After the final Freeride World Tour stop at Verbier, Switzerland, Loïc Collomb-Patton (FRA) and Eva Walkner (AUT) had something special to brag about at the bar this weekend—both went home with world championship titles.
Neither skiers are new to the view from this podium. Collomb-Patton also claimed the overall title in 2014, his rookie FWT season; Walkner, who first competed on the tour in 2010, won last winter.
Freshman Logan Pehota (CAN) and Jackie Paaso (USA), collected second, and Fabio Studer (AUT) and rookie Arianna Tricomi (ITA) took the third spot on the podium.
But there was a slight twist to the competition—in that for the men, there wasn’t one. With flat light and poor visibility, high winds, and a tough snowpack at the Bec des Rosses venue, officials decided to call off the men’s event altogether, a first in Freeride World Tour history. The results from the Haines, Alaska, event served as their final scores.
As Head Judge Berti Denervaud explained, “We consulted the riders and this decision was taken with them. The two days we decided to use were the two best looking days from the weather window… We can’t afford to wait for the whole week; after two false starts and no clear window showing for the next six days, that’s why we had to decide to cancel the ski men category.”
“I would have loved to battle it out on this mythical face,” Collomb-Patton said Sunday. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I will party tonight.”
Canceling the men’s category wasn’t an easy decision for officials, especially because of how close Collomb-Patton and Pehota sat in the rankings, just 300 points apart. Spectators were expecting a showdown of sorts from the two riders, both of whom had laid down competitive seasons so far. Still, the athletes recognized the danger of the conditions and accepted the decision with grace.
“Does it feel like losing my chance to prove myself? No, not at all,” Pehota said. “I don’t think I had anything to prove after my results this season so far. For me its definitely is a bit of a disappointment to not be able to compete for the number one spot, but saying that, I am completely fine with finishing second overall my first year on the tour… I think it shows that I had what it takes to compete with these top level guys even though I’m a wild card.”
With a different starting location called the Petit Bec, the women had better light conditions and competed on April 2 as planned, though they did contend with dense snow up top and crust toward the bottom. Paaso landed gold, which rocketed her up from a fifth overall ranking, while Walkner came in second and Nadine Wallner (AUT) earned third.
“I’m not skiing for the camera and a result. For me, I always want to be happy with my line and skiing in the end,” said Walkner, who had all but sealed her title with wins in Chamonix and Alaska. “So I tried to find a mix, a line where I was pretty sure I can stomp everything. So not too much risk, but something which is not just skiing down and making me disappointed… I’m so thankful and happy that I could win the title again. It means a lot to me. All the hard work paid off.”
After a win to start the season in Andorra, Paaso didn’t quite pull together runs at the three following stops, and she was ready to show off her best in Switzerland. While Tricomi kicked off a loose run with a controlled fall, Passo put down a strong line with a big air, which shook up the overall rankings. Though she says she dialed it back a bit due to the conditions, looking for a “smart line” rather than a sendy gamble, Paaso knows the area well after five seasons on the tour, so she was able to nail her choice with confidence and fluidity.
“This season had some peaks and valleys for me,” Paaso said. “I was really hoping for the overall title and I knew that meant changing my usual style of go-big-or-go-home. I was just mediocre. After losing the shot at the title with a disappointing result in Alaska, I was pretty frustrated. Fortunately I was able to pull everything together for the last stop here in Verbier.”
Find the Verbier competition recap here. After the last stop on the four-month long tour, the skiers are headed their separate ways to different ski projects across the world or home to relax.