Max Hitzig spins off a big cliff; this was the key move for his win. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

Event News


Freeride World Tour Stop 2

The heat is on: Astrid Cheylus and Max Hitzig win in Kicking Horse

By: Klaus Polzer February 16, 2024

The Freeride World Tour 2024 has the second competition in the books and the event in Kicking Horse, British Columbia once again delivered outstanding performances, a big variety of skiing and tight results. At the end of the day, Astrid Cheylus from France had won the ski women’s competition—a first for her—while half-German, half-Austrian Max Hitzig had repeated his victory from Verbier to take a commanding lead in the overall standings. Manon Loschi and Hedvig Wessel as well as Oscar Mandin and Marcus Goguen rounded out the podiums. The tour is now headed to Georgia for the final stop before the cut and the fight for starting spots at the final events in Fieberbrunn and Verbier is definitely heating up.

The event organizers at Kicking Horse took advantage of some fresh snow and a bluebird day right at the beginning of the weather window in Canada. They had moved the venue from the established Ozone face to a site named “T1 South” which has seen FWT action before in 2022, and the decision proved to be right. The conditions remained challenging for the riders nevertheless. T1 South is a relatively short venue and despite offering lots of terrain features, line choice is somewhat limited due to quite a few flat landings and lots of little trees which are interspersed almost over the whole face. There was a layer of cold soft snow on top which obviously offered better conditions than most riders had expected, but a solid hard layer underneath meant riders had to really nail their landings or they were quickly getting into trouble.

As a result, the event saw a little less variety in line choice compared to the first tour stop in Verbier—a few creative exceptions didn’t pay off—and a similar amount of crashes. The rankings were pretty tight in both the ski women’s and the ski men’s competitions but it has to be said that the judges were pretty spot on. There was one occasion when a score got announced and then immediately corrected following a revision—Ben Richards was upped by less than a point and, as a result, by one position—but that seemed to be well justified and wasn’t a huge shake-up. Nevertheless, it was a rather unusual incident. What became clear, though, is that the judges follow a pretty strict approach this season. What gets rewarded most is super solid skiing—any hick-up in the performance is punished—, fast and consistent skiing—any hesitation or any unnecessary deviation from the fall-line is punished—and foremost when tricks are performed at major terrain features. Times are gone when riders could bump up their scores substantially by adding tricks at side features. If you want to win, you have to show your bag of tricks at the main stage; only when two runs are otherwise really indistinguishable, then the 360 or backflip at a bottom windlip would make the difference.

Astrid Cheylus drops a cliff on route to victory. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

In the ski women’s section, young French rider Astrid Cheylus, a former Junior World Champion, took her first victory in only her second showing on the world tour, and rightfully so. As most other women, the skier from Les Arcs went out of the skier’s right start gate, but unlike most fellow competitors she went straight into the steepest section of the face that was littered with many smaller rock sections and a few sizable cliff bands. Astrid navigated that whole zone without hesitation, added two solid drops with almost no insecurity in her landings and generally skied fast and close to the fall-line towards the finish line. Right before she got there, she added a solid backflip at the final terrain feature, a windlip, that wasn’t as popular for bonus tricks as similar features at other venues. Whether this backflip tipped the score in Astrid’s favor, could only be answered by the judges, but it was arguably the line choice and almost immaculate yet aggressive execution that sealed the deal.

1. Manon Loschi backflips at the bottom windlip. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour
2. Hedvig Wessel takes the transfer drop. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

Second place went to fellow Frenchwoman Manon Loschi, who is now the only female skier with two podium finishes this season and consequently moved into the top spot of the FWT ranking; Hedvig Wessel completed the podium in Kicking Horse as third. The veteran from Norway had the first outstanding run of the day and looked to be a strong candidate for a win. She decided to start from the skier’s left option, a more exposed outcropping on top of the competition face—as one of only two women who did so—and was the only female rider, both ski and snowboard, to attack a cliff drop that included a mandatory transfer over a common traverse track for riders from the skier’s right start. It is a very committed and bold move, and Hedvig mastered it admirably but still had a bit of trouble to control her speed and needed a long turn out of the fall-line to recompose. The rest of her run was her trademark fast and aggressive skiing without any trouble, but there was also a trick missing in her run. Ultimately, I think it was the short loss of control that costed her an even better score, but Hedvig Wessel proved in her comeback year on the tour that she’s still a strong contender for the title.

Manon Loschi on the other hand had a very similar approach to winner and close friend Astrid Cheylus. She also started skier’s right, went straight for the main zone, had a solid cliff drop but was a little hesitant in navigating the rocky top zone. Coming out of this technical part she made up for the slight hesitation with a floaty 360 over a little lip, but unfortunately had some trouble at the landing—not a full backslap but also not clean. The remainder of her run was again very similar to Astrid Cheylus’ including the backflip at the bottom, so it was an added 360 versus a less fluid run and a little quirk at the landing of that 360. The judges decided for Astrid. In comparison, the rest of the women skiers had either rather standard runs—Lily Bradley in fourth and Zuzanna Witych in fifth—or a fall . Defending tour champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe missed the event due to personal reason which now leaves her with a major mountain to climb in order to collect enough points at the upcoming stop in Georgia to qualify for the tour finals. Manon Loschi, Astrid Cheylus, Zuzanna Witych and Hedvig Wessel sit at the top of the tour rankings and should be pretty safe for the finals; the rest is an open playing field with Molly Armanino and Lily Bradley currently holding the two remaining spots above the cut line.

Max Hitzig never shies away from a cliff drop. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

On the ski men’s side, Max Hitzig seems to have found the magic formula. The Austrian resident out of the Montafon valley, who starts for Germany on the FWT, bagged his second victory on the tour this season following his triumph in Verbier, and his performance is best described as both rock solid and effortless. What might sound contradictory, simply reflects that Max constantly tackles the most challenging features but always comes out absolutely unfazed. His line in Kicking Horse was the perfect example. He didn’t go out of the ordinary in a sense, as he took the skier’s right start as the majority of the field and into a popular line, but he went straight to the most technical section without any hesitation, made light work of the first of the few sizable cliffs on offer with a clever double-drop like approach and then spun a super clean 360 over another very sizable drop; only one other rider chose to throw a trick at this feature, second-place-finisher Oscar Mandin. But having completed this outstanding top section didn’t slow down Max in any way. He skied on with full force, full speed, including another sizable drop over a nose and yet made it look like he was simply cruising home—nobody else managed to make it look so easy; and it wasn’t as a few riders hung up in that section either in tricky snow or in the tight trees. So a deserved win, although it was arguably a much tighter call for the judges this time compared to the event in Verbier.

1. Oscar Mandin navigates a technical section making it look easy. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour
2. Marcus Goguen spins a 360 at a spot that nobody else found. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

Frenchman Oscar Mandin was coming closest to Max Hitzig’s performance. In fact, it was almost a copy. The young rider from Avoriaz chose a similar line up top, managed to sneak in other cliff drop—so two cliff drops versus Max’s slightly more technical double cliff—and then backflipped that same cliff that Max had shown his 360 on. Oscar’s air was even slightly bigger but also a bit less solid in the landing; overall the skiing of both contenders was on a very similar level in terms of dedication and fluidity in this technical zone. Then however Oscar slowed down a bit, seemingly content with his top section and aiming to bring it home without risking any unfortunate error. That’s what might have cost him the victory and illustrates the incredibly high level that skiing at the FWT has reached.

Third place went to Canadian rider Marcus Goguen which let the crowd erupt with cheers. Marcus’ effort was arguably the biggest challenge for the judges and a good case could be made that the crowd-favorite would have deserved the win. The young rider from Whistler chose a pretty creative approach and managed to find a unique line that still made lots of sense from the viewer’s perspective. Contrary to his fellow podium finishers, he opted for the skier’s left start and went out further left which brought him to a slightly less technical zone, but he managed to find a good take-off that he could spin a massive 360 off and he followed up with two more 360s over smaller terrain features further down, lacing all of this up with good speed and control. The big bonus of Marcus’ line choice, however, came at the bottom. Although it took careful navigation through some trees, he managed to find another big cliff that he comfortably cleared, spicing up his bottom part more than all of his competition. So it was a tough choice to make for the judges: definitely more elements in the line of Marcus Goguen versus a more committed, very direct approach by Max Hitzig. As lined out at the beginning of the article, the more committed approach is it for the judges this year, and therefore the decision to put Max and consequently Oscar in front of Marcus makes sense, even though Canadians would likely disagree.

There are a few more runs and riders worth mentioning. Defending tour champion Valentin Rainer faced some pressure following his fall in Verbier, but he managed to avoid dropping to far down in the overall rankings with a memorable outing in Kicking Horse which earned him a fourth place finish at the event and put him above the cut line overall before the tour stop in Georgia. Valentin opted for a similar line as his friend and compatriot Max Hitzig but went for the arguably biggest cliff drop of the day which left him in control but also with mach speed in the middle of the face. Valentin managed to handle this speed in time to throw in a 360 over a nose; a line with only one feature probably wouldn’t have been enough, even when this feature is the biggest of the day.

Max Palm, on the other side, was less lucky. The Swedish youngster threw a 360 over the transfer cliff just below the skier’s left start that Hedvig Wessel and a few male skiers had cleared, making him the sole rider to attack this committing feature with a trick. It looked like he would land it, but then he skied into a little bump which threw him out of balance and into a fall. It’s the second unfinished line for Max Palm this season and consequently he needs almost a win in Georgia if he wants to still qualify for the tour finals.

Valentin Rainer finds redemption. Dom Daher/Freeride World Tour

One of the most creative lines of the day came from former World Champion Maxime Chabloz. As the only rider, he went right from the skier’s right start, dropped a sizable cliff onto a snowfield—including a questionably flat landing—and transferred back onto the main face with a lofty 360. It would have been interesting to see how the judges valued this approach but then Maxime caught a ski just before another drop which sent him frontflipping down the face to a no score—fortunately Maxime stayed healthy. The same could be said of compatriot Martin Bender who was the only rider to tackle a cork 720 but a wobble at the landing sent him into a wall of small trees. A ski got stuck, Martin flew on seemingly unscathed… whether the same goes for the ski or the trees remained unclear.

The value of a trick at the main feature, or the lack of value when dropping your main feature straight and putting the trick in a side feature instead, became obvious by strong showings from the likes of Carl Regner Eriksson and Kristofer Turdell, who both jumped the same transfer cliff as Max Palm albeit without trick. Both Swedes followed up with a trick further down and generally strong, fast, solid skiing, but it was only enough for fifth and eighth place respectively. Ben Richards went super fast including a transfer jump into the steep top section and a 360 further down, but he avoided cliffs altogether and finished in sixth place. Jackson Bathgate on the other hand laced up a line with three big cliff drops but no trick at all for tenth.

Finally, a shout-out goes to wild card skier Stan Rey, a former top-level skicross athlete who chose a similar line as Marcus Goguen but followed up his bottom cliff drop—one cliff skier’s left from Marcus’—with some serious tomahawking. He still was all smiles in the finish area!

The Freeride World Tour now moves on to Georgia where a new event including a helicopter accessed face is set to take place in the magical terrain of the Caucasus mountain range. The weather window is March 1-7. It’s going to be the last contest on the FWT before the competitor field is roughly cut to half for the final stops in Fieberbrunn and Verbier. So expect some dedicated attempts from several riders to make up for an unfortunate start, and generally another good show. Stay tuned!

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