Freeride World Tour

Freeride World Tour Schedule

Jan. 18, 2014

Courmayeur, Italy

Jan. 25, 2014

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France

Feb. 1, 2014

Fieberbrunn PillerseeTal, Austria

Mar. 1, 2014

Snowbird, Utah, USA

Mar. 10, 2014

Revelstoke, Canada

Mar. 22, 2014

Verbier, Switzerland

A World Apart

With the FWT announcing only one North American stop in 2015, what does it say about the tour's future?

Athletes and organizers had to have a lot of meetings last season. But the two organizing groups of the tour never formally spoke about the 2015 schedule and fate of the sport. PHOTO: Dom Daher

Athletes and organizers had to have a lot of meetings last season. But the two organizing groups of the tour never formally spoke about the 2015 schedule and fate of the sport. PHOTO: Dom Daher

Throughout the challenging 2014 Freeride World Tour season, which saw the venues of three consecutive stops avalanche, forcing venue relocation or cancellation, athletes and organizers grumbled incessantly. It, sadly, devolved into a European vs. North American antagonism. The Euros grew frustrated with the absence of quality back-up venues in the case of Snowbird and Revelstoke, poor live webcast production quality, and athletes griped about uninspiring terrain unfit for FWT comps. Meanwhile, Americans defended their decisions and 15-plus years of putting on ski contests atop mountains with inhospitable locations while keeping in mind their IFSA ideals and roots. Still, though, few could have predicted what transpired last week.

In a press release with a subject line that read “Exciting Novelties for FWT 2015,” the Freeride World Tour announced the 2015 competition schedule. Therein, three items were notably absent—specifically:

1. A sixth stop, as the 2015 tour dropped one event, going from six to five while adding Andorra to the list and removing Courmayeur.
2. A Lower 48 U.S. and Canadian stop. Instead, an unnamed location in Alaska with a 10-day-plus weather window.
3. At that Alaska event, only men will be allowed to compete, therefore giving women only three stops to compete before the field is narrowed for the finals in Verbier.

Drafted and sent by the European-run Freeride World Tour Management, the release caught most by surprise, none more so than Mountain Sports International (MSI), the North American FWT production company.

“It’s a surprise to all of us,” said MSI marketing and communications director Jessica Kunzer. “We got the release when everyone else did.”

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It seemed like a hostile siege of the prominent big mountain tour, with so many questions outstanding as to how FWT Management SA, who owns the brand Freeride World Tour that started in 2008 and exclusive marketing rights, could legally make these decisions without consulting their North American counterpart that has produced big mountain contests since 1998.

“We entered a phase of FWT development three years ago by collaborating with MSI towards a full merge of both companies,” said FWT General Manager and Founder Nicolas Hale-Woods, who said they did indeed inform MSI of the new schedule, via e-mail from Australia. “This collaboration has not been successful to our eyes on many points, both on the operation and the communication sides, which lead us to the conclusion of organizing FWT without MSI.” The two companies entered a joint venture agreement two years ago without a signed contract.

Given the new event lineup, perhaps the FWT should be renamed the FET for Freeride Euro Tour? With only one North American stop in Alaska—the FWT is prospecting three locations—the rich history of big mountain competitive skiing in North America has been completely hijacked. And although Hale-Woods confirmed that they’re hedging the growth and success of the tour on high-quality webcast production rather than on-the-ground spectators (similar to surfing’s Teahupoo ASP World Championship Tour contest), it robs North American FWT fans, potentially sabotages a growing market of youngsters, and, most notably, affects the current crop of North American athletes.

Despite widespread support of Revelstoke's Mac Daddy venue, it's off the table for the 2015 FWT calendar. PHOTO: FWT

Despite widespread support of Revelstoke’s Mac Daddy venue, it’s off the table for the 2015 FWT calendar. PHOTO: FWT

“Am I reading this right? Alaska is the only American stop? With no slots for women?” wrote 2013 FWT overall champ Drew Tabke in an e-mail. Tabke, who is on the eight-member Pro Freeriders Board and has taken on the unflattering role of a pseudo-spokesperson for the actual going-ons of the tour, has been quite terse with his own frustrations this winter. His European counterpart, Sweden’s Reine Barkered, who won the 2012 overall tour and 2014 Xtreme Verbier, seemed to favor the news. “I just saw AK was in there and I’m really stoked,” said Barkered. “But it’s a bummer women won’t be able to compete in Alaska and that Revelstoke is off the tour since it was such a steep venue with great vertical.” As for the women, Squaw Valley’s Jackie Paaso, who finished fourth overall on the 2014 FWT, chimed in all the way from South Africa. “I didn’t anticipate this,” she said. “I know they have been talking about adding an Alaska event and there are cost concerns associated with that, but people would be more accepting of the new schedule if women were included. Not all FWT venues are ideal, but it’s important to keep the fan base happy for the health of the sport. It’s disappointing, for sure.”

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Alas, the announcement acted as a culmination of contention. But after the 2013 merger of the North American-based Freeskiing World Tour and European-based Freeride World Tour, it seemed big mountain competitive skiing was unified and on a positive trajectory. They crowned a true world champ with a legitimate prize purse, investments were made to improve webcast production quality, and a feeder system—the Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ)—was set in place to grow the sport while also giving the FWT elite status. With the release of the 2015 schedule, it seems the FWT has taken a significant step backward.

“Obviously, tension is possible when working from different continents with different methodologies in volatile mountains,” said MSI Project Manager Bryan Barlow, the man responsible for the North America stops. “But we’re totally blindsided by this news made by FWT SA. After all the collaboration and compromise between USA and Europe FWT to build one system and then to wake up one day to this is disappointing, to say the least. At one time, there seemed to be a focus on building and unifying the sport of freeride, and not just about building a brand to sell. This leaves a huge void and unknown for the North and South America market and athletes, which was so key in the evolution of what freeride is today.”

Barkered expressed support for one less event, noting that it would give him and others “more time for other projects” outside the FWT calendar. That played to Hale-Woods assertion that the 2015 schedule decisions are about “quality over quantity.”

Moments like this at Snowbird, where American Lars Chickering-Ayers claimed the top spot of the 2014 FWT fourth stop, are in jeopardy on mainland North America soil. PHOTO: FWT

Moments like this at Snowbird, where American Lars Chickering-Ayers claimed the top spot of the 2014 FWT fourth stop, are in jeopardy on mainland North America soil. PHOTO: FWT

“Freeride World Tour’s goal is to organize the best events on the best mountains,” continued Hale-Woods. “In the eyes of many riders, Alaska proposes the best mountains in the USA. But Alaska will be a tough one on the logistical side since we’ll be in ‘remote location mode,’ meaning we will need a lot of flexibility to move the group of riders and live webcast team around. This is why, for year one, we decided to go there with men only and limit the number of riders to 60 percent of the field. Furthermore, with the current financial parameters, it is not possible to organize an additional event for women only in North America. This is not the ideal set-up, but it is reality for 2015.”

Although FWT still owns the rights to the FWQ and FJT (Freeride Junior Tour), it remains to be seen what will happen to the exciting skiing niche that, despite the 2014 weather challenges, seemed to be catching on, with increasing webcast and TV views. Notwithstanding, putting the cross-Atlantic conflict on the table and coming to an amenable collaboration seems doubtful, as of now, undoubtedly weakening the sport and leaving the future of North American big mountain competitive skiing with a giant question mark.

Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face 2015 Event Calendar

1. SWATCH FREERIDE WORLD TOUR CHAMONIX-MONT-BLANC BY THE NORTH FACE

Date: Jan. 24, 2015; Location: Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, FRA

Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard

2. SWATCH FREERIDE WORLD TOUR FIEBERBRUNN KITZBÜHELER ALPEN BY THE NORTH FACE

Date: Jan. 31, 2015; Location: Fieberbrunn Kitzbüheler Alpen, AUT

Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard

3. SWATCH FREERIDE WORLD TOUR VALLNORD ARCALIS / ANDORRA BY THE NORTH FACE

Date: Feb 14, 2015; Location: Vallnord Arcalis, AND

Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard


4. SWATCH FREERIDE WORLD TOUR ALASKA BY THE NORTH FACE

Date: March 14, 2015; Location: TBD

Disciplines: Men’s Ski and Snowboard

5. SWATCH XTREME VERBIER BY THE NORTH FACE

Date: March 28, 2015; Location: Verbier, SUI

Disciplines: Men’s and Women’s Ski and Snowboard

Add a comment

  • Wolfpack

    Sounds like an opportunity for MSI to create a new North American Tour.

  • payd1rt

    Very sad indeed. Yes, mama nature was fickle this season and that caused cancellations, delays, frustrations, etc., but that’s the “nature” of the beast. Next season may bring the same fickleness to Europe while leaving the North American venues are deep and stable. Burning a bridge like this can only hurt things, not help.

    • Lhotse1972

      Well said.

  • http://twitter.com/kaufmanwithak AK

    STEFT.

  • Andy Haley

    The North Face Masters of snowboarding is hosting next years events at Alta, Deer Valley and Mad River Glen. Oh yeah, no men.

  • High Plains Drifter

    It might be worth thinking “If time or money were no object, what venues would be ideal, and in what month”? That should be the primary question involved. That said, pragmatism must apply and, without getting too down on the matter, this could be an opportunity to almost develop a league-style of coordinating the events, with say North American skiers at Jackson / Revy / Tahoe for 3 events, the euro’s in the EU for 3 events, and both sides coming together for AK and the Bec? Naturally, the scoring and so forth would need to be figured but, the highest level of talent would likely rise to the top in the absence of such intense travel obligations. Furthermore, this would create some extra space for various athletes to work on other projects during the winter, and somewhat closer to home.

  • skipunkx

    And this it TOTALY not due to the mismanagement of msi. Their brilliant organizing skills have kept the new blood out and driven away the veterans. The FWQ tour has become super exclusive and impossible to get into, supposedly that is the entry point. It has just become a frat house for trust fund bro-bras. If you don’t travel Europe to compete and score points there is NO way to get into any US comps, no way to move up the ranks, no way to make the tour in the us. Those who work for a living need not apply.

    • Martin

      I know some European who are traveling the US to do the qualifiers, they say its to hard in Europe

  • Matt

    Well. There goes the neighbourhood.

  • Expat

    Funny that this happens just as USA Skiiers and riders are starting to take over the leaderboards on the European world tour

    • Martin

      6 riders in top 16. first one at 6 in ski men, what do you mean?. Also, its not like the NA riders are kicked out, still there. Hasn’t changed at all since the start in 08, where amongst others Drew Tabke competed.

    • MoWorries

      Hmmm, FRA, NZL, SUI, SWE, ARG, USA, USA, SUI, USA, AUT – Top 10. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a take over…

  • Dave

    Dear Mr Stifter, were you able to get a hold of anyone on the European management side or was it a no comment from them? Glad someone in the comments mentions ARG, NZL because the article sounds a little bit one sided on the complaining front.

    • johnstifter

      Yes, Dave, as you can read, I spoke with the GM and founder of the FWT, Nicolas Hale-Woods, who I quoted at length since he had so much to say and represents the Euro point of view as much as anyone. Also, Reine Barkered, who was quoted above as well, favors the schedule for the most part and speaks for most Euros on tour, especially because he was one of the more vociferous riders that went on record about the N.A. venues being “unfit” for a FWT event. Also, Barkered told me Charlie Lyons of New Zealand supports it as well.

      • dave

        Ah, fair enough. Apologies, got lost with all the acronyms.

      • ReineBarkered

        Thats the impression i get, although it must be said, Charlie is supporting Alaska, as I think most riders do, BUT a majority of them want the woman there. Its is a question of logistics and budget, who knows, maybe it will work out and we get the woman there, at the very least for year 2.
        How everyone (Including Charlie) is reacting to the MSI situation and no contest in the lower 48 I cannot say. I can say that the riders on the European side are in general not in favor of the in-bound venues offered in the US.

        We all wish that Revelstoke was still in since it is a really cool mountain and town but that might be a decision from Revelstoke mountain not to hold an event, I’m not sure. But the Mountains have to be on board for an event to happens and they aren’t always willing, Its not all up to the FWT. Same goes for Qualifiers.

        As an explanation for my take on the venues in the US, I’m from Sweden, our mountains are similar to some of the mountains in the US but It´s far from the Alps. I started doing the Freeride world tour because i wanted to ski the best mountain in as good conditions as possible and i just haven’t found that in the lower 48. I have had a lot of fun riding there, but not in big mountain comps.

        Its been super fun to meet all the riders from the Americas over the years and i hope that will continue for years to come.

        • ryanvdonk

          Kind of a weird situation, but for as fun as a mountain as Snowbird is, there really is not a 5 star quality venue there without looking to perma-closures or nearby peaks in the backcountry. The Kirkwood venue is much better in terms of size, line options and ability to preserve snow conditions with long term closure. Unfortunately the snowfall didn’t cooperate this year, so snowbird stepped up to the plate in a very short time span. It’s too bad, as other places like Whistler, Crystal, Jackson and even Big Sky have venues more fitting of the highest level of competition but that’s how it goes in a limited window. While there was some bad luck this season, it shouldn’t condemn North America from hosting events, as even an event in Europe had to be moved this season due to conditions.

        • 8KaboveMSL

          Reine, first of all, I really love watching you and all the riders on the FWT compete. Despite my immense respect for you, I can’t agree with your support of the FWT’s decision. This is a decision that at best can only be considered unfortunate and, at worst, extremely provincial and shortsighted.

          I have two kids that compete on the IFSA junior circuit here in NA and have seen first hand how hard it can be to get the mountains to cooperate with the IFSA regional and national junior events and I can only imagine how hard it is to get them to step up to the FWT level events. So I totally get your point about the needing cooperation from the mountains. But it would be silly to conclude from the statements you’ve made that there are no suitable venues in Canada or the the lower 48 states where these competitions can be held. That is just not true. The cooperation required is clearly a stumbling point that can and should be addressed creatively.

          However, jumping from that stumbling point to a decision to eliminate any competition in Canada and the Lower 48 US, just doesn’t seem logical nor in the best interest of the riders (broadly defined) or the sport of big mountain freeriding. It also doesn’t appear to make business sense to exclude the second largest market in terms of skiers (and likely most affluent) in the world from a business perspective either.

          As John articulates above, this appears to set back all the recent progress the sport has made in providing some clarity to those riders trying to make a career in big mountain freeriding. As a spectator, involved parent and business person, I would prefer to see collaboration and cooperation that leads to the continued growth of the sport. In the long run these small differences should and can be overcome. Not to suggest that this is going to sink the sport, because it won’t. Big mountain freeriding is certainly bigger than the personalities involved.

          It would be more productive if the folks involved channeled their energy in the direction of positive outcomes and creatively tackling the problems standing in the way of progress instead of creating more divisions and factions while ignoring the tough challenges. My sincere hope is that next year’s schedule and plans don’t represent the beginning of a long-standing rift, but rather a bump in the road that will be overcome before the division becomes irreparable.

        • bryan barlow

          To the point of US vs Europe venues, Europe does not have bigger venues on tour. Reine, you were there as well, so I’m confused this is a viable complaint from your side or anyone for that matter. I just thought I would break it all down on how things went this year so everyone can’t stop thinking that the resorts in US have smaller venues. Here are the facts coming from myself , who was at every event this year.
          Stop 1 Courmayeur = 942 vertical ft
          Stop 2 Chamonix = 984 vertical ft
          Stop 3 Fieberbrunn = 1,647 vertical ft
          Stop 3 (Resched for Fieberbrunn) Kappl = 1,373 vertical ft Stop 4 Kirkwood = 1,466 vertical ft
          Stop 4 (Resched for Kirkwood ) Snowbird = 1,432 vertical ft
          Stop 5 Revelstoke= 1,466 vertical feet
          Stop 6 Verbier= 1,810 vertical feet…

          Another fun fact is that, MSI ran the only venue that was truly in backcountry (out of bounds) terrain in Revy. But you can say goodbye to that thanks to the poor decision making of the Euros.

          • ReineBarkered

            Hi Bryan. First of. I think its really bad how FWT SA handled this with MSI, Contract or no contract it feels like something you just don´t do. I feel sad that it happened.

            When it comes to Venues. One, the only option A venue that was ridden this year was Verbier. The intended face in Cham is much bigger then the option B we had this year, same for the other events. But thats not what decides a good venue to me, yes it helps with a lot of vert but its more the features and what lines up on the mountain. For example the Courmayeur venue from 2010 and 11 all riders loved it but also said that it should just be a bit longer but still a good face regardless.

            Kirkwood i dont particularity like, from afar it looks OK but when one look closer there is a lot of fat to flats. Just a lot of features that doesn’t go without some serous impact and i doesn’t line up very well. Good vert though. Baldy has OK vert and lines up pretty good but there is just so many flat landings, Just a few good features at the bottom. Maybe I’m getting old but i never liked flats.

            We did see a good face in Snowbird but it felt like the resort didn’t want us there and blamed it on lack of time to secure it (48h) One guy in patrol told me if we want it they can make it happen but then they pulled the plug from higher up. Frankly, it feels like its impossible to get anything done in the resorts there with all the liability issues or whatever it is.

            I want to be able to hit cliffs fall line in full speed, not need to slow down for 6 foot sweet spots or flats.

            I know a lot of people do not agree but

            It just my personal take on it and i cant defend it more then saying thats just the way i feel.

            I was really enjoin traveling around with you guys and i hope we will again one day.

  • supersteezy

    France, Austria, Andorra, Switzerland last time I looked were all separate countries and I’m pretty sure Alaska is part of the United States of America. I’m also pretty sure the competition is open to anyone regardless of nationality and like the fact that FWT adds and changes locations as it grows and develops.
    This ugly jingoistic journalism seems a little out of place on the pages of powder mag.

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