mix of snow showers, clouds and sunny spells which quickly consolidated any fresh snow into a compact layer on the competition face. The forecast for Thursday wasn’t great, but visibility remained good throughout the day and a little haze up high kept temperatures bearable, making for acceptable riding conditions in both legs of the unique two-run format.

In the ski women’s section Astrid Cheylus took advantage of her second run when she found a better approach to the intimidating central section of the Wildseeloder face that demands to clear a massive cliff from anyone who dares to enter it—only Astrid and Kristofer Turdell did this year. The young French rider cleanly stomped the cliff drop and added a backflip over a wind lip and two more cliff drops further down to clearly take the lead. Her true big mountain approach definitely paid off. The rest of the competition went for a rather classic line down the main couloir on skier’s left of the central face. Hedvig Wessel skied it with a big drop over the main cliff band for second place, while Manon Loschi in third found a creative line in that couloir that bypassed the main cliff but set her up for a big drop off a little ridge that was equally impressive. Both showed a backflip at the same spot as Astrid Cheylus did. The decision between Hedvig and Manon was tight, only a third of a point, and it could have also gone the other way. Manon was a bit cleaner up top, but probably a bit too hesitant at the bottom where the snow conditions were a bit questionable. Fourth place went to Sybille Blanjean who skied very similarly to Hedvig Wessel but didn’t have a trick in her run, while Zuzanna Witych crashed her first run and took a bit less risk in her second try for fifth place. Lily Bradley, who had also qualified for the FWT Finals, unfortunately injured her knee before Fieberbrunn and is sidelined for the rest of the season.

Astrid Cheylus clears a massive cliff in the central section of the Wildseeloder face. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

In the overall rankings, Astrid Cheylus took the lead with her second victory of the season. The race for the overall title is far from being over, though. Tour veteran Hedvig Wessel, who is in second position overall with two second places and one third out of four events, can secure the tour title with a win at the last event in Verbier no matter how Astrid Cheylus does at the Bec des Rosses. Manon Loschi, who is now in third with equally two second place finishes and one third—the difference to Hedvig Wessel is simply that she had the third place at one of the finals events—also still has a shot at the top of the overall ranking. However, if Manon wins in Verbier, she will only claim the tour title when Astrid Cheylus doesn’t finish second. Even Sybille Blanjean could still jump into first place overall, but she would need all her fellow competitors to finish in a specific order.

In the ski men’s, the level seems to have no limit this season. If you thought that following the crazy runs of Georgia, the supply of awesomeness would be a bit shorter in Fieberbrunn—especially considering the less than ideal snow conditions—you were completely wrong. Swiss rookie Martin Bender had a run with a 360 on a windlip up top, a cork seven on a roller entering the steeper middle section, a big cliff drop into a couloir directly followed by a 3 out of it over a rock band at the end of the gully and another cliff drop at the bottom for a very well deserved score of 87.33—and ninth place! A clean and fluid run on an admittedly less rowdy line, but still with enough classic big mountain elements that would have been enough for at least a podium finish just a very few years ago ended up at the bottom of the table on Thursday. It speaks volumes of what incredible standard the FWT skiers have established this season. Former tour champion Maxime Chabloz chose the same line as Martin Bender but with a double backflip on the roller and a cork 7 at the exit of the gully albeit a lesser cliff drop into it for sixth place. Everyone was lost for words but also agreed that the judges weren’t making anything wrong. Current title holder and home country favorite Valentin Rainer chose the steeper line through the main couloir like most other riders and had a 3 on a windlip up top, cleared the infamous Häusl drop—the massive cliff band in the middle of the couloir—as a double, added a huge backflip over a sizable cliff and two more 360s over terrain features for eighth place. Valentin’s fault was that he jumped the Häusl cliff, arguably the major feature of his line, straight while everyone else showed a trick on it or at an even bigger feature of their respective lines. FWT aspirants, take note!

Marcus Goguen clears the infamous Häusl cliff Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

Ben Richards was the man of the day. The New Zealander already showed an amazing first run but finished it with a heartbreak crash at the very bottom of the face when the compression of his last big drop proved to be just a bit too much for the conditions. However, in Fieberbrunn he got a second chance and he took it. Ben started his line through the main couloir with a big 360 on a side hit effectively turning the Häusl cliff into a double since he had almost no time between landing the 360 and taking off again. He then continued with mach speed to throw another big 3 on a windlip, also effectively converting this feature into a double since there was another cliff right afterwards and Ben didn’t care to slow down. The run continued in this fashion to the finish with another huge floaty 3 and a better chosen drop at the bottom with this time a smooth landing: definitely the fastest run of the day. Add impeccable control and you get a score of 97.oo points. Not far behind was Max Hitzig in second place, though. The Montafon local, who starts for Germany, gathered another podium finish by means of an incredible gap jump that nobody else attempted. Max skied into a side couloir of the main gully that is less popular since it ends with a sharp dogleg turn and therefore demands strict speed control. However, Max didn’t ski through the gully but instead aired over the whole dogleg section from a side take-off, and he did so with a 360. Add two big backflips and fast and solid skiing for a score of 95.33.

Ben Richards during his winning run. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

In the overall rankings, the second place of Max Hitzig meant that Marcus Goguen had to finish in third or the title race would have been over before the final event in Verbier. And the young Canadian delivered. He started with a floaty 3 up top over a windlip and chose a similar approach to Ben Richards on the Häusl cliff, throwing a three above it and turning it into a double–only Marcus Goguen came in from the opposite direction with a cliff drop to start the action. Arguably, this was even more impressive, but following the main gully Marcus went the other direction adding an interesting transfer feature and a backflip on a windlip, but this line choice demanded much more speed control and ultimately the overall impression of Marcus Goguen was definitely behind Ben Richards and Max Hitzig. In the overall standings that means that Marcus Goguen needs to win in Verbier if he still wants to win the tour title and Max Hitzig must not finish on the podium. Any other scenario sees Max on top of the rankings based on his current throw-away result, his third place in Giorgia. Ben Richards moved into third place overall but he cannot challenge the top spot anymore and is likely battling with Kristofer Turdell for third on the overall podium. The rest of the field is super tight with Finn Bilous as fifth only a good 3000 points ahead of Oscar Mandin in tenth—with a tenth place finish in Verbier earning a rider 5300 points.

The best-of-two-runs format in Fieberbrunn added to the overall quality of the event since it reduced the amount of riders with lower scores due to crashed or at least shaky runs compared to the previous events with only Oscar Mandin having troubles in both of his runs. Four riders managed to improve in their second run including the top two finishers. However, with only three runs each compromised by crashes in both legs, the level of riding was outstanding, and the second chance didn’t prompt skiers to take on incalculable risk. To the contrary, one rider even skipped his second run since he was sure he couldn’t do any better. This was tour veteran Kristofer Turdell who showed a unique first run through the extreme central section of the Wildseeloder face with a double drop including a massive second air over the so-called Eagle cliff. He added a backflip further down his line and generally showed rock solid skiing for a well deserved fourth place. The 34-year-old Swede, two times winner of the FWT, proved that he can still battle with the younger, more freestyle-savvy competition. Among those, Finn Bilous stood out once again with the best style, showing a super nice cork 7 blunt and a flat spin Japan. But he also proved once more that he is a true big mountain freerider airing the Häusl cliff with a 3 and generally skiing blazingly fast through the steep sections of the face. He also showed his usual playfulness with a handdrag 3 up top. A well deserved fifth place in Fieberbrunn.

Ski women’s podium Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour
Ski men’s podium. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

In case you want to see more of Ben Richards, maybe check out his Coreshots episode: