An inside look at freeriding and the Freeride World Tour

Some of the best freeride skiers and snowboarders gather in Golden, BC

Freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world gathered in Canada at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort for a day of epic competition on one of North America’s best big mountain areas. Although the snow wasn’t what one might usually find thanks to some dodgy weather, for most competitors it is about the experience, the camaraderie, and collectively pushing the limits of what can be done on a mountain with a board or a pair of skis strapped to your feet.

The conditions on the mountain were difficult. A wind storm a few days before the event blew all the snow off the face that was supposed to be used for the competition, and the tour organizers decided to decamp and set up a couple of peaks over. It was an immense challenge logistically, but also for the competitors who had a very limited time to scope out the new setting.

Somehow, with sheer determination and moxie, the Free Ride World Tour went off, and broadcast live around the world to snow-loving fans who got to witness an afternoon of epic jumps and tricks.

Start gate at the top of Kicking Horse's T1


Winners on the day included Camille Armand in snowboard men, Lily Bradley in ski women, Maxime Chabloz in ski men, and Erika Vikander in snowboard women.

Winners of the event also received some sweet and seriously Canadian swag in denim jackets with sheepskin trim and embroidered patches.

This weekend, freeride skier Juliette Willmann, an ambassador for Swiss watch brand Alpina, also one of the sponsors of the Tour, was competing at Kicking Horse. Get Out There caught up with her following the competition.

Willmann grew up in the south of France, alpine racing and dreaming of something more. When she started freeriding, exploring the mountain beyond the groomed runs, and letting her creativity out, she knew she had found her path.

Although she didn’t have her best day and failed to land in the top three of the tour rankings to make the finals when the tour returns to Europe in the coming weeks, she was feeling upbeat following the competition. That’s the life of a freeride skier, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a bummer to be here and not have good snow, but I mean, at least we here we are in Canada,” she says. “I'm not sad that I travelled here to have this kind of condition, it’s part of it, it's okay. We are freeriding so we have to be flexible. We can’t choose the conditions. We are not skiing on groomers. It’s always this kind of game.”

Juliette Willmann scopes her line at the top of the face


Willmann spent most of her youth racing but switched to freeriding when she was 19.

“What I love about freeriding is the fact that we are free. We can choose whatever we want,” she says. “You can choose whatever you want. And if you're okay with it then you do it, that's the main point for me.”

As a professional skier, Willmann has her competitive side at competitions such as the Free Ride World Tour but also produces a steady stream of online content such as videos to raise her profile and garner sponsorships, from brands such as Alpina, that allow her and other athletes to maintain their lifestyle and competition schedule.

“It's really important for me to be supported by brands that I fit with, like Alpina, it's such a good support for me because I feel like I'm part of the family,” she says.

Back at Kicking Horse, Canadian snowboarder Katie Anderson, a Fernie native, had a great run finishing second on the day. Although she’d already missed the cut and will not compete in the finals, she mentioned the day before that she was eager to make a statement that she belonged on the Free Ride World Tour. That she did. And yes she does.

Another Canadian competitor (of three) Olivia McNeill finished third in a very competitive field and is the lone Canuck heading to the Tour finals as she maintains her second-place ranking.

On the snowboard men’s side, in something of an upset, defending champion Victor De Le Rue, of France, finished fifth and will not make the Tour finals.

Later, Get Out There caught up with De Le Rue who reflected on his day.

“I really, really didn't expect that,” says De Le Rue, who finds himself on the outside looking in after a few competitors below him managed good days and jumped over him in the ranking. “So, the competition season is over for me. And so I’m just thinking, what am I gonna do now? In a way, this pressure of competition goes away and you're just focusing on what's next. What’s my next project going to be.”

Victor De Le Rue before the competition


One option, De Le Rue explains, is a trip to Alaska, which will involve camping, climbing and more. It’s these types of trips, these big mountain adventures to places that are seen by very few and far between that have allowed De Le Rue to garner sponsorships from brands like Alpina and The North Face.

For a taste of what De Le Rue can do, have a look at his film Versatile with Sam Anthamatten.

“They support us so we can make a living out of it the whole year,” he says. “And they support our projects as well. So this way we can do big trips, like the one I just told you about camping in Alaska, because this is very expensive.”

De Le Rue grew up in a small resort in the French Pyrenees, the youngest of five siblings, all of whom have similarly led active lifestyles and are decorated with world championship and Olympic medals, which demonstrated to Victor what was possible.

“We are five brothers and a sister and I'm the youngest one so for me all my brothers and sisters have done this at some point,” De Le Rue says. “So it was pretty natural as a kid to just do like my older brothers. You see that every day. So it seems normal and it was working pretty well for them. So that was reinforcing this idea to just keep on going but I never wanted to do something crazy or be world champion or whatever. I didn't care I was just going step by step every year and now that's where I am.”

After the competition closes, and the streets of Golden, BC are emptied of the young athletes, De Le Rue will return home to his growing family back in France where his one-and-a-half-year-old child is waiting for his return. Not a bad consolation prize.

Probably the biggest surprise of the day at Kicking Horse was Canadian wildcard entry Tom Pfeiffer, of Whistler, who was on the Freeride World Tour last year, but didn’t make the cut and had to return to the qualifiers. He was a last-minute addition and dropped a sick run landing him just off the podium in the fourth position in a massive field of 20.

Each winner got a sweet denim jacket


It wasn’t a perfect day, the snow conditions were not great, but with a gorgeous sunny day, and some fierce and determined athletes, vibes were high and the Freeride World Tour didn’t disappoint.

Now, those making the finals will get set to return to Europe in March for two competitions in Austria (March 15-20) and Switzerland (March 26 to April 3) to see who will be crowned this year’s champions.



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