(Ed’s note: Not every press release in the ski world disparages the snow conditions of the mountain hosting said press-y event, and not every press release calls into question the courage of said event competitors. But this press release does.)
From the Freeride World Tour — January 16, 2011 — The first-ever La Clusaz Radikal Mountain went down this weekend despite a severe lack of snow that made conditions on the course incredibly challenging. But as Head Judge Cyril Neri put it, "The best freeriders must be able to ride more than just powder."
The Radikal Mountain event marked the start of the women's Freeride World Tour 2011 season. Although some of the top female riders from the 2010 Freeride World Tour—skiers Ane Enderud (NOR), Jess McMillan (USA) and snowboarder Susan Mol (USA)—missed the competition due to injury, the event drew heavily from those who had already qualified for the Nissan Freeride de Chamonix Mont-Blanc 2011 by Swatch.
The Radikal Mountain was also an important event for those not qualified because as a FWQ 4* event there were valuable FWT points to be won. In addition, the top three women in both ski and snowboard would qualify for Chamonix if they are not already pre-qualified.
FWT qualified women skiers who competed in the Radikal Mountain event included Jaclyn Paaso (USA), Janina Kuzma (NZL), Eva Walkner (AUS), Janette Hargin (SWE), Marja Persson (SWE), and snowboarders Aline Bock (GER), Vivan Aasen (NOR) and Nathalie Zenklusen (SUI).
The first day's event was held on a wide face intersected by rock bands on the Massif l'Etale area of La Clusaz. With 50 cm of fresh snow the site would be a freeriders' paradise with room for big, fast turns as well as cliff bands and rock drops of all shapes and sizes.
Yet, despite the formidable conditions, 107 riders from 14 nations were on the start list for the 4* FWQ event in the heart of the French Alps. As a group, the FWT-qualified women decided to sit out the first day and move straight to the finals. This was a decision that was not without risk as there was a chance the finals would not take place due to the poor snow quality. If that happened the results of the qualifying round would count as the final results leaving the women who had decided not to compete out of the points race.
In the men's competition FWT-qualified skiers included Sebastian Hannemann (GER), Reine Barkered (SWE), Jérémy Prevost (FRA), Samuel Anthamatten (SUI) and hometown hero Seb Michaud (FRA). In snowboarding, Raphaël Bullet (SUI), Flo Orley (AUT), Gennady Khryachkov (RUS) also competed even though they were already qualified for the FWT11.
Due to course conditions, the first day's riding was fairly conservative with the exception of Seb Michaud who cleanly stuck a big backflip and Juan Bergada (ARG) who came up short on a double backflip and was flown to the hospital with a broken leg.
At the riders' meeting that night, those who had qualified for the finals were told the next day's event would be held at the top of the Col des Aravis on a 500-meter face with pitches of 45˚ – 50˚. In addition to their usual safety gear of helmet, avy transceiver, probe, shovel and back protection the riders would be required to wear a harness with a sling and carabiner attached in order to safely negotiate the climb to the start gate.
Contest organizers emphasized the formidable challenges that awaited the competitors: "Conditions are crusty, some places are really crusty, some other places are good but it's very steep and exposed in places."
This kind of warning from organizers freaked out several of the competitors who voiced their concerns over the severity of the course. In the end a vote was taken among the 51 riders qualified for the finals—10 voted not to hold the finals, 20 voted to hold the finals, and 20 abstained. The final was on.
The day of the finals was completely bluebird at the top of the Col des Aravis with backcountry skiers skinning up to the col next to the competition face. The 500-meter face was absolutely amazing with a couple of big diagonal rock bands at the top leading into an open face with a variety of small cliffs and rock jumps of all shapes and sizes before funneling into a field of small trees and bushes at the bottom.
Of the two starts, one was taken out of action after an avalanche took the main gully in that section of the course down to blue ice with a field of bulletproof avalanche debris beneath it.
Riders once again rode conservatively with the top riders showing more speed and hitting one or two jumps with straight airs.
In the end it was former Swedish alpine star, Janette Hargin (SWE), who claimed top honors in the women's ski division with an impressive show of skills. Janette told us, "It was pretty tough conditions today. The snow was changing a lot and I wasn't really sure at the start what conditions to expect."
The snowboard division was dominated by Austrians with four of the six podium spots sporting the red and white flag. Christian Schnabel (AUT) took the top spot in the men's division and 2010 Freeride World Champion Aline Bock (GER) won the women's.
The men's ski division is a perfect example of the kind of excitement that is generated when upstart challengers who have nothing to lose by giving everything they've got for a shot at the title go up against some of the world's best freeriders. In the end the man at the top of the podium was Erik Sunnerheim, who won the 4* FWQ Røldal Freeride Challenge in 2010 but who is relatively unknown outside of his home country of Sweden. By watching the Åre local's smooth, fast line and the way he stomped his airs on this test-piece face it's clear the gentle-natured hellman will soon become famous as yet another in the long line of top Swedish freeriders.
When asked to describe his line, Erik told us, "The line started with a very tight couloir; I don't know how steep but it was pretty steep. Very sluffy. Then I came out of the couloir and made big turns, very fast and after that I hit some cliffs, around five to ten meters high, and skied down some rocks and just had fun."
Sunnerheim's top spot on the podium at the La Clusaz Radikal Mountain earned him a wildcard at the Nissan Freeride de Chamonx Mont-Blanc 2011 by Swatch. "It was hard to ski on but these are normal conditions for Sweden. It was very crusty and hard but it was fun and the whole point of freeskiing is to have fun."
Man, you just gotta love this guy's attitude. Welcome to the tour, Erik.
Results (Complete ones here.)
1. Janette Hargin (SWE)
2. Janina Kuzma (NZL)
3. Pia Widmesser (DEU)
1. Aline Bock (GER)
2. Liz Kristoferitsch (AUT)
3. Ursula Wohlschlager (AUT)
1. Christian Schnabel (AUT)
2. Flo Orley (AUT)
3. Mike Aeschbach (SUI)
1. Erik Sunnerheim (SWE)
2. Seb Michaud (FRA)
3. Thomas Leitner (DEU)
The first official men's event and second women's event on the Freeride World Tour is the Nissan Freeride de Chamonix Mont-Blanc 2010 by Swatch on Saturday, Jan. 22.