French skier Loic Collomb-Patton and Austrian Eva Walkner, two former Freeride World Tour overall champions, dominated at the big mountain circuit’s second stop, which was held Friday morning at Chamonix Mont-Blanc. Logan Pehota (CAN) and Silvia Moser (ITA) took home second, and Fabio Studer (AUT) and Matilda Rapaport (SWE) pulled in at third place.
The venue received over two feet of snow last night, a welcome change for the skiers, who navigated low snow conditions two weeks ago at the first tour stop in Andorra. Still, overnight winds pounded the steep and exposed Aiguille Pourrie face at the Flégère ski area, sweeping a substantial amount of new snow from the course and uncovering crusty conditions underneath.
Collomb-Patton and Walkner are well-acquainted with the view from the top of the Chamonix podium. Collomb-Patton, a three-peat Chamonix champ who earned the overall tour title as a rookie in 2014, nabbed gold here alongside Walkner in 2015. This time around, he charged a bold line that featured a massive backflip, while Walkner skied a technical line with confidence.
"The conditions were worse than it looked like," Walkner said. "Crusty, and not that deep… I wanted to go for a steeper and more technical section, but as we heard from forerunners that there was bad snow in there, I changed. I tried for many hours to find a line which fits best for me. But in the end, I found a pretty good one and skied my line as I expected. Fluid, clean landings, no hesitation. I'm very happy with my run."
The defending FWT overall women's champion is poised for a repeat: Walkner now tops the women's rankings with a solid lead over Tahoe native Jackie Paaso, who won in Andorra but took sixth in France.
In an interesting twist, wildcards nearly swept the rest of the Chamonix podium, with Moser as the only outlier. The Italian, who skied her way to a victory in Alaska last year, tackled bigger airs than any other rider at this stop. Meanwhile, Rappaport's run was smooth and stylish, and Studer captured the judges with a handful of spins.
But 20-year-old Pehota was perhaps the real star of the day. With a fourth place result from Andorra, the rookie now leads the men's field. Pehota, who calls Pemberton, Canada, home, grew up under the watchful eye of big-mountain pioneer Eric Pehota. He chose a steep line that diverged from the path that many of his peers favored.
"I’m just over here having a good time enjoying the moment and not giving too much effort into my runs and the competition," said Pehota. “I just want to make sure that I ski smart and safe for the conditions and still enjoy the competition and the people.”
The athletes will travel to Austria--Walkner's stomping grounds--for the next stop at Fieberbrunn Kitzbuhler Alpen on March 6. There’s only one more chance to impress the judges before the first round selection for the event in Haines, but atletes at the top of the rankings can relax just a little bit--or take advantage of the security to gamble with a riskier run.
"I started solid, and I'm already qualified for Alaska, so I want to push myself a bit more," Walkner said. Still, she continued, "I can take it pretty easy, and so I will. It's my home event, so I just want to enjoy it with my family and friends."