Markus Eder is one of many riders who make the pilgrimage to Nendaz each year for the Backcountry Invitational. Levy Loye

Event News


The 2024 Nendaz Backcountry Invitational was a legendary throwdown

By: Ethan Stone January 24, 2024

Over the past four years, the Nendaz Backcountry Invitational’s reputation as one of skiing’s premiere events has grown steadily. This year that reputation was cemented by what was doubtless the best edition we’ve seen yet of this backcountry throwdown in one of Switzerland’s best resorts for freeride.

On Saturday, 20 January, a crew of 14 invited riders—11 men and 3 women—delivered three rowdy runs each on an off-piste course that combined freeride elements—natural hits, drops and plenty of powder—with a half-dozen hand-sculpted booters, and even a rail for good measure. The result: absolute mayhem.

What made this year’s event so good? Allow me to explain.

Hero snow

Let’s start with the conditions. The face at Plan de Fou was filled in more than at any previous event. The base was a solid meter deep, blanketed by a healthy coat of new snow in the week before the event. Even so, it was a close call—on Wednesday morning, it was raining at the elevation of the venue.

“With almost four hours of uninterrupted rain on Wednesday, we thought that we’d have no choice but to cancel the event,” said organizer Cyril Lanfranchi. “Fortunately, the freezing level finally came down and we received 30–40cm of new snow on the face on Wednesday night.”

This event has probably the longest weather window in skiing, with basically all of January plus early February in the cards. With this huge time span to work with, the Nendaz Freeride team is able to wait until the conditions are the best possible to pull the trigger. This year, Mother Nature served up basically the ideal conditions—except for the brief rain scare.

Arianna Tricomi showed off her knack for finding untracked snow in each of her runs. Hugo Schleicher (@woujow)

The Nendaz Freeride team

The Backcountry Invitational is just one part of the Nendaz Freeride festival, which runs from January through April each year and encompasses a long line-up of one-star two-star, three-star and four-star freeride events, including both qualifier and junior events (click here to see the full schedule). The whole production is only possible due to the efforts of the all-volunteer Nendaz Freeride Club, whose members pour countless hours of work into making these events come to life.

It’s really rare to see this kind of community effort involved in a ski event, with dozens of people willing to give their time freely in order to make something special happen in their hometown. So, a big shoutout to everyone who puts in the elbow grease to make the BC Invitational and the rest of the Nendaz Freeride happen—we see you!

An all-star roster

Remember that giant weather window? That helps to catch the best possible conditions, but it also makes scheduling a major challenge. Most pros have a lot going on in January, so it’s hard to squeeze in something at the last minute. However, the BC Invitational is so beloved that more than a few riders make an extra effort to be here.

This year, that crew  included four former Freeride World Tour champions: Arianna Tricomi, Leo Slemett, Markus Eder and Maxime Chabloz. Former FWT competitor Craig Murray showed up, as did street skier turned YouTube star Alex Hackel. Swedish wildcard Emil Granbom sniped a last-minute invite, and a hungry pack of young freeride talent including Martin Bender, Alex Williams and Tiemo Rolshoven rounded out the field.

On the women’s side there were five spots available, but only three women ended up skiing. Arianna Tricomi was the big name, but former freestyle competitor Lou Barin tossed her hat into the ring, and Jennica Folkesson also joined the proceedings.

Emil Granbom was the latest Swedish rider to bring his talent to Nendaz. Antoine Fournier

A new livestream

Last but not least, this year’s event featured a livestream for the first time, broadcasting all of the day’s action for the world to see. Although the stream encountered just about all the technical difficulties that a livestream can have, it still did a reasonable job of showing what this event has to offer.

Your humble Downdays editor even got the chance to commentate—hope you enjoyed it! The Nendaz Freeride team made the decision to move their livestream to this event instead of the four-star freeride contest—a decision that I think all of the backcountry freestylers were very thankful for, and one we hope to see made again next year.

Nendaz Backcountry Invitational 2024 | All runs

Technical difficulties

All of the above factors helped to set up the 2024 Nendaz Backcountry Invitational for success, but it didn’t come easy. With just a week to prepare for the event once the call was made, problems with transportation set back the event crew by days, and the technical team had to work long hours in order to pull off the livestream broadcast.

“Due to humidity and frost during the night, nothing worked in the van that was to provide live coverage,” Cyril Lanfranchi explained. “Of the six cameras planned, only half of them were working. The fiber optics also suffered from the cold, and the images were jerky, overexposed or underexposed.”

“At 08:15 the production manager Steeve told me that even the connection with the FPV drones was impossible, so the live broadcast seemed unfeasible, and we considered canceling it,” he continued. “But that was out of the question, and I asked him to do his utmost to ensure a live broadcast even with the minimum number of cameras. The technical team managed to solve the connection problem with the drones, and at 10:00 we launched the event with the minimum setup: the two FPV drones filming continuously with a camera at the top and the camera at the bottom.”

The fourth edition of the Nendaz Backcountry Invitational was as incredible to watch live as it was difficult to organize. Indeed, the public on site and on the livestream probably didn't realize the difficulties we encountered on the mountain.
Cyril Lanfranchi
Alex Hackel enjoying the all-time conditions. Hugo Schleicher

Women: Ari vs. Lou

Technical complications aside, the skiing part of the Invitational went off in legendary fasion. On the women’s side, Lou Barin gave Arianna Tricomi a run for her money at the top of the podium. Lou first put down a clean run featuring two 360s and a flatspin 360, then stepped it up with a stomped 720 that briefly bumped Ari out of the top score.

The three-time FWT champion struck back on her third run however, lacing up a clean cliff drop before swooping into an untracked zone for some soul turns, then bagging a backflip and a 360 on her way to the finish line. Lou and Ari actually tied for the best run, with each of them scoring an 84. The tie was broken by taking the other runs into consideration, which bumped Ari back up into the top spot. Jennica Folkesson didn’t have quite as much luck on the course, but still showed off some stylish riding and clean airs to take third place.

1. The women's field saw an interesting matchup between the freeride skills of Arianna Tricomi... Antoine Fournier
2. ...and the freestyle prowess of Lou Barin. Antoine Fournier

“For me it was the first time at the Backcountry Invitational,” Ari told us after the contest. “Last year I missed it because I was in Japan. I’m so, so stoked I didn’t miss out this year, because I think freeskiing definitely needs more of this.”

“The conditions were amazing, which doesn’t always happen on the Freeride World Tour,” she added. “It was really nice to ski a comp with really good snow and good conditions. And the vibe is incredible: Everyone is cheering for each other, everyone is down at the bottom watching the others. Its something special, very rider-friendly. There’s not so much pressure as on the Tour. I really enjoyed that part. It’s kind of a comp, but it’s more of a freeski party. And also, the course was a dream—I think every skier dreams about something like this. Perfect powder, a bunch of nice cliffs, and perfect booters all around with really soft landings.”

“My only wish would be that more girls come ski this comp,” she concluded. “It would be nice to have a bigger field of girls and have fun together and push each other.”

I think every skier dreams about something like this. Perfect powder, a bunch of nice cliffs, and perfect booters all around with really soft landings.
Arianna Tricomi

Men on a moon mission

On the men’s side, it suffices to say that this contest was simply off the charts. So many riders put down huge runs that it would be impossible to list them all, as tricks like double backflips and cork 720s became standard elements of most runs. However, I’ll give a shoutout to Sebi Mall, who came hot out of the start gate with a massive run: backflip mute, cork 720 tail, a ginormous double flatspin, railslide to blunt grab and a cork 540 on the bottom hit. Frankly, this run could have been on the podium, but Sebi might have gotten a slight case of the first-run blues with a conservative score from his peers.

Even in a course littered with booters, the cliff band running roughly diagonally across the slope was the launching pad for some of the day’s biggest airs. It was here that Sampo Vallotton floated the day’s sickest straight air and where freeride young gun Martin Bender floated the day’s biggest 720 on his way to a third-place finish.

Sampo Vallotton held it down for the home team with some impressively stylish skiing. Hugo Schleicher

It’s also where Craig Murray staked his claim for the day’s best performance. On his first run, Craig stomped a switch 540 off the top air, straight into an insanely massive natural-takeoff 360 over most of the middle section of the venue. He followed up with a double backflip, a cork 720 and a switch bio 900 on the last jump for one of the day’s most tricked-out runs. Craig then stepped it up a notch on his second run, taking his natural air mid-course to 720 and upping his score a few points. It was this run that, at the end of the day, elevated the very talented New Zealand rider to the top of the podium.

Craig Murray Airlines en route to its next destination, Stomp City. Hugo Schleicher

“To be honest, we had a little case of undeserved red carpet treatment,” Craig told us. “Sunny skies, cold temps, deep pow, perfectly manicured kickers in playful natural terrain, beauty hotel, and enthusiastic people. The riders were hyped, the whole organization worked so hard to make it happen and I am so grateful to have been involved. I’ve never really seen anything like it. To have the opportunity to ski the course in those conditions was a special day in my ski career, and life.”

I’ve never really seen anything like it. To have the opportunity to ski the course in those conditions was a special day in my ski career, and life.
Craig Murray

Coming in second behind Craig was Markus Eder. Last year’s champion put down a whopper of a second run, linking a rodeo 720 into a double cork 720 and a cork 900 that was the day’s best switch landing, and showing off his freestyle background with a lofty cork 630 out of the rail feature.

I’ll give a shoutout to Maxime Chabloz as well. With his skill set Maxime could easily have been in the running for the podium today, but he poured all his energy into landing a huge double cork 10, a mission that didn’t quite work out for him with two crashes.

Young gun Martin Bender showed why the hype is real with some of the day's best riding. Levy Loye

A big shoutout as well to the rookie crew of Tiemo Rolshoven, Alex Williams and Martin Bender. This gang of hungry miscreants showed some of the day’s most ambitious riding, and will doubtless be making freeride venues around the world unsafe in the very near future.

Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to the technical crew who battled tough circumstances to save the livestream, and the entire Nendaz Freeride team who makes this event possible in the first place.

The Nendaz Backcountry Invitational is an event with a bright future, and it’s been amazing to see it grow and flourish over the years. We’re excited to see this progression continue next season and in the years to come.