Initially it was a bit of a rebel form and gained a bit of notoriety due to big names in snowboarding such as Craig Kelly, known as the Godfather of freeriding, giving up all their sponsorship deals and competitive freestyle to head out into the backcountry and get back to the roots of skiing and snowboarding.
Freeriding has always been the dirty, older brother to freestyle. Something only the old and crusty were into, but it’s beginning to gain popularity as more people are looking to explore the mountains. Legends of the sport like Shane Mckonkey and more recently Jeremy Jones and Xavier De La Rue have really pushed what is possible and brought it to the big screen, and with the likes of Travis Rice and Candide Thovex bringing their freestyle roots into freeriding it will continue to grow.
Freeride World TourOver the years freeriding has developed and progressed and a competitive format has evolved now known as the ‘Freeride World Tour’. Some believe it is a bit of a contradiction to introduce competition into freeriding but it is a great format that pushes athletes and satisfies their competitive edge while keeping true to the origins of freeride.
The FWT format works like this…..
There are two levels to the FWT. The main professional tour is a 5 event series where the very best skiers and snowboarders compete on some of the steepest and heaviest mountains in the world. They build up points over the series which will determine the overall winner of the tour, it’s an amazing spectacle to watch with the level of skiing and riding being at the highest level with big consequences and excitement guaranteed.
To get onto the FWT you first need to qualify through the Freeride World Qualifier Tour Series which is made up of events all over the world with thousands of competitors of all ages. Its the same platform as the main tour in that athletes build up points over a season with the aim to finish at the top and earn a place on the FWT.
There are a few different levels of events on the qualifier tour. The difficulty of each event is shown by a star ranking, 1 star being the lowest and 4 stars the highest. The more stars the more points that are on offer due to the level and risk being higher.
1. Difficulty of Line
This is all about the route chosen down the mountain. How difficult is it? Whats the danger factor? How have they linked up features? How creative is their route?
Control is key in freeriding, if you are out of control then bad things can happen. Judges want to see a rider knowing exactly where they are going and not by the seat of their pants. This is probably one of the main criteria, falling in the middle of your run is pretty much a nail in the coffin.
This rewards the riders who don’t hesitate before dropping a cliff and show no confusion or stopping. Traversing can also sometime be a no no if it disrupts your line. Its all about the ‘flow’ of your line.
Probably the most exciting part of the competition. Nothing is man made and so its always amazing to see someone hitting a 20 foot cliff. Judges look for size of cliff, style while in the air, was it a clean landing and take off.
This is looked at more closely in the qualifier and junior events. Its not a main criteria as everyone has their own style. Someone can lose points if they are side slipping down a section while other riders are carving.
Judges will then give you and overall score for your run between 0 and 100.
What makes these events even tougher is that you get one run, with no practice. So on the day its down to whoever can keep it together and put a clean,smart, run down.
Picking a line is tough, usually a photo of the venue is sent out a few days before the comp followed by an inspection day. This involves scoping the competition face from the bottom using binoculars and this is where freeride is slightly different from other events. The athlete has to use experience and knowledge to pick a line that will score well, its hard seeing how steep a run is or how big a cliff is from the bottom. Most will use obvious features to help them stay on track an not get lost as everything looks a lot different when you are stood on top of the venue before dropping in and its easy to miss your features.
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