The event in Haines, Alaska was a true show of freeride at its best. It was a nine day wait for the weather to play along but everyone seemed to know that it would be all worth it. The setting was like an Alaskan postcard with fresh powder under a clear blue sky and with a big glacier as a backdrop. Having shown great form all season, Eva Walkner (AUT) had a solid lead in women's skiing coming into the event. With four out of five results counting for the final ranking, and Eva counting one win and 2nd places in all the other events, she can now call herself World Champion no matter how she performs in Verbier. The suspense for the titles in the other categories is still intact as the Freeride World Tour moves into the final event.
The athletes delivered mind-blowing performances, whether fighting to grab the title or simply attempting to qualify for the last stage of the season in Verbier (SUI) on March 28. The conditions on the 740 vertical meters (2300 ft) competition face, The Venue, were close to perfect with knee deep, blower powder covering the characteristic long and impressive spines.
The skier in the golden bib, George Rodney (USA) was charging this face like there was no tomorrow, using his floating features to reposition himself so as to keep the control without ever having to turn his skis more than 45 degrees to the fall line despite the sustained extreme pitch of this face. His gutsy run earned him a score of 87.75 and his second win of the season though this was a completely different animal than the more closed face in Andorra. One of the highlights of his run was his fast reaction of pointing everything in the fall line in the steepest part of the face to save an imbalance – a very counter-intuitive move in such terrain that shows the level of mastery of this young rider. "I can't believe it - that was the coolest run I've ever done in my life,” he said at the bottom. “It's the best face I've been on. It is like two venues".
Jérémie Heitz (SUI) put anyone believing that he would actually slow down his usual Mach 3 skiing style here on The Venue in Haines to shame. Despite the many blind parts on this double roll-over face he sent it directly, aggressively and with perfect fluidity, putting his more difficult airs in at the top and then focusing on speed like no other rider. This tactic put him in 2nd place with score of 81.00.
Close behind and in 3rd place was Kevin Guri (FRA) who scored 80.00 with a high paced run including an impressive cliff band.
The women skiers really put everything out there to qualify for Verbier resulting in three DNFs. Silvia Moser (ITA) made the run of her season and took her first FWT victory with a score 84.00. She chose a very technical top section with a steep double and then opted for shoot with no tracks at the bottom. "I had a very cool run, I had fun and did everything I wanted to do", the successful Tour rookie commented. "I am very happy. It is the best run of the winter so far".
The woman of the day was Eva Walkner (AUT) who took her third 2nd place of the season with a very intelligent approach that demonstarted her knowledge of Alaskan conditions. She went for a technical line without gambling with speed yet got her features in as planned knowing exactly what was needed to secure her title before enjoying the powder on the more mellow part in the fresh snow to skiers right. "I went for all the things that I had planned and did some of the best powder turns of my life. It was fun!", She says about her run. Still needing to fully realize that she is actually the World Champion, she is just relieved that her struggles with injuries are behind her and that the hard work has paid off: "It was two years of hard work and coming back from injury and winning the title I have no words for it!".
The 3rd place went to Francesca Ace Pavillard-Cain (USA) with a score 65.00. She put in some very nice features with good speed but some balance struggles in the landings cost her a few points.
The men's snowboard category started the contest shortly after 9.15am (AKDT) (6.15pm CET). First out of the Swatch gate was Sammy Luebke (USA) and he certainly didn't throw away this incredible opportunity to open the new FWT Alaskan venue in style. With his usual smooth riding, he started out with a lot of speed pulling a double in the steepest part of the face. He managed to keep that level of action all the way down the face including a well executed 360 and another big feature. He put his competitors under pressure right away with a whopping score of 90.00, giving him the win in the end. "Everything lined up the way I thought. I'm excited to go to Verbier!" Sammy summed up his day at work.
Flo Orley (AUT) was last to go in the men's snowboard category and he confirmed that he is on fire this season with an all-out, perfectly ridden line including the biggest fly of the day in his category charging out over the rollover leading into the steep bottom section. He took 2nd place scoring 87.00, thus removing the chances of Jonathan Charlet (FRA) to make an early claim at the FWT title at this event.
The 3rd podium place went to Colin Boyd (USA) who was also on track to challenge Sammy until a small loss of control after a 360 took his score one notch down to 82.00
Shannan Yates (USA) was in charge of keeping the battle for the title in this category open still. By winning here she closed in on Estelle Balet (SUI) who placed second. Both showed fast and fluid riding, but where Estelle took higher risks especially on speed, she paid by a bit of loss of control in the steepest section leaving her behind Shannan's 79.50 with a score of 75.00. Shannan was very happy with her run, having managed to pull out of some slough without breaking her flow too much.
"It feels amazing! I got to ride fantastic Alaskan powder. I had a small section of snow break on me but I was able to ride it out and it didn't phase me", said the happy winner. "I am so excited to be here in Alaska it is just a great, great event". Elodie Mouthon (FRA) opened up the central shoot and put in a strong finish, earning her the 3rd place with a score of 69.00.