Sphincter-clenchingly steep, crazy technical, and really friggin' long, nothing else on the Swatch Freeride World Tour is like the Bec des Rosses venue at Verbier. But after four tour stops and two rounds of cuts, there’s no better place than the Bec for the still-standing top 18 skiers to throw down one last time in a final bid for the 2016 tour overall titles. They’re scheduled to line up Saturday, April 2, in Switzerland for Xtreme Verbier, the grand finale of the FWT season.
"The Bec is the big daddy of all venues," said FWT Americas tour manager Tom Winter. "It's the steepness that makes it so scary and the fact that it is so unforgiving. While I expect the conditions this year to be good, particularly in terms of snow quality on the Bec, it's still a scary venue due to the exposure, all the cliffs and the fact that it won't be plastered with creamy Alaska powder."
Hard-charging big mountain athletes often have more success at this venue than flowy or freestyle-focused skiers, though Head judge Berti Denervaud noted that the famous Hollywood cliffs look a little smaller this year, so athletes who hunt for alternative, creative lines might snag a little more payout. Then again, the two-hour hike to the top of the no-fall venue is more than enough time for any skier to psych themselves out.
The flat number scores awarded to athletes after each stop (2,500 for a first place result; 2,200 for second; 1,980 for third, and so on) go toward the overall rankings and determine who makes the cuts for the Haines and Verbier stops. But with the overall title in sight, the points game changes. Here's a breakdown of the current standings and what could go down numerically regarding the overall title.
Nearly 1,000 points ahead of her next competitor, reigning women's champ Eva Walkner (AUT) has already all but locked up a repeat title. The only possible overall upset here is if Arianna Tricomi (ITA), who is currently ranked second, wins Verbier and Walkner pulls in last at sixth place—and even then, Tricomi would only snake the title by a handful of points.
"I will probably take an easy line," Walkner said. "So I try to relax and ski as always with a bit of an easier line than I would love to go, but my focus is not on a single result but on the overall title. It's the best venue—besides Alaska—at the world tour. Steep, technical, and a huge event… definitely the toughest comp face I've ever seen."
So long as Tricomi places among the top three in Verbier, the fight in the women's field will be for the overall bronze—Matilda Rapaport (SWE), who drew the first bib for this stop, is just 50 points ahead of Jackie Paaso (USA) in the rankings, so it could easily go either way.
On the men's side, 2014 overall champ Loïc Collomb-Patton (FRA) and rookie Logan Pehota (CAN) will face off for FWT glory—the top two skiers are currently just 300 points apart.
"It will be a great battle," Denervaud said of the showdown. "Each of them has a true shot at the title. It will be Logan's first on the Bec, and it is a very intimidating mountain. The only rider who rode [it] strong on his rookie year was Candide Thovex, so this is an additional challenge for Logan. But he rode strong all year and he has a really good chance to take the title. I'm really looking forward to this battle."
Pehota, who has been lapping his home mountain, Whistler Blackcomb, for the past few days to prepare, plans to find a fast and technical line at Verbier, also hoping to find a moment to throw in a trick.
"Loïc is a strong, solid skier who doesn’t crash very often it seems," Pehota said. "So I’m just going to focus on my skiing for the most part."
With Collomb-Patton and Pehota sitting so tight at the top, over 1,000 points ahead of Fabio Studer (AUT) in third, the final spot on the overall podium is the most undecided. Though Kristoffer Turdel (SWE) and Leo Slemett (FRA), ranking fourth and fifth, respectively, are neck and neck, nothing is set in stone— judges expect that practiced big mountain skiers like Reine Barkered, Aurelien Ducroz, or Jérémie Heitz will bring the heat. As Denervaud said, "the great thing about freeriding, is that you never know which line is going to win.. we've seen more than one surprise on this mountain."
So pop that popcorn and pull up a chair, folks. Verbier Xtreme is set to kick off Saturday April 2 at 12:15 in the a.m. PST.