Everything was perfect to make this event a success, large amounts of fresh snow, blue skies with no clouds in sight and riders ready to take on an impressive face for the first competition of the season.
Visible from just about everywhere, there were 4 starting points at the summit of the ski area offering various choices in runs from open runs, rocky terrain, cornices and cliff jumps. After having accomplished the first section with a bit of sluff (small surface snow movement that can make it difficult to remain steady), there was an area of rolling hills that provided a playground for their creativity with jump options and line choices where all 56 riders were able to reveal their talent.
The face required a lot of preparation from the security team comprised of mountain guides. In the last few days, there was major snowfall at the starting points on the crest which created massive cornices. «Our work modified the terrain a bit revealing icy areas notably when we cleared some high-risk zones» said Stephane Dan. «The last inspection between 8:15 and 9:15 is so important that it is essential to win. There were numerous riders that were waiting for the last visual confirmation before making their tactical decisions even after discussions with other riders during the Riders’ Meeting conducted by the mountain guides Wednesday night.»
Aurelien Ducroz (FRA) leads the men’s ski competition
Heading down with bib number 6, he has an incredible run. He started at the most difficult area with perfection beginning with a few fluid turns and a jump. With surgical precision, he maintained his ideal trajectory, whereas Henrik Windstedt (SWE), winner of the Freeride World Tour 2008, who took this line just a bit earlier unfortunately, fell. Ending this technical area with a 15–meter jump, he completed the run with ease. Maintaining an ideal speed throughout the run, he chose a run that came naturally for him.
On this mythical face for Russian skiers, Seb Michaud (FRA) was also applauded by the crowd in the beginning of his breathtaking run by choosing an aerial line with a high cliff in the middle where he remained naturally fluid. A truly impressive jump, the largest of the day of at least 20 meters, with a perfect landing. He said himself that the second part of the run, much less technical, was not so inspiring, but the crowd enjoyed the show. Second in the Freeride World Ranking 2008, Seb, at the age of 35, must be considered one of the contenders for the title in 2009.
Jess McMillan (USA) ranks first for the women’s ski competition
She chose the most technical starting point without hesitation mastering the first and most difficult section with fluidity and ease. The challenging zones revealed her notable agility and remarkable ski technique that along with her jumps and choice of line made her lead the competition.
By choosing a less difficult line than Jess, Marja Persson (SWE) skied extremely well in the first section, going almost as hard as the men, with impressive jumps. In the second half of the run, she chose a much more direct line thus speed became more important than control. She will, without a doubt, learn from this lesson and modify her strategy for Day 2.
Eric Themel (AUT) leads the men’s snowboard competition
Raising the standards high for the competitors to follow, Eric traced a magnificent line with perfect execution even with the sluff and mastered his jumps. On the second half of the run, he chose a unusual line through trees that no other rider attempted with perfect control, power and absolute fluidity.
Cyril Neri (SUI) proclaimed that he was riding for pleasure rather than put himself under the pressure of the competition; and this mind-set worked well for this 3–time winner of the Verbier Xtreme. He had a fluid start even with a grab on two hanging cliffs and a spectacular jump near the bottom of the technical area. He then performed a back flip on a natural pipe which attests to his remarkable creativity on all terrains which leaves Eric leading only by a thread.
Annina Karvinen (FIN) ranks first of the women’s snowboard competition
She chose a difficult line and performed well which attests to her rapid progression. Close behind, Nathalie Zenklusen (SUI) headed down the slope with no hesitation and a perfect line; just a slight lack of speed made the difference.
Reigning World Champion of the Freeride World Tour 2008, Ruth Leisibach (SUI) unfortunately was injured while training the day before the competition.
A few quotes from the day…
Aurelien Ducroz, Nissan Sports Adventure athlete, current men’s ski leader
«I had a lot of pressure after Henrick (Windstedt) fell taking the same line I had chosen. I had defined my line and I decided to take it without hesitation. Everything went perfectly. I jumped exactly where I had planned and I was able to pick up speed to continue the rest fluidly so I could play with the terrain notably with jumps.
However, my story could have been different because I just got my equipment at midnight last night; I have been waiting for them for three days… they got lost somewhere between Geneva and Sochi. I was so happy to see my skis this morning that I knew nothing could stop me today!»
Seb Michaud, 2nd in the men’s ski ranking
«The top of the slope was everything I love about freeride…pure lines on fresh snow, technical difficulty. I chose this line and did exactly as I had envisioned it. The bottom half, less steep, was just not as fun for me. Ten years ago, I would have given all my energy to win, but today I didn’t do anything exceptional at the end. That probably cost me the leading position and I am fully aware of it!»