Marcus Goguen wins Freeride World Tour Verbier
Marcus Goguen clears the Gilles Voirol Cliff with a clean 360. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

Event News


Xtreme Verbier turns into nail-biter

Hedvig Wessel and Max Hitzig are the Freeride World Tour Champions

By: Klaus Polzer March 22, 2024

The Freeride World Tour 2024 is decided. Hedvig Wessel from Norway and Max Hitzig from Germany secured the overall titles in a nail-biting showdown at the Xtreme Verbier this Friday. The event took place in great conditions at the legendary Bec des Rosses high above the Rhone Valley of Switzerland. Hedvig Wessel took the win in Verbier with a super fast run including some solid cliff drops, surpassing French tour-rookie Astrid Cheylus in the overall ranking. It is the first title of FWT Champion for the Norwegian veteran after she had finished second in three consecutive years and then took a year off from competing. In the ski men’s division, Marcus Goguen from Canada won the Xtreme Verbier with a mind-blowing run including a huge double cliff drop that hadn’t been tackled before in event’s long-running history. This run put a huge pressure on Max Hitzig who was the last rider out of the start gate. He needed to finish on the podium to secure the overall title, but the skier from Vorarlberg who starts for Germany delivered an outstanding run of his own to finish second in Verbier ahead of Finn Bilous from New Zealand. With five podium finishes in as many FWT events this season, including two wins at the beginning of the year, Max Hitzig is a very well deserved FWT Champion. The Freeride World Tour 2024 concluded on a high note with another offering of boundary-crushing ski performances from all competitors and not a single injury.

The Xtreme Verbier had been moved ahead of schedule by a day due to the weather forecast, but a huge crowd of freeride fans gathered nevertheless at the bottom of the infamous north face of 3,223 m high Bec des Rosses. It’s a huge wall of rock and snow, rising 600 m above the finish with the upper two thirds being strictly beyond 45 degrees steep—by far the most intimidating venue of the Freeride World Tour and a more than worthy proving ground for the world’s best big mountain athletes. The snow cover was soft but not too deep, so ideal for fast riding and big jumps. There was a bit of a high cloud cover hazing the sun, but with a slight delay the riders got on their way at 10:15 in perfect conditions.

Hedvig Wessel takes flight. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

The women started on the so called Petit Bec, the looker’s right part of the face that still boasts 200 vertical meters of beyond 45-degree-steepness and already served as venue for the first tour stop in late January. Following the Snowboard Women, where Erin Sauve from Canada won both the event and the tour with an impressive run, Zuzanna Witych kicked things off for the Ski Women. The skier from Poland had won the Verbier Pro in January and once again proved that she likes to ski at the Bec des Rosses showing a fast and clean run along the fall line including a series of nice cliff drops. A score in the high 80s set an early mark and further raised the tension both in the event and the title race. Sybille Blanjean pretty much followed Zuzanna’s example but lost a pole on the landing of her second cliff which prompted her to loose focus and resulted in a lower score. Then the first contender for the overall title dropped in. Manon Loschi skied a similar line as Zuzanna Witych knowing she had to step things up if she still wanted to have a shot at the title. And surely she went for it. Close to the bottom, the young Frenchwoman approached a windlip with confidence and speed and set out for the first double backflip attempt of any female rider on the FWT. Unfortunately Manon didn’t quite make it around the second time and lost both skis on the landing, resulting in a “no score.”

Zuzanna Witych drops into her favorite face. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

Then Hedvig Wessel dropped in as second to last competitor. Following the popular line straight down the face, she stepped things up with a big double drop and outstanding pace for a score of 93.00 points. In the finish she was relieved that she had done all in her might to secure her first overall title but she also looked up anxiously at the remaining starter Astrid Cheylus, who was in the lead overall before the event. And the skier from La Clusaz didn’t hold back in her quest for victory, opting for a different line than everyone else with a very consequential section including a huge mandatory cliff. Astrid cleared the cliff without hesitation, fluently added more features to her line and approached a final last cliff. Unfortunately, she got stuck on the landing with her left ski and had to fight to regain control—loosing a pole in the process—but finally skied out alright. Still, the loss of control costed undoubtedly points and arguably both the victory at the Xtreme and the overall title. A third place at the event and a second place overall is still an amazing result for the French rookie. Zuzanna Witych moved up in third place overall with her second place at the Xtreme, edging out Manon Loschi by a slight margin. It was, however, a triumphant day for Hedvig Wessel with victories both at the event and the tour. The Norwegian veteran had placed second overall three times in a row between 2020 and 2022 and called it quits after that but came back on the tour this season. It was easy to tell what the title of FWT Champion meant to her as tears of joy kept rolling down her cheeks. A well deserved reward for one of the big protagonist of women’s freeriding and a great display of emotion for a person that has sometimes been perceived as overly professional. Congrats!

Astrid Cheylus had an impressive run in Verbier. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour
It has been such a fight for the last five years to get to this position. It’s all worth it with the win. I want to thank everyone who has been there and supported me on this journey. We were unsure what the conditions would be like, but I had some good plans in place. I think this will be a good ending to my story on the FWT, but I want to keep skiing and watch the level continue to increase year after year.
Hedvig Wessel

The men had the chance to start from the very top of the Bec des Rosses this year, making it the first time this happened at the Xtreme Verbier since 2018. In the Snowboard Men’s category Jonathan Penfield from the United States took the victory and spoiled the almost perfect season of France’s Victor De Le Rue, who had won all four events on the tour and thus already was confirmed as overall winner. Then the Ski Men were up as the last category of the day but some clouds obstructed the vision and put the competition on hold, further building up tension. The top of the Bec des Rosses surely isn’t the most comfortable place to kill time. Nevertheless, when the skiers finally dropped in after almost an hour of waiting, they seemed unaffected.

Oscar Mandin from France set the tone as first rider with a fluent run down the steepest section of the face looker’s right of the main couloir, throwing two big backflips off sizable cliffs on the way. His score of 90.00 points lasted a while but in the end he finished just outside the podium in fourth. It’s another example of how much the level has gone up this season since the last time skiers went from the top of the Bec, this run would’ve most likely been enough for the victory. The next couple of riders then set out for what was dubbed the “freestyler’s line” by the livestream commentator. That meant clearing a big cliff on top of this massive face with a trick—admittedly into the only bigger patch of uninterrupted snow on the whole mountain—, skiing an incredibly steep couloir and then sending another huge cliff at the bottom with another trick. Verbier local and tour rookie Martin Bender attempted the lower cliff with a cork 720 but unfortunately double-ejected at the landing, resulting in the only no-score-result for the Ski Men’s. Former tour champions Maxime Chabloz and Valentin Rainer skied this line fluently and with clean tricks, putting them in sixth and seventh position respectively—Valle Rainer had one slightly shaky landing. A little more trouble had Japanese skier Tenra Katsuno on this line, who almost high-sided while controlling the landing of his 360 up top, consequently finishing in eighth place just in front of Kristofer Turdell, who had a very uncharacteristic over-the-bars landing on a backflip. The upside of Kristofer’s bad luck for all freeride fans might be that it raises the chances that we will see the Swedish veteran on the tour again next season.

Finn Bilous was the first skier to ever trick the infamous Hollywood Cliff with a solid 360. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

To make it to the upper half of the result list, skiers had to deviate from the main couloir into the super hefty main face area where your line will always be cliffed-out no matter where you go. The first rider to do so, and to push Oscar Mandin out of the hot seat in the process, was Finn Bilous. The former Olympian for New Zealand in Slopestyle chose the “true big mountain” approach in order to show respect to the Bec, as he had said the day before the event. Finn skied super fluently through the technical upper section, landed a 360 off the Hollywood cliff cleanly—making him the first rider to trick this infamous feature ever—and threw in a flat 3 plus another big cliff drop for good measure. His run was arguably the cleanest of all high-hitting performances but he opted for the side-entrance to the face at the very top which might have costed him an even higher score. Still a very well deserved third place at the Xtreme and a fourth place overall, just ahead of Kristofer Turdell. Ben Richards came in with confidence following his victory in Fieberbrunn and he entered the steepest section straight, but a slight problem with slough handling cost him enough to relegate him to fifth position despite a clean drop off the Hollywood cliff, a massive 360 off another sizable cliff further down and his trademark fast skiing. He kept his podium spot in the overall tour rankings, though, just ahead of fellow kiwi Finn Bilous.

That left only two riders at the top, and those were the two dominant riders of the FWT season 2024, the only ones who could still win the overall title and who had shared three wins and seven podium finishes before the Xtreme. Marcus Goguen was the first of the pair to drop and he made it immediately clear that he had no intentions to hand the overall title to Max Hitzig for free. The Canadian entered the steepest section straight from the top, skiing the so far untouched direct line towards the big cliffs in the middle of the face, and aired the Gilles Voirol cliff with a 360. That made Marcus the first rider to ever throw a three off this rock outcropping, though it must be said that the neighboring Hollywood cliff is a touch higher. But the youngster from Whistler was far from being finished with his line. Instead he headed to a feature that hadn’t be ridden ever before in the history of the Xtreme. It was a double cliff with each drop rivaling all other airs of the day for most vertical distance, not to mention that it took another little rock hop to enter this section. It’s safe to say that this feature will be known as the Goguen Cliff—or whatever inventive name Marcus might come up with—in the future. Once again, everyone on the mountain was in awe of Marcus Goguen’s performance and his score skyrocketed to 96.00 points.

Marcus Goguen does Marcus Goguen things. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

Prior to the Xtreme Verbier, Max Hitzig seemed to be in a comfortable position in the overall FWT standings. With two wins, a second and a third place in the books there was only one other rider who still had the chance of stealing the title from him, and this rider needed a win. Now Max was the last rider at the top of the Bec and this other skier had just moved to the top of the results. Max stated after the event that he had heard it on the radio just before dropping in, and he knew he had to go for a podium finish if he wanted to keep the top spot overall. It seemed that the half-Austrian, half-German skier had anticipated this situation, though, as he had prepared a line that was up for the challenge. Max entered the main section straight out of the start gate, something that had been done before but not on this day. A sizable cliff drop and fast turns on this incredibly steep route set him up for the Hollywood Cliff which he cleared perfectly. Max then threw the seemingly mandatory trick—this time a big 360—off a diagonal rock band and finished his run with another sizable drop, albeit with a hint of a backslap on the rather flat landing. Anticipation built up as Max waited for his score in the finish area, but the bar rose to 94.67 points giving Max Hitzig enough for the second place at the Xtreme and the title of Freeride World Tour Champion 2024.

Max Hitzig clears the Hollywood Cliff. Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour
I can’t believe it. I was so nervous before my line. I have worked so hard for this. The level is getting so high, so I know it is getting harder to claim the title every year, which makes me happy to win it this year. I was scared to ski the Bec des Rosses from the top, but when you are in competition mode you just go full send!
Max Hitzig

The 2024 Freeride World Tour is a wrap and it surely will stay in the collective memory of freeride skiing. Both women and men have raised the bar with outstanding performances, creating one spectacle after the other from tour stop to tour stop and providing arguably the most thrilling tour showdown in history. What really separates this season from past ones, though, is the consistency of the outstanding performance level, both within each event throughout the whole field of competitors and within the season from event to event. There have been plenty of memorable runs in the past, but this year every winning run was one for the history books, and there were runs of equal caliber that simply weren’t enough to win. And to make it to the upper half of the results table, skiers had to invariably throw tricks with clean landings off the biggest features of the venue and to ski fast through the steepest and most technical zones. Gone are the times when a safety run could eventually land you a decent spot due to the fellow competitors’ mistakes. It’s the result of a new generation having taken over that was raised on junior programs with experienced coaches, years of building experience in junior and qualifying competitions and an all-round approach in preparation, both physically and mentally. And that’s a good thing!

There is no reason to expect anything different next year. Almost all riders on this year’s Freeride World Tour are young and most will be eager to compete for at least a few more years, while new talent is coming up from the challenger series for sure. It remains to be seen if Hedvig Wessel will call it quits for good after she has finally achieved her big goal, but the pair of French youngsters—Astrid Cheylus and Manon Loschi—will keep pushing the limits with tricks and creative lines. In the men’s, we might see another duel between Max Hitzig and Marcus Goguen. Max had five podiums this season and Marcus four with only a slip at the very first event of the season, and both had two victories each leaving only one win to the rest of the field. But the NZ crew of Finn Bilous and Ben Richards wasn’t too far off and established riders like the former tour champions Kristofer Turdell, Maxime Chabloz and Valentin Rainer all showed very solid skiing throughout the season, safely qualifying back for next year’s FWT. They simply missed the outbursts of excellence this season that propelled them to their titles in the past. They are surely still capable of bringing that back, though. We’ll see in 2025!

It’s such a stress relief getting down here, as my legs were burning by the end of the line. I came here to have fun and ski my line. My goal next year is to continue having fun and maybe even win the title. I will keep trying to put down these lines and stay consistent. I’m excited for the future!”
Marcus Goguen
1. Xtreme Verbier Ski Women’s podium Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour
2. Xtreme Verbier Ski Men’s podium Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour
Xtreme Verbier | Full Replay
Ski Women’s Overall World Tour podium Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour
Ski Men’s Overall World Tour podium Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour