Sunday, March 29, 2015

Freeride World Tour Champions Crowned at the Xtreme Verbier

Yesterday the battle for the FWT titles took place on the mythical 3222m (10570 ft) Bec des Rosses, all while celebrating 20 years of Xtreme. The much respected north face that has provided the stage for the Xtreme Verbier for twenty years, showed a new challenging side, being dressed in a lighter snow cover this year.

Freeride World Tour Champions 2015:

Ski Men: George Rodney (USA)
Ski Women: Eva Walkner (AUT)
Snowboard Men: Jonathan Charlet (FRA)
Snowboard Women: Estelle Balet (SUI)

Men’s Ski

In men's skiing experience beat audacity. Not in the sense of conservatism but in the ability to spot the winning lines.
Aurelien Ducroz (FRA) who has already won three times on this face and who was competing on an honorary wildcard did not let his fans down. He opened the men's skiing with a spectacular line below the highest start that set the expectations of both the judges and the crowd as to the awesomeness needed for a podium. He has now set his print in the history books as the only skier to have won the Xtreme Verbier 4 times with a score of 88.50.
"I'm just really pleased - a 4th victory for the 20th anniversary of the Xtreme! I have so much love for this face. I really feel good here,” Aurelien said emotionally. “I almost changed my line last minute and then with Reine we motivated each other and I went ahead with it. I'm so happy I don't know what to say..."
Just behind Aurelien with a score of 88.12 was another skier who has experience written all over him. Reine Barkered (SWE) went a little slower into the same line as Aurelien but quickly picked up the pace in this line leading to an enormous cliff that he landed perfectly in the exposed area, making it possible for him to take immediate control of the acceleration despite the very steep part of the face. Another A-run from the stomp master that he ended shooting down over the apron at the bottom.
The skier in the golden bib, George Rodney (USA) had quite a comfortable position to reach out for the World Champion title getting into today's contest. All he needed to be untouchable was a 5th place. He knew that he couldn't just play it safe though, especially having Jeremie Heitz (SUI) in his heels, hungry for a win on home turf. George laid out with a big top air getting straight into the game and skied fast and strong down a technical line for a 3rd place finish and a score of 87.75, bringing the rookie the World Champion title after a a very tight top of the field to day and a fantastic season on the FWT.
"Pretty much speechless. My dream came true today – and a lot of hard work that I've put in, has finally paid off", said an obviously moved new World Champion. "It's just so cool – I'm stoked - First time on tour, first time here, first win in Alaska – it's a season of firsts!"

Women’s Ski

The women's ski podium provided everything from bold and ballsy lines, executed whole heartedly and to perfection
by the young Hazel Birnbaum (USA) to the experience-driven line choice of Christine Hargin (SWE). In between was the creativity of the young rookie Silvia Moser (ITA).
The battle for the title was already won by Eva Walkner (AUT) this Monday in Haines, Alaska. Today she had to give in to the classic release of pressure after such a big accomplishment, but hungry hearts were more than ready to step in.
Hazel had spotted the winning line, and the way she rode it got the crowds screaming in excitement twice! First when she stomped an exposed double up top and second after another big double on the bottom. She scored 88.00 standing out as the only woman scoring in the 80es.
"As my rookie year I feel like I learned a lot and I got to be inspired by a lot of incredible women that I've looked up to for so many years, so it's an incredible privilege and an honor to even be part of this event. I'm beyond ecstatic!", Hazel expressed after realizing her outstanding performance.
Fresh off a win in Alaska, Silvia Moser picked an original line all the way out the skier's left of the face and with a committed run lining up feature after feature, she scored 76.25 and took 2nd place.
Christine Hargin showed her experience in knowing exactly how far to take the risk aspect for putting down a solid run evolving around two main features and good speed. The 2012 World Champion could thus walk away with a strong finish to the season and a 3rd place with a score of 72.75.

Men's Snowboard

In the men's snowboard category the battle was very tight and a podium result today was crucial to anybody contending to grab the title. The situation translated directly into what will probably be remembered as one of the most diverse and next-level snowboard freeride event of all times. As if paying tribute to the Bec des Rosses and its greatness and surprises, the riders incessantly showed new interpretations of the face, making for the supreme showcase of what is possible on a snowboard.
Jonathan Charlet (FRA) had the chance of taking over Sammy Luebke (USA) in the overall if he won today's event – provided that the super smooth American rider didn't finish second. Jonathan stepped up to the challenge and delivered a mind-blowing run, perfectly mixing playfulness into his trademark big mountain style of riding, ending it up flying down the apron in what could have been the forerun for wingsuit pilot, Geraldine Fasnacht (SUI).
An incredible score of 91.00 set Jonathan straight to the top.
"I'm super stoked! Everything was just great. I realized a run without any pressure – extraordinary! Long live the Argentois", the new World Champion said with a salute to his hometown.
Jonathan can thank the - as of today - former World Champion, Emilien Badoux (SUI) for taking care of the rest needed to secure the title. Emilien has been out with injury all season, but he showed that he is more than just back in the game. He rode an amazing line where he used the big middle feature below start number 2 as a transfer over to a no-fall zone with a huge triple that no-one else had spotted so far. Stomping 1-2-3 he was completely in sync with her Majesty the 'Bec' earning him 85.75. This put him in front of Sammy who had chosen a third approach. He laid out with the cliff right below start number 1 giving him VIP entrance into the more open patch, finally setting himself up for a very technical finish with two big drops in the fall line earning him a score of 82.75. Good for a 3rd place in this great celebration of 20 years of snowboard on the 'Bec' - yet just 30 ranking points away from the title.
Not on the podium but definitely deserving to be mentioned was the absolute veteran (19 out of 20 possible starts on the Bec des Rosses), Steve Klassen (USA). And what a classy rider! Staying right on top of his game for 19 years, taking features of all shapes and sizes all the way to the very bottom of the face like a certain pink rabbit with excellent batteries.

Women’s Snowboard

Wildcard and former Olympic Champion, Nicola Thost (GER) showed that she has ridden off any wildcard intimidation and re-found her freedom to flow. She set herself apart today, with a score of 71.00 - 16 points more than number two!
"My plan for today worked out really well. It was a perfect day, and I knew from the beginning that I would have a lot of fun. It was super fun to ride this mountain and I’m absolutely stoked I could take the win", the winner said afterwards. "The snow conditions were fine, and it’s just awesome to win Verbier. There’s really a positive vibe going on at this event, and this helps a lot to have fun and stay focussed at the same time".
The battle for the title in the women's snowboard category was between Shannan Yates (USA) and Estelle Balet (SUI).
While Shannan caught up with Estelle in Alaska, Estelle knew how to use her home advantage in Verbier. Opening the contest in the line that Nicola also chose, unfortunately some slough lead her to a minor stop in the flow, but the difficulty of her airs were enough to give her the 2nd place today with a score of 55.00.
Shannan tried to make the difference with a technical line on riders' left which allowed her to keep a good flow but without the same difficulty of features. Enough though to squeeze in on the podium just one quarter of a point ahead of Anne-Flore Marxer (SUI/FRA) with a score of 52.25.

The top 16 Ski Men, 8 Snowboard Men, 7 ski women and 4 snowboard women of the final FWT ranking are directly qualified for the FWT 2016.

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