Ralph Backstrom wins Swatch Freeride World Tour finale
VERBIER, SWITZERLAND — With a new coat of more than 20 inches of fresh snow on Saturday, the mythical Bec des Rosses at Verbier, Switzerland, promised an epic final competition of the 2014 Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face.
The athletes — including several from the Lake Tahoe area — were well prepared to take on freeriding’s most prestigious and challenging competition and charged down the intimidating 500-meter north face with power and style. After a long waiting period for the best possible weather and snow, the stars finally aligned, making for an even better show witnessed by 6,000 cheering spectators.
With only visual inspection, the steep course — between 45 and 60 degrees at the top — presented a huge challenge for the athletes, especially with portions being affected by the wind.
The men tackled the Bec des Rosses from the very top, starting with the snowboarders. Defending World Champion Ralph Backstrom of Squaw Valley rode the face in true Backstrom style, with big jumps and fluid charging to score a second consecutive win at the Xtreme.
He received a score of 77.75. Jonathan Chalet of France was second with a 71.75.
“I had a couple of issues in my run; conditions were a little tricky, but got some good airs,” Backstrom said. “It was a similar line to last year’s. I was hoping to mix it up a little bit but did not feel too confident about how my board was feeling on the snow.”
When the final results unfolded, a new Freeride World Champion was crowned, local Swiss rider Emilien Badoux, who had a strong season with three podiums at five events, including a win at Chamonix, France. Badoux placed fourth on Saturday with a score of 52.50.
Despite his win, Backstrom finished ninth in the overall season standings, while Sammy Luebke of Squaw Valley, who was injured Saturday and did not compete, finished fourth on the season. Brian Bozack of Sugar Bowl finished sixth overall.
The 15 men skiers wrapped up the grande finale with an impressive show.
One of the favorites, Swede Reine Barkered, did it again and repeated his win from 2012. The former champion skied the intimidating face so confident and composed, he made it look easy. His signature style with fast, technical riding and perfectly landing airs paid off and made it hard for the other skiers to beat his high score of 93.25 points.
All eyes were on rookie tour leader Loïc Collomb-Patton of La Clusaz, France, who had the best chance to secure the title. He did just that with a third-place finish (86.25) behind Barkered and U.S. skier Ian Borgeson (90.25). His run was highlighted by a 360 off a big cliff.
Austrian skier and defending Freeride World Champion Nadine Wallner, meanwhile, finished second to secure her second straight title among women’s skiers. The only woman who beat her at the Xtreme Verbier was Norwegian Pia Nic Gundersen, posting a score of 83.50 to Gundersen’s 74.75.
Squaw Valley skier Jackie Paaso finished third with a score of 71.25. Paaso, who won the second stop of the tour in Chamonix, finished fourth in the overall standings.
In the women’s snowboard field, Shannan Yates of the United States and local rookie Estelle Balet battled it out for the overall women’s snowboard title. After the two favorites both took a tumble, 2013 champion Elodie Mouthon secured the win with a powerful run that resulted in a high score of 72.25. Nevertheless, Yates, who scored a 40.0, had enough points to clinch the overall title.