Max Hitzig on the way to victory. Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard

Event News


Freeride World Tour Kick-off

Zuzanna Witych and Max Hitzig earn victories at the Verbier Pro

By: Klaus Polzer January 28, 2024

Conditions were excellent today for the start of the 2024 Freeride World Tour in Verbier, Switzerland. The Petit Bec offered a coating of soft powder on a solid base and a big choice of challenging terrain for the world’s best freeride athletes. In the women’s ski competition, Poland’s Zuzanna Witych laid down an extremely powerful run with a series of big jumps. The result was a well-deserved victory on the veteran’s return to the FWT ahead of rookie Manon Loschi from France and United States’ Molly Armanino. In the ski men’s field, Max Hitzig once again managed to blow everyone’s mind with huge cliff drops, the last one including an immaculate 360. Hitzig claimed the top of the podium for Germany ahead of New Zealand’s Finn Bilous; Swedish veteran Kristofer Turdell finished in third. The competition offered an amazing show, outstanding performances of all the top finishers and some spectacular crashes, fortunately with no injuries. The Verbier Pro event was a replacement for the originally scheduled tour stop in Spain.

Zuzanna Witych finds the winning line. Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard

The Freeride World Tour season should have started in Baqueira-Beret this week, but too little snow in the Pyrenees forced the organizers to cancel the kick-off tour stop in Spain. Since the Alps offer great conditions right now, and maybe since the tour final in Verbier had to be cancelled last spring, the FWT decided to move the first tour stop of the season to the famous Bec des Rosses in Switzerland on short notice. Riders and everyone else involved in the tour changed travel plans and put up quite the effort to make the Verbier Pro event happen this Saturday. It definitely paid off. Blue skies and a coating of fresh powder upon a solid base layer set the scene for a spectacular competition, likely one of the best freeride events in recent years. Two start positions on top of the Petit Bec were available for the riders. This side face of the famous Bec des Rosses—sheltered better from westerly winds—was chosen as competition site due to premium snow conditions; it was a good decision for the first event of the season, as riders could through down with less consequences in case of a fall. And throwing down most riders did, resulting in many great complete runs but also in some hefty crashes which luckily all went without injuries.


Kristofer Turdell finds some fresh snow. Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard

The Freeride World Tour runs competitions for both skiers and snowboarders, and the snowboarders were to go first this time. (Nuria Castan Baron from Spain won the women’s, Victor de Le Rue from France won the men’s.) Despite its name, the Petit Bec offers a great amount of terrain, a really steep face with many rock sections creating all kinds of options to jump big cliffs or long transfers and to ski tricky, technical sections or super fast lines. The last rider of the day, Kristofer Turdell, managed to ski untracked parts of the face, a testament to the site’s quality but also to the enormous level of men’s skiers in particular who opened up lines that were hard to imagine from locking at the pristine face. It keeps surprising veteran followers of the tour like myself, but the riding level and also the athletic ability of all participants keeps improving year after year. What seems to be settled following some debate in recent seasons, though, is the judging paradigm. All runs at the top of the result lists were rather classic big mountain lines and as a competitor you need to find something in your line that sets you apart. At least in the men’s category, a freestyle trick is mandatory for a top result but it has to be within the main section of the line, not just somewhere at a side hit. And of course you need to be impeccable, any shakiness gets relentlessly punished by the judges.

Of the women’s skiers, second starter Molly Armanino put up the first highlight run. The American found a creative, exposed line out of the skier’s right start gate, stomped a technical double cliff jump, skied very fast and controlled with a few more airs and took the leader’s chair at the bottom. The next two starters had solid runs up high but crashed at a section towards the end of the face that offered inviting take-offs but with obviously tricky landings—this section ruined quite a few runs throughout all categories. Then came FWT rookie Manon Loschi. The young French rider is known for a playful riding style with a penchant for tricks but this time she went for a true yet creative big mountain line, made quick work of two sizable cliff drops on the skier’s left side of the face and skied fast to the finish line. A score of 94.00 set her clearly ahead of the competition. Manon’s lead remained unquestioned until Zuzanna Witych dropped in as third to last competitor. Skiing strong and composed out of the skier’s left start gate, she lined up two big drops, charged down almost fall line with fast pace and took Manon’s last cliff drop even further to a rock solid stomp. The veteran rider had been on the FWT before, dropped out and then re-qualified for this season. This was definitely a statement run from Zuzanna that will be remembered for quite a while and earned her 97.67 points, the highest score of the whole day. The only way to surpass this effort would have been to show some trickery in a similar run which defending tour champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe attempted as last skier out of the gate. The Canadian showed a more standard line approach up top with still strong skiing and then pulled a huge backflip at the bottom jump that had claimed other riders before. Justine seemed to time the landing just right but then still broke through the solid layer resulting in a big crash and a no score finish. So a well deserved victory for Zuzanna Witych.

Manon Loschi shows her big mountain capability. Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard
I have no words; I am so surprised. I loved this line from the first time I saw the face, but I didn’t expect it to be that big. I never imagined the scenario of leading the rankings, and I really want to keep pushing myself. I love Verbier – it’s such a mecca for freeriding and home to so many good riders, and so to win here is just mind-blowing!
Zuzanna Witych

The ski men’s competition was off to a flying start. The first competitor, tour rookie Tetra Katsuno from Japan, took the skier’s right start, ripped through the technical top section with fast, yet really smooth turns and a sizable air, added a big 360 and an even bigger backflip at two hits that saw quite a lot of traffic towards the bottom of the face and seemed to have no trouble in his run whatsoever. A score in the mid 80s set the tone for the day, yet it ended up being just the best of a bunch of very solid performances, still too close to what nowadays seems to be a standard FWT ski competition run. The youngster just missed out on the podium. It took more than half of the field, though, to take Tenra off the leader’s chair. It was half Austrian, half German phenom Max Hitzig, who starts for Germany on the tour, to up the ante, and Max did so with a blast as he has done before at select events in previous years. Venturing out to the skier’s left side of the venue which generally saw less traffic, he followed pretty much the fall line, strung together three big drops with fast controlled turns in pretty exposed terrain and finished off his effort with a huge 360 over a sizable cliff at the bottom. Almost going too far, Max hit his knee in his face in the landing, but managed to ski away unfazed and claimed the lead with a score in the 90s.

Max Hitzig manages his speed on the steep face. Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard

This lead held despite some ambitious attempts—more on that later—until Finn Bilous put up a serious threat towards the end of the field. The New Zealander had won a big fan base with very inventive runs last season, but this time he resorted to a more traditional big mountain approach. Finn skied the technical terrain on the right side fast and composed, then stomped a huge 360 over a big cliff that many other riders took as a double and finished with a stylish flatspin on the bottom jump that troubled many others—Finn just took it further over the bomb holes and skied out safely. This run earned him second place and a score in the high 80s, but it arguably was closer in performance to the lead than the point gap indicates, as the judges probably just wanted to leave some room for eventual highlight runs of the remaining starters. This room was then almost required for the last competitor, Kristofer Turdell. The former double tour champion is on a wild card this season, but he immediately proved that it’s well deserved. The Swedish veteran went out skiers left, threw a 360 on a drop that others had only took straight and then found a line that was exclusive to him: untouched snow in exposed terrain with a mandatory air out. Kristofer skied this line super fast with his trademark confidence and stomped two big cliffs on the way. It was a close call between Kristofer Turdell and Finn Bilous, but the added trick this time beat the more creative line and Kristofer Turdell had to settle for third. The top however belonged to Max Hitzig.

It was a really special and technical run. Normally, I like flatter terrain, but I enjoyed the steep slopes here, it makes you concentrate. I wanted to start with a solid run this year, and my plan is to have fun this season and try my best. I look forward especially to the new stop in Georgia.
Max Hitzig

There are a few more things that have to be said about the ski men’s competition. First of all, the general level has come to incredible heights and it takes an outstanding performance to even make it into the top third of the result list. Ben Richards and Maxime Chabloz had similar runs to Tenra Katsuno and even Andrew Pollard was in that range, but a bit less commitment sent the smooth operator from the US down into tenth place. Showing strong skiing but simply with one trick less left Dillon Flinders and Jackson Bathgate out of the Top 10. Rookie Martin Bender from Switzerland, Swedish phenom Max Palm and defending tour champion Valentin Rainer from Austria would surely have been in this Top 10, but a tumble each left them just above all the riders with a “no score” on the results list—that is when you loose a ski or two during a crash. There were six riders without a score and that indicates what commitment it takes to place well on the FWT these days.

Those crashes were of different type, though. Abel Moga and Blake Marshall skied well but then couldn’t hold it together at a landing and consequently went on huge terrain-clearing flights with no real chance to stick those—fortunately they aimed for snowy landings. Young Canadians Marcus Goguen and WeiTien Ho, on the other hand, went for super ambitious yet actually solid runs and were simply a bit unfortunate on their last landings towards the bottom of the face. They are both riders that should be taken into strong account when betting on future FWT results. Particularly rookie WeiTien Ho went for a unique line which was super exposed, navigating this terrain with mind-blowing coolness and technical prowess to then just sending a 360 too far over a big cliff, resulting in a classic explosion on impact.

And finally I want to mention another rookie, Kendall Goodman from Utah. Kendall seems to have taken the torch of true freestyle spirit from Finn Bilous. Sporting a super-sized outfit he opted for a unique approach, finding some untouched snow on the way with fast, smooth turns and a solid air in true big mountain fashion, before he threw a crosscourt flatspin with good style over a wind lip mid-face, found a spot for a butter 360 over a side cliff—for which he had to slow down a bit—and finally pulled a screaming semen on a wind lip close to the finish line that some riders used for backies (but without too much influence on the score, it seemed). A refreshing performance—and in my very personal opinion it would have deserved a bit better than the eighth place finish it got, but it is simply not the type of approach that the FWT is after, and understandably so.

The next tour stop according to schedule is in Andorra next week, but taking the current snow situation in the Pyrenees into account it is less than likely that this event will happen—at least not in that mountain range. Let’s see what surprises the FWT might have in store for all freeride fans; however there is a good chance the second tour stop will be in Canada. The Kicking Horse Pro event in Golden, BC is scheduled February 14-20.

Ski Women’s podium at the Verbier Pro 2024 Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard
Ski Men’s podium at the Verbier Pro 2024 Freeride World Tour/Jeremy Bernard