While the world's best freestylers took over Tignes, France, at the X Games, four world champion skiers and snowboarders were crowned on Friday at the final stop of the Freeride World Tour, the Verbier Xreme in Switzerland. Skiers Drew Tabke and Nadine Wallner, along with snowboarders Ralph Backstrom and Elodie Mouthon, will go down in history as the first world champions of the newly combined tour.
"It's the first year. I think I'm lucky in that there are a lot of other athletes who have either been on one tour or the other," Tabke said. "That's what freeriding really comes down to, is experience. You draw on all of these experiences in the mountains and in competition to make your choices up there and make that run. I just happened to be the guy that I think probably has the most experience on both tours, and it paid off."
For Friday's event, it was the ladies dropping first, on the "Petite Bec," a smaller portion of the massive Swiss mountainside. All the girls charged with confidence and stayed on their feet. Snowboarders rode first and Mouthon, of La Clusaz, secured the tour win and the first-place prize of the day by making a similar line choice to third-place Margot Rozies, but taking it at higher speeds.
"I was so relaxed because the pressure was not on me. I had nothing to lose, so I just rode fluid and fast," Mouthon said. Verbier local Estelle Balet nabbed the second-place podium position.
With tour favorite Christine Hargin out because of an injury incurred in Austria before last week's event, it was really anyone's guess who might slide into first place for the female skiers. Fellow Swede Matilda Rapaport found out 48 hours before the contest that she would ski as an injury replacement and arrived in Verbier only Thursday. Since many of the day's competitors have spent the past week scoping lines, she was an unlikely, but deserving, victor.
"I can't believe it. I was actually quite nervous," Rapaport said. "I got the wild card two days ago. I actually think I skied just what I wanted to ski, which rarely happens, so that was good! It's been a dream of mine to ski here. Verbier is a freeskiing Mecca in the Alps and even though people don't really know freeskiing that well sometimes, when you mention Verbier Xtreme, they know of it."
Lorraine Huber followed up her recent win in Austria with second-place finish in Verbier and world champion Wallner skied calmly into third place.
By mid-morning the clouds dispersed from the peak of the infamous Bec des Rosses, which rises 10,574 feet above sea level, including the day's champion, French skier Kevin Guri, who dropped second to last amid mostly sunny skies. Guri chose to take the same line he did at last year's event, but with more speed and better commitment to his landings, and his strategy paid off.
Reine Barkered of Sweden dropped last with the goal of defending his title as last year's Freeride World Tour champion and chose an exposed section at the top of the course that quieted the crowd with its technical difficulty. He followed that with a massive air over the "Hollywood Cliff" and a perfect landing. His difficulty through the landing of the bottom drop placed him in second. Laurent Gauthier held it down for North America with clean drops, smooth style and a third-place finish.
"I think snowboarding took the trophy on the Bec de Rosses today," said snowboard judge Tom Burt. "The women on the Petite put down the best lines. I think that Ralph [Backstrom]'s line was the best line of the day and the second half of Xavier [de la Rue]'s line was the sickest moment on the Bec de Rosses."
Backstrom dropped in first and maintained his lead throughout the men's snowboarding competition. Aurelien Routens of La Grave earned second with riding that was outright beautiful in its fluidity and Chamonix local Jonathan Charlet looked like a billygoat with technical riding through the rock garden and sluff management.
2013 Freeride World Tour Verbier: Men's Ski Results
2013 Freeride World Tour Verbier: Women's Ski Results
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2013 Freeride World Tour Verbier: Men's Snowboard Results
2013 Freeride World Tour Verbier: Women's Snowboard Results