Saturday, November 14, 2015

2016 Swatch Freeride World Tour. 100% of the Qualified Riders Confirmed


The talented athletes that make up the world’s premier competitive freeride tour are dusting off their equipment to gear up for the Swatch Freeride World Tour 2016 (FWT).  The defending champions of the FWT will face fierce competition from the top riders in each discipline and region from last winter’s Freeride World Qualifier 2015 (FWQ). The top riders of the FWQ16 will earn one of the few coveted spots on next winter’s FWT and compete alongside FWT champions on legendary venues across the world.

Men Ski

The youth has risen with young American George Rodney of Colorado, USA, defending his FWT throne as overall winner after an incredible debut 2015 season including a miraculous recovery and victory in the snowy spines of Haines, Alaska. Rodney is a fine example of how talent developed on the FWQ can match the skills and experience of veteran riders. Young gun Leo Slemett (FRA) will also be back in the game to show visiting riders how to ski in his hometown of Chamonix, France. Slemett will challenge experienced riders like Reine Barkered (SWE) who is always a force to be reckoned with countless podiums and a reputation for sending the most technical lines with lightning speed. Barkered is not the only veteran worth watching; two-time FWT champion Drew Tabke (USA), the “Flying Hawaiian,” is still discovering needle-in-haystack lines on classic venues with his patented creativity. However, sometimes pedal-to-the-medal riding is what it takes to win, as demonstrated by Sam Smoothy’s (NZL) line in Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra last year, which many consider to be one of the the finest runs ever thrown down in the history of the sport.
Never before have we seen such a huge pool of talent on the FWQ ready to send it hard to earn their spot on the FWT. Repeat crusher Ivan Malakhov, one of the strongest riders to ever come out of Russia, is back and hungry to compete on the FWT. Coming in this season as a wildcard is the young Canadian ripper Logan Pehota, son of ski legend Eric Pehota, who is gaining his own reputation for being one of Canada’s strongest backcountry riders. This new wave of backcountry and freestyle riders also includes freestyler Bene Mayr (GER) who will not disappoint with his solid repertoire of huge flips and innovative style. Markus Eder (ITA) will also be innovating with his massive quiver of freestyle tricks that he perfected for the Sochi Olympics slopestyle combined with his incredibly solid big mountain skills featured in headline ski movie segments and his 2013 FWT Courmayeur victory.

Women Ski

The ladies have definitely been stepping it up harder than ever and 2016 will be no exception. Last year’s overall FWT champion and veteran shredder Eva Walkner (AUT) will be one to watch as she cleans up the big lines better than the boys. Walkner will have to keep it coming with tight competition from 2014 FWQ winner Hazel “The Haze” Birnbaum who wants to bring home domination for the USA. But Italy wants victory badly too, with Silvia Moser sending a huge line last year in Haines, Alaska and hungry to win again in 2016.
After a stunning FWQ in 2015, including two victories placing her on top of the podium in Norway and Austria, Italian skier Arianna Tricomi is representing the Italy’s rising role in producing top-level riders on the FWT. 22-year-old Canadian Lauren Cameron has been upping the ante in the Americas region, but will it be enough to compete against the top- level European riders?
Coming in as wildcard for the 2016 season, Swede and athlete Matilda Rapaport will demonstrate her big mountain prowess that she's developed over half-dozen podiums including a victory at the Xtreme Verbier 2013. With a solid chance of dominating any given FWT event, Rapaport could easily grab the title with her experienced skill-set.

Men Snowboard

2015 FWT champion Jonathan “Douds” Charlet (FRA) is one of the most decorated snowboarders on the tour who is also a professional mountain guide and father in Chamonix, France. After a long and successful career on the FWT, will anyone have the skills and experience to dethrone Charlet? At almost 40, family man and snowboard legend Flo Orley (AUT) shows no signs of slowing down. Orley will ride alongside American Sam Luebke who witnessed the FWT title slip away after a devastating knee injury in 2013. After regaining momentum with a victory in Chamonix in 2014, Luebke has the skills to the take the top spot on the podium this year if he can keep his riding consistent. Maybe it will be Sasha Hamm (UK) who is like any average Brit except that he commutes from his London real estate job to the towering peaks of Chamonix to maintain his reputation of one of Britain’s top riders. With such an eclectic group of riders going head-to-head, 2016 will be a showcase of talents from all walks of life including former FWT13 champion Ralph Backstrom (USA) whose forte is riding lines that just look incredibly fun. FWT14 Swiss champion Emilien Badoux is going to get another chance to show everyone why he’s been present on so many podiums over the years after receiving a coveted wildcard for the 2016 season.
Emerging from the FWQ, American young gun Harrison Fitch at only 20 years of age will compete against compatriot Jonathan Penfield (USA) (1st place overall FWQ15). With so much snowboard talent concentrated in Region 1 (Europe, Asia, Oceana), can Region 2 (The Americas) get it together to produce some qualifying athletes for the FWT?

Women Snowboard

Nothing demonstrates the ability of the FWQ to produce champions like FWT15 overall winner Estelle Balet’s (SUI) story. In just four short years, she went from junior teenage phenom to FWT15 champion. Time will tell if Balet can keep the bar raised and compete with established talents such as former world champion and Franco-Swiss rider Anne- Flore Marxer (FWT11), who has proven time and again that she can ride like a top-level pro.
Finnish rider Mikaela Hollsten makes another appearance this year, having represented her home country of Finland for over five years on the FWQ. Hollsten finally gets a chance to compete on the FWT this season and is sitting strong after her top finish in the FWQ15. With such a strong European showing, Canadian Michelle Locke is the only female snowboarder to quality for the FWT16 from the Americas after her top-placing finishes in the FWQ15 season.
One of the most inspiring stories for the 2016 season is that of German Olympic Gold Medalist Nicola Thost who receives a deserved wildcard to compete on the FWT after her stunning victory at the Xtreme Verbier last year. Thost proves that despite being a world champion in freestyle half-pipe, an athlete of her caliber can take her skills to the big mountains and win.

The Swatch Freeride World Tour will kick off at Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra on January 23rd, 2016.

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