Freeride World Tour rookies Ross Tester and Zuzanna Witych claimed the top spots in the Austrian Alps, while the rest of the field battled it out for qualification slots at the final showdown in Verbier.
The contest on Fieberbrunn's Wildseeloder has been a staple of the FWT for the past decade. With 580 meters of vertical relief and an average slope of 48 degrees, the Austrian face offers one of the most perfect freeride venues of the tour. Commitment-demanding, cliffy steeps characterize the upper and central sections, while mellower, tree-poked, playful terrain, bisected by the venue’s signature slot canyon, makes up the rest of the slope.
The Wildseeloder has been a FWT staple for a decade. Photo: Dom Daher/FWT
Despite its regular appearance on the tour, no two events on the Wildseeloder are ever the same. Even after an extended weather window and some recent snowfall, the face was noticeably lower-tide than in previous years, which opened up certain new lines and cliffs while completely negating other options. Further ratcheting up the tension, a hoped-for second event at Fieberbrunn was cancelled, meaning that today's competition was the last shot for riders looking to qualify for the season finale in Verbier and next year's tour. Due to the challenging snow conditions, the planned two-run format—a much-anticipated new twist on the contest format—was also cancelled in favor of the more familiar, one-run-only schema that FWT fans have grown accustomed to. Better luck next year!
Reine Barkered kicked the men’s contest off not with a bang, but with a veritable explosion. First out of the gate, the Swedish veteran blitzed down the steepest part of the face at breakneck speed, flashing the double-stage “Eagle” section and a handful of other cliffs in a mad dash to the finish line. He made less than a dozen turns, and his run was over in about 60 seconds. The ultra-aggressive run scored a 89.00, putting Barkered into an early lead while providing a perfect showcase of his hard-charging style.
In case you didn´t already know: Reine Barkered likes to ski fast. Photo: Daher
In a completely opposite style, FWT rookie Ross Tester skied the “Eder” line through a more freestyle-friendly area pioneered by Markus Eder in his bonkers, video-game-cheat-codes line from last season. Tester put his freestyle skills on display with a squeaky clean backflip and a cork 360 safety. His score, a 90.00, bagged him his second FWT victory so far this season, following his victory at the first stop of the tour in Andorra last month.
Though the Swedes skied at speed, the judges were more enamored of Ross Tester´s freestyle prowess. Photo: Daher
Kristofer Turdell took a similar line to his countryman Barkered, straightlining the steep double-stager of the Eagle in one of the fastest runs of the day, then barely holding it together as he cleared the “Channel Gap” over the canyon at the bottom at mach-10 speeds. The speed, risks, and exposure earned Turdell a score of 87.00 and third place.
Carl Regnér Eriksson was the third Swede to slice through the same steep, central area as Turdell and Barkered, blasting through exposure and cliffs. He somehow managed to throw a 360 lower on the face, combining dominant charging with floaty freestyle. He also scored an 87.00, tying with Turdell for third place.
Kristofer Turdell was the only man who went top-to-bottom faster than Barkered. Photo: Daher
Frenchman Wadek Gorak found space to throw not one, but two backflips in his run, emerging with a score of 73.67 (which he didn’t seem particularly pleased with). Swiss shredder Yann Rausis put a promising run together, until he took an unfortunate tumble in the bottom section. Austrian favorite Tao Kreibich, Cooper Bathgate, and current overall leader Maël Ollivier also took slams, while Tom Peiffer’s ski detached and rocketed down the hill, leaving the Canadian stranded on an exposed section of the face. Aymar Navarro, in an explosive, potentially podium run, scythed through the steep central couloir before clearing the Channel Gap, but got squashed in a compression and lost a ski upon landing.
The final result left Ross Tester in the winner’s chair, pursued by a pack of Swedes with Barkered in second, and Turdell and Regnér Eriksson tied for third. Tester, Turdell, and Barkered now lead in the overall standings, with the remaining qualifying spots for Verbier going to Maël Ollivier, Andrew Pollard, Regnér Eriksson, Isaac Freeland, Blake Marshall, Aymar Navarro, and Wadek Gorak. (With Freeland out due to injury, his Verbier spot likely falls to Tao Kreibich, who's sitting in 11th place in the overall standings.)
Men´s Ski Podium: Ross Tester on top, followed by Reine Barkered in second, and Kristofer Turdell and Carl Regnér Eriksson tied for third. Photo: Daher
The ski women followed on the heels of the ski men. Unfortunately, a spot of clouds rolled in, adding the additional challenge of flat flight to the venue’s already tricky snow conditions. In contrast to the explosive women’s competition in Andorra, the women’s contest on the Wildseeloder was much more subdued.
After skipping the events in Andorra, three-peat overall champion Arianna Tricomi made her return to the tour. She popped off several features before uncharacteristically getting caught up in a hip check. Her signature 360 was notably absent from the Wildseeloder this year.
Tracy Chubb makes quick work of her exit air from a steep, technical section of the Wildseeloder. Photo: Daher
In flat light, American rookie Tracy Chubb somehow navigated her way through one of the most exposed sections of the face, and powered out the landing of a huge exit cliff. The technical riding and cliff drop scored her a 66.33, good for third place.
Hedvig Wessel, the reigning backflip queen, chose a more technical, controlled line than usual. She picked her way through a similar zone as Tracy Chubb, and finished with strong clean skiing and large air. She scored a 76.33, enough for second place.
Polish rookie Zuzanna Witych was the surprise performer in the women´s ski field. Photo: Daher
The surprise of the day came from Zuzanna Witych, who after struggling to find her groove earlier this season, finally found success in the Austrian Alps. The Polish rider stacked close to a dozen features, linking a series of cliffs at the top, picking through an exposed double, straight lining through a peppery section, and dropping big cliffs at the bottom. The rookie scored a 74.67 to claim her first victory on the FWT.
Wildcard Coline Ballet-Baz (of Skivas fame) lined up some of the bigger airs on the face, but exploded and tomahawked near the bottom—a disappointing result of her first FWT appearance. Elisabeth Gerritzen got caught up in bad snow and worse light, and pancaked in the landing of a cliff near the bottom of her run.
Zuzanna Witych took her first FWT win ever, followed by Hedvig Wessel in second and Tracy Chubb in third. After the action in Austria, the top five overall ski women—Hedvig Wessel, Juliette Willman, Zuzanna Witych, Tracy Chubb and Elisabeth Gerritzen—have qualified for Verbier, as well as next season’s tour.
Women´s Ski Podium: Zuzanna Witych, Hedvig Wessel and Tracy Chubb. Photo: Daher
With cancellations, travel restrictions, injuries, and often-challenging weather and snow conditions, it’s been an interesting 2021 FWT season to say the least, and on both the men's and women's side, the battle for the overall title is still very much open. Join us from March 20-28th to see how it all works out in the season finale at the 25th anniversary of the Verbier Xtreme.
1. Ross Tester
2. Reine Barkered
3. Kristofer Turdell
3. Carl Regnér Eriksson (tie)
5. Drew Tabke
6. David Deliv
7. Wadeck Gorak<
8. Andrew Pollard
9. Blake Marshall
10. Konstantin Ottner
11. Yann Rausis
12. Tao Kreibich
13. Maël Ollivier
14. Cooper Bathgate
15. Tom Peiffer
16. Aymar Navarro
19. Raymond McDermott (DNS)
19. Carl Renvall (DNS)
19. Isaac Freeland (DNS)
1. Zuzanna Witych
2. Hedvig Wessel
3. Tracy Chubb
4. Arianna Tricomi
5. Juliette Willmann
6. Maude Besse 7. Elisabeth Gerritzen
8. Coline Ballet-Baz
9. Olivia McNeill