The Freeride World Tour stop in Fieberbrunn at Austria's Skicircus megaresort held out a week, making use of almost the entire weather window. That includes half a day of waiting in bad light on Monday, only to see the snow turn to slop because of rising temperatures once the skies cleared. In the end, though, the wait was well worth it. The morning of Thursday, 16 March greeted the riders with a layer of fresh powder and bluebird conditions. Following an early start for face inspection, the first snowboarders dropped in half past eight. The planned two-run format was cut down to one run, since a Challenger-level contest was to follow the main event on the same day.
The skiers were obviously hyped up by the conditions and delivered yet another breathtaking show. However, the combination of some the best conditions of the season and the safety of already being qualified for next year’s Tour led to some over-ambitious runs, and consequently a rather high percentage of crashes. Most notably, Elisabeth Gerritzen was the only rider of all four competition categories to opt for the central part of the face, but got stuck in the rocks and went tumbling down a rather big section of the face; not exactly over a cliff, but definitely more rocks than snow. Luckily, she wasn’t seriously hurt—besides some bruises—but finished without a score.
FWT Fieberbrunn Pro | Full Event Replay (Youtube)
The story of the day for the women’s ski category was definitely Arianna Tricomi. The three-time FWT champion from Italy returned to the Tour on a wild card for the Fieberbrunn event following a break in 2022 due to injury, and she couldn’t have returned in better style. Arianna skied confidently and with obvious joy through a very technical section of the face, including a mandatory cliff: no hesitation, no trouble and great navigation skills! In the playful bottom part of the Wildseeloder face she added her trademark 360, claiming a well-deserved and dominant win.
After the event, Arianna said that she really enjoyed her run and the snow conditions, and that she was very happy to be back on the Tour. Will she be back for the full season next year? “I’m not sure,” she said. “It’s crazy to win on my comeback contest, so I definitely have to think about it. But I also have many other plans, so I have to see how everything will work out.”
After a year out of competition, Ari didn´t waste any time showing that she still knows how to win a FWT main event. Photo: FWT/Bernard
Second place went to tour rookie and season wild card entry Justine Dufour-Lapointe. The former mogul skiing champion chose a rather tactical approach and skied a technical line very safely and with confidence, but never got close to pushing her limits—which are high, as she’s proved at earlier stops of the Tour already. Her score was well below Arianna’s, but still plenty ahead of third-place finisher Megane Betend from France, who pulled the save of the day by straightlining out of a steep section of the face where she got stuck on a rock, pulled an involuntary 360 on the ground, and miraculously managed to stay on her feet. Of course, the judges had to cut down on her score despite an otherwise nice run. Addison Rafford and Molly Armanino both crashed, putting them in fifth and fourth place respectively.
Heading into the final Tour stop in Verbier, Justine Dufour-Lapointe now leads the women’s ski ranking. But the five remaining competitors are all still quite close together, so everybody still has the chance to win the overall with a solid result at the Xtreme Verbier. Nevertheless, the Canadian tour rookie was very content with the outcome in Fieberbrunn.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe puts her technical skiing skills on full display in Fieberbrunn. Photo: FWT/Bernard
“It feels awesome,” Justine said. “I had a blast skiing Fieberbrunn for the first time, so I couldn’t be happier right now. For Verbier, I am really excited now. I am ready for it, but I just want to have fun there. I’ll ski the best I can.”
It’s surely going to be a spectacular final in Verbier for the women skiers. As last year’s overall winner Jessica Hotter didn’t make the cut this season and the 2021 Tour champion Elisabeth Gerritzen is currently in fifth place, we are likely to see a new champion in 2023.
The women´s podium. Photo: FWT/Bernard
On the men’s side, the ranking is much tighter before the final event of the season. Andrew Pollard took the win in Fieberbrunn based on a clean and playful run with plenty of airs, two 360s—one of them in a very exposed spot right above the big Häusl cliff—and a big stomp on that famed cliff, which was much bigger this season than in many other years due to the rather low snowbase. His performance puts the American FWT veteran in third spot overall, and in close contact to the current Tour leader.
“This win means a lot,” said Andrew following his victory. “It’s super cool. I didn’t think I could still win an FWT event with all those young whippersnappers like Markus, Max and Ross. These kids are way to good nowadays. I am the second oldest skier on the Tour now behind Carl Regnér Eriksson. Happens quick. They sure call you a legend fast these days.”
Andrew Pollard in full send mode. Photo: FWT/Bernard
The leader of the pack remains Austrian Valentin Rainer, who finished in fourth place at his home event. Valle had another strong run similar to Andrew Pollard’s, but with less airs and only one trick—a huge backflip which Valentin landed with a slight backslap, but enough to be punished by the judges.
The prospect of entering the Xtreme Verbier in the top spot had Valentin pretty excited. “I’m already getting goosebumps,” he said. “I’m a little bit nervous I guess, but it also feels super good. Before, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go as the leader to the Bec des Rosses, but now I’m really happy about it. I just hope that we will be able to ski it from the top. When I get the chance to compete there, I want to be able to do it from the top of the Bec.”
Close on the heels of Valentin Rainer is Maxime Chabloz, the defending Tour champion and the day’s second-place finisher in Fieberbrunn. Maxime chose to ski a different line than Andrew Pollard, Valentin Rainer and third-place finisher Oscar Mandin, who all skied the looker’s right side of the face including the Häusl cliff—the choice of all of the top finishers in last year’s contest. Maxime had already tried a line on the looker’s left side of the face in 2022, which ended in a crash and the worst result for Maxime in his astounding tour-de-force to become FWT champion.
Maxime Chabloz send a bucketful of tricks in his run, but a hip-check landing kept him from claiming the top spot. Photo: FWT/Bernard
“I decided to go for the same line as last year,” Maxime said at the bottom. “For one, because the snow looked better on that side this year, and also because I felt I really had some unfinished business with that line. It turned out to be a good choice. The snow was great and I had a good run. Unfortunately I had a bobble which hurt my score, but the rest worked out nicely, so I am really happy with my run.” The rest of his run included a flawless cork 7, two big backflips with clean landings and overall fast skiing. The bobble was a hip-check landing on a 360 that probably cost Maxime the victory, but might have cost him even more based on the judging on some other occasions. He gave his all following the flaw to save his score and succeeded, although he almost lost it again following his second backflip at the bottom, barely managing to hold it together—“the very definition of loose but lit” in the words of the livestream commentator.
The most noteworthy move of the day came once again from Max Hitzig. The German skier out of Austria, who won the last FWT contest in Kicking Horse with one of the biggest backflips in the history of the Tour, showed his unique vision of contest faces by opening up a massive transfer cliff drop out of the dogleg couloir right next to the Häusl cliff. This part of the face regularly saw action in recent years, but aspirants were usually held back from a fluent run due to the dogleg nature of the chute with a rock barring a straight exit. Max solved the problem by airing from a side-cliff in the middle and gapping over the exit rock. What a move! Unfortunately Max took it a bit too far on a lower hit, ending with a slightly over-rotated 360 and a serious tumble that put him in sixth place for the day. Overall, he heads to Verbier in fourth position, still in close reach of his buddy Valentin Rainer. The stage is set for a thrilling Tour final.
Overall, the Fieberbrunn Pro event didn’t disappoint. Despite a bad snow year in the Alps, the venue at the heart of the Skicircus Saalbach-Hinterglemm-Leogang-Fieberbrunn provided once again a perfect proving ground for the world’s best freeriders, and an overnight snowfall combined with sunny skies were the cherry on the top. Winter’s not done yet. In less than two weeks time, the FWT final in Verbier will be served and hopefully some more snowfalls will keep delivering the goods for the rest of the freeride crowd for the weeks to come.
The men´s podium. Photo: FWT/Bernard