After days of stormy weather, the world's most talented big mountain skiers laid down their best Wednesday morning at Fieberbrunn Kitzbüheler Alpen, the third event in the 2016 Freeride World Tour. Dennis Risvoll (NOR) and Arianna Tricomi (ITA), both FWT freshman, stomped impressive lines for the win. Nadiene Wallner (AUT) and Loic Collomb-Patton landed second, and Lauren Cameron (CAN) and Felix Wiemers (GER) took third.
But much more was at stake than the Austrian podium. Following tour stops at Vallnord-Arcalís and Chamonix, Fieberbrunn was the last chance skiers had to earn a ticket to the tour’s penultimate event in Haines, the sole North American venue. As determined by their best two runs from these three events, the top seven women and top 14 men will continue on. In Alaska, they'll have to prove themselves once more to qualify for the famous Xtreme Verbier.
Though the event was postponed three days due to constant snowfall and low visibility, on Wednesday "the 400 vertical meter face hardly resembled its former self, with a fresh coating of snow that provided perfect conditions for freeriders to execute their finest lines of the season—some in a last ditch effort to make the qualification cut-offs," a press release read.
The Alaska roster is marked by surprising eliminations, most notably by the exclusion of FWT champ George Rodney, who withdrew from the event due to knee pain and hadn't yet pulled together strong enough qualifying runs.
"I don't think anyone would have expected to see last year's overall men's ski champion George Rodney struggle so much and to see a guy like Sam Smoothy not going to Haines is really unexpected," said Tom Winter, the tour's Americas manager. "It just shows how difficult the tour is, it's extremely competitive and it only takes one or two mistakes to knock you out of the running."
The major challenge Wednesday was heavy snow on the imposing Wildseeloder competition face. Both Hazel Birnbaum and Nadine Wallner were dogged by small slides and earned reruns. Wallner put hers to good use with a solid second run featuring a few big airs.
"I was a bit worried after they stopped the comp because of the sluff [to perform course maintenance]," Tricomi said. But she sent it anyway. "I hit some nice little jumps at the bottom," she continued, "and had the best time skiing. My plan for the season was to qualify for Alaska and now I’m number two overall. I don’t have any strategy or expectations, just to enjoy the mountains and the place. It's always been a dream going to Alaska."
Tricomi, Wallner, and Cameron will compete in Haines against Jackie Paaso, Matilda Rapaport, Silvia Moser, and leader Eva Walkner, all of whom put down bold, sendy lines.
"One of the highlights of this year for me personally is just how well the girls are skiing," Winter said. "Jackie Paaso is quietly putting together a fantastic season, and is sitting in third overall right now and the Canadian rookie, Lauren Cameron, really seems to have figured it out."
On the men's side, Collomb-Patton, the leader of the field, earned his points with well-executed airs and a 360, while Risvoll captured the judges by stomping two massive backflips. Though Felix Weimer had some trouble with the first big drop, he drove it home in the remainder of his run.
They each secured their Alaska spots, joining 11 other male skiers, including Logan Pehota, Jérémie Heitz, and Kristofer Turdell. Find the complete rankings here.
The Freeride World Tour will jump the Atlantic early next week, with the competition window scheduled for March 13-24. Look for continued event coverage at Powder.com.