Swedish Freeride World Tour newcomer Kristofer Turdell and Tahoe's own Jackie Paaso took the win Friday at the 2016 Swatch Freeride World Series season opener, which was held in the Andorran Pyrenees at Vallnord-Arcalís. Europeans nearly swept the podium—Jérémie Heitz (SUI) and reigning world champion Eva Walkner (AUS) landed second, and Ivan Malakhov (RUS) and freshman Evelina Nilsson (SWE) rounded out the top three.
Though the event was moved forward one day to take advantage of fresh snowfall, the snowpack was low and skiers had to be mindful of sharks on the terraced 1,312-vertical-foot course.
"To put your best in these type of conditions demands great commitment, and we saw great commitment today," longtime judge Berti Denervaud said. "We saw fast runs, we saw freestyle tricks, we saw big cliffs, we saw multiple jumps… this venue allowed every star to express itself."
One of these stars was Turdell, 26, who won the Freeride World Qualifier Tour’s European region in 2015.
"I couldn’t feel better," he said of his run. "Going into my first ever FWT, I didn’t really know what to expect and what all the other riders would do. I just was super focused on my own skiing and really wanted to do well. When thinking about it now, it feels kind of unreal that I ended up in the top spot competing against so many top skiers.”
Turdell gracefully executed a rocky line and stomped the day's biggest drop from a cliff that he decided to tackle just moments before his run. Hard-charging Heitz skied straight and fast, and Malakhov chose a risky line with a handful of substantial drops, but Turdell received extra points from the judges for the technicality of line choice as well as air and style.
Canadian wildcard entry Logan Pehota, 20, took fourth in his first tour event with a unique line that featured a clean 360.
In what's becoming a FWT cliché, the rookies bested a handful of vets, including tour champ George Rodney, who lost a pole on his first huge drop and faltered above a feature before picking his way through the cliffs to find his last air. Kiwi Sam Smoothy, defending event champion, sustained an injury early on in his run.
"It was tricky conditions today, and maybe the seasoned riders know you don't want to risk too much on day one," Denervaud said. "I believe the rookies wanted to prove that they belong on the tour, and the older riders maybe took it too conservative today."
Paaso might have found the happy medium there. Though she says she backed off from some of the bigger airs and technical spots due to the thin snow, she's the same gutsy skier she's always been, and sent it straight down the center.
Walkner threaded a tight section at the top of the course and skied a couloir toward the bottom that no other woman touched, but she didn't gamble too much, focusing on fluidity and stability instead.
"I saw so many other cool features in the face but was scared to go for them, as I didn’t know if the landings were safe," she said. "I changed my line many times… the line I chose, I wanted to ski fast and land the drops perfectly."
The skiers have just under two weeks until the next event kicks off at Chamonix Mont-Blanc on February 6, the second of three stops before the first round selection. Though skiers are looking to bank points at Chamonix, those with solid results from Andorra have the choice to rely on their current standing and charge a riskier run, or play it safe with a more conservative approach.
"It’s definitely a big confidence boost to win the first event of the season. I hope I can continue with this momentum for the next four events," Paaso said. "I’m really looking to lay down more solid runs throughout the season. Hopefully I can hold on to the golden bib with that strategy."
Find the complete current standings here, and look for continued event coverage at Powder.com.