Julien Lopez at bib draw. PHOTO: J.BERNARD

After a powder-filled first stop of the inaugural Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face on the Mac Daddy venue of Revelstoke, B.C., the tour hops the Atlantic and lands in Courmayeur, Italy. This stop, however, only features the men, 32 of them to be exact.

In case you’ve been too busy skiing all the plentiful powder in North America, Courmayeur/Mont-Blanc, Italy, has been experiencing nuclear winter conditions. Like, 75-year storm conditions. Which, of course, equates to multiple venue options being available. European FWT Director Nicolas Hale-Woods worked with mountain guides and longtime competitor Aurelien Ducroz to select the venue. According to Ducroz, the venue will allow for multiple styles of skiing, whether it’s hard chargers like himself and Seb Michaud or more air-friendly competitors like FWT Revy winner Drew Tabke, American Oakley White-Allen, and Kiwi Sam Smoothy.

The Flying Hawaiian Tabke won the first stop of the global five-star series six-stop tour by airing three sizable cliffs on the Mac Daddy venue. The tour veteran has all the momentum and as an accomplished ski mountaineer is comfortable in the Alps setting. Switzerland’s Jeremie Heitz finished second at Revy and you would think he’d have knowledge of the Italian Alp location.

But since 22 out of the 32 competitors are not from North America, I’m going with the safe bet and picking Frenchman Julien Lopez to win the second stop. Lopez finished third at Revy and has to be amped up to return close to home and compete in front of an eager Euro fan base for the second stop of the new tour. The 31 year old hasn’t won a FWT stop in Europe in some time, so he has even more motivation.

Dark Horses: Watch out for Italian Markus Eder and Switzerland’s Samuel Anthamatten. The 26-year-old Swiss, an accomplished climber, finished third at last year’s FWT Courmayeur event, and has a penchant for skiing fast and taking big airs. As for Eder, he won the 2012 World Heli Challenge in New Zealand and finished second at last year’s Red Bull Linecatcher, so you know he has a big ol’ bag of stylie tricks that could allow him to pop up on the podium at any time. Plus, the 22 year old is competing in his home country. Don’t count out Ducroz, a Chamonix resident, as he knows this terrain better than anybody. Also, watch out for the Chickering-Ayers brothers, Lars and Silas, as Lars, the elder, is making his FWT comeback after a one-year hiatus.

I look for Lopez to win the event, with Anthamatten finishing second and Tabke hanging onto a podium spot.