Meeting the Xtreme

Text Claude Hervé-Bazin / Photo DR
Date of publication Winter 2018-2019

This year, from March 23rd through March 31st, depending on the weather, the top freeskiers and snowboard freeriders on the planet will be taking on the steep slopes of the Bec des Rosses for the Xtreme Verbier: the final stage and grand finale of the Freeride World Tour.

Launched almost 25 years ago around a band of freeriding enthusiasts on the dizzying slopes of the Bec des Rosses (maximum incline: 58°), the Freeride World Tour exploded onto the media scene and into the imaginations of young skiers everywhere. Via video, social media, and even the big screen, images of these superhuman riders — with total disregard for the dangers involved in chasing ever-steeper and purer slopes, perfectly powdered and peppered with rocky ridges — gave form to legend.
Off-piste skiing has evolved into freeriding, with an entire industry blooming around this activity: brands, specialised equipment, events, and required safety training. The FWT has grown to take the world by storm, attracting thousands of followers in the process. The circuit now includes some 150 events held annually between the different categories of competition: Freeride World Tour proper (drawing the best of the best), Freeride World Qualifier, Freeride Junior World Championships and Freeride Skiing Team Competition (Skiers Cup).

The unfulfilled dream of the perfect run
This year, the FWT has stops lined up in Hakuba (Japan), Kicking Horse (Canada), Fieberbrunn (Austria) and Vallnord-Arcalís (Andorra), between mid-January and early March. But all roads lead back to the Bec des Rosses, whose summit will host around thirty of the season’s best riders in the early days of spring.
No defined routes, no gates, no stopwatch, no imposed tricks. With freeriding, everything stems from the choice and the beauty of the line — its flow, what style it lends itself to, the technique and control used by the rider to navigate it. All that’s left to do is juggle the speed, snow quality, icy patches, rocks lurking just beneath the powder carpet, crevasses, no-fall zones (with zero room for error) that force riders to slow down the pace a little, and, of course, avalanches.
In contrast to the image of total freedom they might convey, freeskiers and freeriders take no unnecessary risks. Every pro knows how to meticulously spot their line, burn it into their brain, and to scan the conditions using binoculars, a high-res camera, mapping software, a drone or even helicopter. Maybe not the greenest way to go, but often an essential measure to ensure survival. But then which line to choose? Thanks to their experience, the best riders are able to immediately just “feel it”. They know that ultimately what has to be delivered to the judges is a good show — one which showcases phenomenal aesthetics, risk, originality, and not to mention a few jumps to spice things up.
So be sure to be present at the foot of Bec des Rosses between March 23rd and 31st, where the Event Village, first introduced in 2018, will make its return. In full sun, at the foot of the mountain face, the freely accessible site offers the ideal vantage for spectators to watch every run — except for one section of the Dog Leg couloir that will be broadcast on the on-site jumbotron. With competition that’s always getting hotter thanks to a steady stream of fierce young competitors entering the game, this season’s show promises to be bigger than ever.