10 things you must know about the 2019 Freeride World Tour Finals, Verbier
© Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour
From judging to qualifying, from the risks of Bec des Rosses to the title favourites – here's your cheat sheet for this year's toughest freeride competition.
The final stop on the 2019 Freeride World Tour is all set for this coming weekend, where world titles are up for grabs at the Xtreme Verbier. Here are 10 things you should know:
1. How are Freeride World Tour competitions judged?
Six judges (three from a ski background, three from a snowboard background) judge the riders based on Difficulty and Choice of Line, Control, Fluidity, Jumps and Tricks and Technique. While fluidity, and thus indirectly speed, is rewarded, the overall time to get from start to finish isn't taken into account at all. And while the idea is to reward more freestyle elements, an unclean landing is severely punished via the control criteria.
2. Who's allowed to compete in the Freeride World Tour Finals?
After four qualifier tour stops in Japan, Austria, Canada and Andorra, only the top riders are allowed to start on the Bec des Rosses. Here’s the cut: the top six ski women (out of 10), top 13 ski men (out of 22), top six snowboard men (out of nine) and top four snowboard women (out of seven).
3. Why is the Bec des Rosses so infamous?
Let’s put it simply: in summer, the Bec des Rosses is a rock climbing venue – that’s how rocky and steep it is. With a steepness of 40-60 degrees, any mistake might mean to tumble down 792 vertical metres. Or put differently: if you stand at the summit, it’s so steep that you can only see about two metres in front of you – everything below drops out of sight.
4. Are there any special features to watch out for?
Yes, of course. If the riders start from the very top, on the viewer’s left side of the face there’s one of the easier lines, the Dog Leg Couloir. From there, riders often traverse into the steeper middle section of the face, the Central Couloir, which dead-ends on a wide horizontal cliff line, the Hollywood Cliff, named after Aksel 'Hollywood' Pauporte, a snowboarder know for his flashy '80s sunglasses and his showman style. On the right side of the face, there’s a huge rock face named after Xavier De Le Rue, who cleared it first. The difficulty here is the extreme exposure, since the jump is high up in the steeper section of the face and with an equally steep landing.
By the way: in the first years of the Xtreme Verbier competition, the women also started from the summit – even though some were literally losing their breakfast with fear. And they also traversed into the middle couloir and jumped the broad cliff band – Eva Sandelgard for example, ranking fifth even in the men's category.
Two alternative start gates on the lower right and left ridges of the venue are these days used for the women, and for men in tougher snow conditions, such as avalanche danger or too little snow. This year, the Bec Des Rosses is in good condition though, only a bit "dry" in the steeper top part.
5. So what’s the biggest challenge for the riders?
The riders aren't allowed to ride the Bec des Rosses face before the competition. They can only try to find lines and gauge the height of cliffs from the opposite side, with binoculars. The organisers also provide drone footage – but to memorise a line from the frontal view and to find your exact way through dead-ends, blind jumps and invisible landings from rider’s perspective is a completely different ball game. Add to that that you never know how deep or icy the snow on the landings is – or if a treacherous rock is lurking right under the snow – and just making your way down is a serious challenge. Lastly, the incredible steepness makes the control of speed and speed checks on landings super-difficult – but crucial to survive. And if you want to win, you have to add airs, cliff drops, tricks and speed – so that’s an explosive cocktail.
6. Sorry for asking, but has anyone died during the competition?
No. In the 24 years of the Xtreme Verbier competition, no-one has died. There have been some serious crashes, also top-to-bottom ones, resulting in emergency helicopter transports to the hospital, broken bones, concussions and severe trauma, but no one has died. This is probably due to the mandatory safety equipment.
7. And what is the mandatory safety equipment?
Every rider has to wear complete avalanche gear, including avalanche beacon, shovel and probe and even an avalanche airbag backpack. Every rider also wears a helmet and a spine protection, plus a climbing harness, so they can be clipped into a rope and flown out of the face at any time.
8. Now I’m curious – who do you think will win?
In the Snowboard Women’s category, Marion Haerty (FRA) has already won so many points that she’s the world champion, even before competing in Verbier. This year’s rookie on the World Tour, Victor De Le Rue (FRA) could win the Men’s Snowboard category, unless he finishes last and Davey Baird (USA) wins. For the Ski Women, Arianna Tricomi (ITA) and Jacqueline Pollard (USA) are in a tight race, and a win for either skier in Verbier will see them take the World Tour crown. For the Ski Mens, Markus Eder (ITA) will be world champion if Kristofer Turdell (SWE) wins and Markus doesn’t make the top 10.
9. How can I get to know more about these riders?
You can watch our brand new Between the Lines video series, featuring Arianna Tricomi, Victor De Le Rue, Marion Haerty, Markus Eder and Kristofer Turdell. In that series, you’ll see them freeriding with their friends, hear about their thoughts and strategies, hopes and fears, about preparation, progression, style and fear, and lastly, you’ll follow them right to the start gate of this year’s competitions.
10. How can I watch Xtreme Verbier?
You can watch the 2019 Freeride World Tour Finals Xtreme Verbier live and for free on Red Bull TV. The competition is announced to start Saturday, March 23, at 08:15 CET. Should you miss it live, no worries, the full competition will stay available on the same link, along with the winning runs, the best GoPro runs and much more.
Get to know Arianna Tricomi:
Get to know Markus Eder:
Get to know Kristofer Turdell