Thursday, 8 January 2015

My NZ Sportsperson for 2014

 Sam Smoothy Photo : ©D.Daher

I have been following sport and outdoor pursuits carefully and passionately for decades, and whilst there are so many New Zealand sportspeople who would cram together for the title of sportspeople of 2014, my winner is Sam Smoothy from Wanaka New Zealand. 

You imagine yourself at the top of a very steep mountain face with a gradient of up to 60 degrees at the top of the course. The fresh snow  at times is affected by the wind, making the conditions all the more variable and tricky. Your preparation has only been a visual inspection and the face is dotted with deathly rock outcrops. One mistake, and its a serious injury or even death. Courage, cool-headed judgement in extreme situations, with an exceptionally high skill level, is what Sam survival and thrive attitude has brought to world free skiing.

Raised at the shores of Lake Wanaka, the centre of the down under freeriding scene, he has been on two sticks ever since he could stand on two feet. Although he did the race scene as a kid, he was always more interested in the fun side of skiing.  Thus he developed his trademark skiing style that goes so well with his name. That doesn’t mean that the surf enthusiast has no determination.

Nothing shapes a better skier than time spent on skis. This can easily be seen from the increasing amount of world-class freeskiers coming from New Zealand, the 28-year-old, Sam Smoothy above,  being the latest proof. 


 SnowSports NZ says this about Sam's magnificent 2nd place in the Swatch Freeride World Tour 2014 in Verbier, Switzerland- (30 March 2014) –

With a new coat of 50cm of fresh snow, the mythical Bec des Rosses in Verbier, Switzerland, promised an epic final competition of the by The North Face®.
After a long waiting period for the best possible weather and snow, the stars finally aligned, making for an even better show, witnessed by six thousand cheering spectators and four thousand viewers on the live webcast. At the end of the day winners of both the 19th edition of the legendary “Xtreme” and the 2014 Freeride World Tour Champions were crowned with New Zealand’s own Sam Smoothy taking out second place in the overall tour rankings for the men’s ski category.
Able to prepare themselves with a visual inspection only, the competitors’ mission was to conquer a very steep face with a gradient of up to 60 degrees at the top of the course. The fresh snow was at times affected by the wind, making the conditions all the more variable and tricky.
The 15 competitors in the men’s ski category wrapped up the 2014 grande finale with an incredible show. One of the favourites on the Bec des Rosses, the solid Swede Reine Barkered, repeated his win from 2012. The former World Champion (2012) showcased his signature style with fast technical riding and perfectly-landed huge airs, skiing the intimidating face with confidence and composure to earn the day’s highest score of 93.25 points.
All eyes were on rookie Loïc Collomb-Patton of La Clusaz, France, who has led the rankings since the first competition in Courmayeur, Italy. On his first ever run on the Bec des Rosses he proved why he was worthy of the 2014 title, finishing off big mountain charging with an impressive 360 (full rotation) off a big cliff, putting him in third place of the day and in a very good position to win the overall Freeride World Tour title on his first year on the tour.


podium sam smoothy 2 web
Kiwi Sam Smoothy came into the finals competition with his eyes on the prize but his body feeling the effects of a serious crash only days prior to the competition. Sam had been cleared of having a fractured back and had undergone intensive massage, acupuncture and physiotherapy before eventually being declared fit to compete.
“It was a really tough mental place to be in, feeling like the world title was so close but moving further away from me,” explains Sam.
“I improved a little over the four days before the comp and on the morning was excited to see what I could do to win. Unfortunately all the healing and then the hour an half walk up the Bec de Rosses sapped all my energy and power.
“I still felt good mentally in the start gate and was going to go for a podium line, the same as eventual winner Reine Barkered. But after a few turns I could feel my body just simply wasn’t working and my left hip was unstable so I pulled out of my first big air. I tried to link some smaller ones together but was really struggling, feeling like I was running on empty.
“I sent my bottom air big but landed square in someone’s bomb hole and backslapped badly, knocking my points way down. Running it out I could barely stay standing and collapsed once over the finish line. It was more relief to have made it down safe than happy to have skied. I knew I had not done enough and was super happy for the overall winner Loic.”
Sam finished the day’s final placed 11th but it was enough to hold on to second place on the overall tour rankings.
The 2014 Freeride World Tour has been anything but plain sailing for the New Zealander who almost missed the first tour stop due to an emergency operation to remove his appendix. Despite not claiming the coveted tour title he was nonetheless proud to claim second place.
“In all I’m really proud I tried to go for the win but it just simply wasn’t on in my condition. I am so happy with my season battling through the appendix removal, a hyper extended elbow and destroyed back.


And the North Face Website gives this take on Sam.

 There is something extremely cool about kiwi skiers.
Maybe it's the two winters a year that they tap into. Sam Smoothy is no different in that aspect. We caught him as he is just getting settled in Verbier, Switzerland which will be his European base for the season. If there's any anxiousness to live up to last season's standards, it doesn't show. He doesn't usually come to Europe this early though, he says, and reveals that he is impatient to get some snow and "go shoot some epic photos with the infamous Tero Repo." [Award Winning photographer from Finland.] Mainly he came in early to get stronger, get the feel back on snow, "work on a little park stuff and do a bunch of soul shredding with my friends." The words he choses to describe his December training plans reflect his relationship to regimented schedules, of which he is not a big fan. He tried the more rigid line in 2013 and it didn't work well for him results wise, at least not immediately. But who knows if that's what paid off last season where consistent results placed him second overall despite struggling with appendicitis and back problems which kept him more off the snow than usual. He chooses a modest explanation: "I think I was pretty lucky to get 2nd after how much I struggled with injuries in 2014, I only skied 20 days all season, most of them comp days or scoping lines for FWT days. This year I am not changing much up, just looking to shred hard and enjoy myself, just let my skis run and not think too much about it all. So with that and a healthy strong body hopefully that will put me on top." Unambitious as it might sound, it could just show that Sam is a a professional athlete who knows exactly where he is at. There seems to come a point in any athlete's career where the hours put in have compounded a certain skill value, that can keep him or her up there - at least for a while - without having to invest at the same rate as before. A time where other factors such as recovery and rebalancing become increasingly important; and the training volume less. "I do try and keep a bit of balance, doing other activities in the off season and just try to make sure I don't ski too much and get a little burnt out, a mix of activities is key for me." With two winters a year, this concern is very real. Luckily Sam is not short of passions. "After the euro winter I took some time off and did a surf trip through Sumatra, Sri Lanka and wrapped it up with a boat trip in the Maldives with my girlfriend and some friends which was amazing! I then returned home to the NZ winter where I filmed a section with Legs of Steel Productions, got some more waves, worked on fixing my back and did some work on my house there, all round good times really." The house work did not include any star dusting. Despite talent density, freeride is not a big sport in New Zealand, and back home, the FWT runner up champion is just another happy skier who happens to like hitting cliffs at full throttle. "I definitely do not have star status in NZ ... and I am very much happy about that. I think my mates would give me too much grief about it if I did. I'm very happy just being left alone to do what I love." Fortunately for FWT fans around the world, doing what he loves involves competing on the Freeride World Tour, sharing the spectacular external part of the competition run itself. Right here though, Sam describes the whole picture so it almost feels like you are up next: "I like the occasion of it all, the scouting of a line, getting everything ready and settled for that one big moment. Then theres the wait, the build up of pressure and anxiety before the almost sinister calm in the start gate before all hell breaks loose. The joy of stomping a big line under such conditions just amplifies the emotions for me. And doing it all before an appreciative crowd adds a nice little bonus too." INTERVIEW sam smoothy portrait What have you been up to since last season? (I believe you competed in New Zealand in Aug...Have you done any videos?) After the euro winter I took some time off and did a surf trip through Sumatra, Sri Lanka and wrapped it up with a boat trip in the Maldives with my girlfriend and some friends which was amazing! I then returned home to the NZ winter where I filmed a section with Legs of Steel Productions, got some more waves, worked on fixing my back and did some work on my house there, all round good times really. What does a typical week look like for pro rider Sam Smoothy in the month of December? Well I'm not normally in Europe this early so that's already not typical for me and I'm not a big fan of regimented schedules. I will just be looking to keep getting stronger, get the feel back on snow, work on a little park stuff and do a bunch of soul shredding with my friends. Hopefully we get some snow and I can shoot some epic photos with the infamous Tero Repo. Runner up for the title last season after a difficult 2013... What has been your focus to go all the way and take the title this coming season? Yeah I think I was pretty lucky to get 2nd after how much I struggled with injuries in 2014, I only skied 20 days all season, most of them comp days or scoping lines for FWT days. This year I am not changing much up, just looking to shred hard and enjoy myself, just let my skis run and not think too much about it all. So with that and a healthy strong body hopefully that will put me on top. You must have skied more days than anybody on the tour living 2 winters a year. Do you still ski as much – and how many days a year is that? Ha well I haven't done that last year because of injuries, as I said it was like 20 days in europe and probably only something similar in NZ so I am super fired up to ski a lot more this season and get loads of days in. I do try and keep a bit of balance, doing other activities in the off season and just try to make sure I don't ski too much and get a little burnt out, a mix of activities is key for me. What would you say is your trademark as a skier? Probably my dazzling smile. Or maybe hitting cliffs at full throttle. But probably my looks. Yeah definitely. Oh and my very serious demeanor. What does it mean to an FWT podium skier coming from New Zealand? Do you have star status there (TV)? Do people know you? Or is it rather anonymous – the FWT season being in your summer and skiing maybe not on most people's mind? I definitely do not have star status in NZ where freeride skiing is a tiny sport and I am very much happy about that, I think my mates would give me too much grief about it if I did. I'm very happy just being left alone to do what I love. What do you like about competing in freeride – as opposed to just going our riding with friends? I like the occasion of it all, the scouting of a line, getting everything ready and settled for that one big moment. Then theres the wait, the build up of pressure and anxiety before the almost sinister calm in the start gate before all hell breaks loose. The joy of stomping a big line under such conditions just amplifies the emotions for me. And doing it all before an appreciative crowd adds a nice little bonus too. The FWT is going to Alaska this season...What does that mean to you? Have you ever been skiing in Alaska? I think its great the FWT is going to Alaska, its the mecca for freeride for sure and I think it will be really interesting to see what the worlds best competitive freeriders will ride on a place thats normally reserved for big film companies and how those lines will compare. I have only skied one day in Alaska, at Points North Heli in Cordova where I filmed with Tony Harrington. I didnt get very good snow but the terrain up there was immense and totally where I want to be with my skiing. That one day still had a couple of the greatest runs of my life which makes it a very special place for me.





The concept of freeride informs the very soul of the snowsport experience. Indeed, the notion of ‘freeriding’ was born the moment folks figured out how to secure their feet onto long slats of wood in order to move easier over the winter landscape – and discovered that they could suddenly shuck the bonds of gravity and fly. They were free. They could ride down the hill at will. They never looked back… As far back as the 1930’s and ‘40’s, legendary ski champion Emile Allais and his merry band of mountain adventurers were already assaulting the couloirs and gullies that dropped from the heady summits around Mt Blanc and Chamonix. Some of their early descents beggar the imagination – especially considering the rudimentary nature of the gear they were using back then. But it took until the late 1960’s and ‘70’s – when Ski Extreme was first coined by the French and the gear had improved substantially – for freeride to really attract global attention. Much of it was due to the hard-charging styles of its main proponents – visionary mountain men like Sylvain Saudan, Patrick Vallencant, Bruno Gouvy and Jean Marc Boivin – who were stretching the limits of downhill riding in a way that had never been seen before. In these years, freeride was truly extreme. If you fell, you died… But the Americans weren’t far behind. Led by pioneers like Montana’s Bill Briggs and California’s Steve McKinney, a whole new generation of young riders begin testing themselves in the steep slopes of the Rockies, the Wasatch and the Sierra Nevada. More ‘Hollywood’ than their French counterparts, and far more into the entertainment aspects than the Europeans, icons like Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt brought a whole new aesthetic to the American ski experience in the 1980’s. It was their offbeat, out-there style, showcased by filmmaker Greg Stump in such seminal films at Blizzard of Aaaah’s that really set the stage for the launch of the first ever freeride contests. And what a launch that was! The near-mythical World Extreme Ski Championships (WESC), contested on the hoary slopes of Alaska’s Wasatch Mountains, was the coming out party for a whole new gang of big-mountain freeriders. In fact, the start list for the inaugural 1991 contest reads like a Who’s Who of modern freeriding: Doug Coombs won the inaugural men’s title while Kim Reichhelm was tops in the women. Meanwhile the Europeans – primarily the French and the Swedes – were honing their big-mountain techniques on the often-nasty inclines around Mont Blanc and the Savoie Region. But the moment they discovered there were contests happening in America, the while game changed. When a French teenager by the name of Guerlain Chicherit unleashed a corker of a run in flat-light and ugly Alaskan conditions to capture his first WESC title back in 1999 (and beat out his mentor, Seb Michaud), few people realized the enormous impact his Valdez victory would have on the freeriding movement. For the new World Champion wasn’t alone. Back home in France were dozens of young chargers just like him. Fast, smooth – and incredibly efficient on skis. Bold beyond belief. Yet completely sure of their stuff – even in big exposure. This, many ski historian believe, was the true beginning of the freeride revolution… But what about the snowboarders? From the very inception of the sport in the early 1980’s, it was clear that the one-plank concept was ideal for attacking gnarly terrain and steep drops. More stable and easier to manage in difficult – or changing – conditions, the snowboard became the new tool of choice for many big mountain adventures. In fact, for many early freeride practitioners, it was a snowboard that got them into the backcountry in the first place! Like the skiers, the snowboarders of the early 1990’s had their very own Alaska event in which to shine. Launched as the World Extreme Snowboarding Championships in 1992, the event soon morphed into the hugely popular King Of the Hill under visionary Nick Peralta’s guidance. Here too, the start list for these event events reads like a list of snowboarding royalty: Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer, Steve Klassen, Julie Zell, Tina Basich, Anthonin Lieutaghi and Axel Pauporté. It was just a matter of time before the two disciplines would join forces… But it took a wild Swiss-Brit entrepreneur by the name of Nicolas Hale-Woods to make it happen. Launched in the winter of 1996, the Verbier Extreme was originally strictly a snowboard contest. But all that changed in 2004 when ten of the world’s top two-planked freeriders were invited to participate. The event was never the same again. Today, Hale-Woods oversees an annual world ski and snowboard circuit – the Freeride World Tour -- that travels from Russia to America and back to his home Alps for the final events. The very cream of riders – skiers and snowboarders, men and women – all vie for an invitation to this prestigious event. ‘Who could have imagined we would have come this far so soon,” says Hale-Woods. “It’s a great event. But more importantly, the riders who participate are truly fantastic people…” Freeride Legends So who is the best freerider of all times? Is it a classic old-timer like Emile Allais, a true extreme skier like Sylvain Saudan, a mountain entertainer like Glen Plake, a modern master like Seb Michaud or a relative newcomer like Swedish champion Henrik Windstedt? Hard to tell. And how do you compare them to a versatile skier-cum-mountain-guide like La Rosiere’s Manu Gaidet. Or to a true adrenaline junkie like Tignes’ Guerlain Chicherit. And what about the newcomers to the tour this year – big-mountain ragers like Thomas Diet or Canadian Brett Crabtree. These guys are ready to do just about anything to push the limits of the sport – and they do it for the sheer joy of discovering new sensations. Should they be considered in the mix too? And the snowboarders? Is American Steve Klassen the best freerider of all times? How do his countrymen Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer and Jay Liska stack up? Or can we make an argument for French eccentric Antonin Lieutaghi or all-round champion (and World Freeride Tour ’08 champion) Xavier de la Rue? How about the Swiss trio of Alex Coudray, Cyril Neri and Jonas Emery? They’re no slouches either. So many names; so much talent… As for the women, they’re improving their freeride game all the time. Think of pioneers like Kim Reichhelm, Wendy Fisher and Swiss ace Francine Moreillon. They definitely set the freeride bar high back in the mid-‘90’s. What about the new crop of riders? Alaskan Elyse Saugtsad certainly showed she had it going on last year when she stole the overall title from under the noses of her more experienced rivals. Her Swedish counterpart, Marja Persson also needs to be considered. Then there are wild card entries like Whistler’s Jenn Ashton or Squaw Valley’s Jamie Burge who will have to be reckoned with this season. The field is deep. Very deep. As for the female side of the snowboard list, the names are just as impressive. Think back to the early 1990’s at what Montana hard-girl, Julie Zell was doing in Alaska. Consider the lines Renaissance woman Tina Basich pioneered in California. And what about defending WFT champion Ruth Leisbach of Switzerland? Seems like she has a pretty good claim to top rider status. Ouf. And then there’s… Stop. They’re all great. Each one, in their own time and place, has shown the world not only what sliding on snow is all about but also what living life to the fullest really means. For in the end, freeriding stands for far more than just another way to compete for glory and make money. It’s a way of life too. And all these riders – whether Windstedt or Michaud or Crabtree or Klassen or Saugstad or Leisbach – are star ambassadors for that kind of existence. So give it up for the world of freeriding and its crazy denizens. They might not have the answer to the world’s current economic problems. But they certainly know how to have fun! - See more at: http://around.freerideworldtour.com/history#sthash.evE2U8IH.dpuf The concept of freeride informs the very soul of the snowsport experience. Indeed, the notion of ‘freeriding’ was born the moment folks figured out how to secure their feet onto long slats of wood in order to move easier over the winter landscape – and discovered that they could suddenly shuck the bonds of gravity and fly. They were free. They could ride down the hill at will. They never looked back…
As far back as the 1930’s and ‘40’s, legendary ski champion Emile Allais and his merry band of mountain adventurers were already assaulting the couloirs and gullies that dropped from the heady summits around Mt Blanc and Chamonix. Some of their early descents beggar the imagination – especially considering the rudimentary nature of the gear they were using back then. But it took until the late 1960’s and ‘70’s – when Ski Extreme was first coined by the French and the gear had improved substantially – for freeride to really attract global attention. Much of it was due to the hard-charging styles of its main proponents – visionary mountain men like Sylvain Saudan, Patrick Vallencant, Bruno Gouvy and Jean Marc Boivin – who were stretching the limits of downhill riding in a way that had never been seen before. In these years, freeride was truly extreme. If you fell, you died…
But the Americans weren’t far behind. Led by pioneers like Montana’s Bill Briggs and California’s Steve McKinney, a whole new generation of young riders begin testing themselves in the steep slopes of the Rockies, the Wasatch and the Sierra Nevada. More ‘Hollywood’ than their French counterparts, and far more into the entertainment aspects than the Europeans, icons like Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt brought a whole new aesthetic to the American ski experience in the 1980’s. It was their offbeat, out-there style, showcased by filmmaker Greg Stump in such seminal films at Blizzard of Aaaah’s that really set the stage for the launch of the first ever freeride contests.
And what a launch that was! The near-mythical World Extreme Ski Championships (WESC), contested on the hoary slopes of Alaska’s Wasatch Mountains, was the coming out party for a whole new gang of big-mountain freeriders. In fact, the start list for the inaugural 1991 contest reads like a Who’s Who of modern freeriding: Doug Coombs won the inaugural men’s title while Kim Reichhelm was tops in the women.
Meanwhile the Europeans – primarily the French and the Swedes – were honing their big-mountain techniques on the often-nasty inclines around Mont Blanc and the Savoie Region. But the moment they discovered there were contests happening in America, the while game changed. When a French teenager by the name of Guerlain Chicherit unleashed a corker of a run in flat-light and ugly Alaskan conditions to capture his first WESC title back in 1999 (and beat out his mentor, Seb Michaud), few people realized the enormous impact his Valdez victory would have on the freeriding movement. For the new World Champion wasn’t alone. Back home in France were dozens of young chargers just like him. Fast, smooth – and incredibly efficient on skis. Bold beyond belief. Yet completely sure of their stuff – even in big exposure.
This, many ski historian believe, was the true beginning of the freeride revolution…
But what about the snowboarders? From the very inception of the sport in the early 1980’s, it was clear that the one-plank concept was ideal for attacking gnarly terrain and steep drops. More stable and easier to manage in difficult – or changing – conditions, the snowboard became the new tool of choice for many big mountain adventures. In fact, for many early freeride practitioners, it was a snowboard that got them into the backcountry in the first place!
Like the skiers, the snowboarders of the early 1990’s had their very own Alaska event in which to shine. Launched as the World Extreme Snowboarding Championships in 1992, the event soon morphed into the hugely popular King Of the Hill under visionary Nick Peralta’s guidance. Here too, the start list for these event events reads like a list of snowboarding royalty: Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer, Steve Klassen, Julie Zell, Tina Basich, Anthonin Lieutaghi and Axel Pauporté.
It was just a matter of time before the two disciplines would join forces…
But it took a wild Swiss-Brit entrepreneur by the name of Nicolas Hale-Woods to make it happen. Launched in the winter of 1996, the Verbier Extreme was originally strictly a snowboard contest. But all that changed in 2004 when ten of the world’s top two-planked freeriders were invited to participate. The event was never the same again.
Today, Hale-Woods oversees an annual world ski and snowboard circuit – the Freeride World Tour -- that travels from Russia to America and back to his home Alps for the final events. The very cream of riders – skiers and snowboarders, men and women – all vie for an invitation to this prestigious event. ‘Who could have imagined we would have come this far so soon,” says Hale-Woods. “It’s a great event. But more importantly, the riders who participate are truly fantastic people…”

Freeride Legends

So who is the best freerider of all times? Is it a classic old-timer like Emile Allais, a true extreme skier like Sylvain Saudan, a mountain entertainer like Glen Plake, a modern master like Seb Michaud or a relative newcomer like Swedish champion Henrik Windstedt? Hard to tell.
And how do you compare them to a versatile skier-cum-mountain-guide like La Rosiere’s Manu Gaidet. Or to a true adrenaline junkie like Tignes’ Guerlain Chicherit. And what about the newcomers to the tour this year – big-mountain ragers like Thomas Diet or Canadian Brett Crabtree. These guys are ready to do just about anything to push the limits of the sport – and they do it for the sheer joy of discovering new sensations. Should they be considered in the mix too?
And the snowboarders? Is American Steve Klassen the best freerider of all times? How do his countrymen Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer and Jay Liska stack up? Or can we make an argument for French eccentric Antonin Lieutaghi or all-round champion (and World Freeride Tour ’08 champion) Xavier de la Rue? How about the Swiss trio of Alex Coudray, Cyril Neri and Jonas Emery? They’re no slouches either. So many names; so much talent…
As for the women, they’re improving their freeride game all the time. Think of pioneers like Kim Reichhelm, Wendy Fisher and Swiss ace Francine Moreillon. They definitely set the freeride bar high back in the mid-‘90’s. What about the new crop of riders? Alaskan Elyse Saugtsad certainly showed she had it going on last year when she stole the overall title from under the noses of her more experienced rivals. Her Swedish counterpart, Marja Persson also needs to be considered. Then there are wild card entries like Whistler’s Jenn Ashton or Squaw Valley’s Jamie Burge who will have to be reckoned with this season. The field is deep. Very deep.
As for the female side of the snowboard list, the names are just as impressive. Think back to the early 1990’s at what Montana hard-girl, Julie Zell was doing in Alaska. Consider the lines Renaissance woman Tina Basich pioneered in California. And what about defending WFT champion Ruth Leisbach of Switzerland? Seems like she has a pretty good claim to top rider status. Ouf. And then there’s…
Stop. They’re all great. Each one, in their own time and place, has shown the world not only what sliding on snow is all about but also what living life to the fullest really means. For in the end, freeriding stands for far more than just another way to compete for glory and make money. It’s a way of life too. And all these riders – whether Windstedt or Michaud or Crabtree or Klassen or Saugstad or Leisbach – are star ambassadors for that kind of existence. So give it up for the world of freeriding and its crazy denizens. They might not have the answer to the world’s current economic problems. But they certainly know how to have fun!
- See more at: http://around.freerideworldtour.com/history#sthash.evE2U8IH.dpuf


The concept of freeride informs the very soul of the snowsport experience. Indeed, the notion of ‘freeriding’ was born the moment folks figured out how to secure their feet onto long slats of wood in order to move easier over the winter landscape – and discovered that they could suddenly shuck the bonds of gravity and fly. They were free. They could ride down the hill at will. They never looked back…
As far back as the 1930’s and ‘40’s, legendary ski champion Emile Allais and his merry band of mountain adventurers were already assaulting the couloirs and gullies that dropped from the heady summits around Mt Blanc and Chamonix. Some of their early descents beggar the imagination – especially considering the rudimentary nature of the gear they were using back then. But it took until the late 1960’s and ‘70’s – when Ski Extreme was first coined by the French and the gear had improved substantially – for freeride to really attract global attention. Much of it was due to the hard-charging styles of its main proponents – visionary mountain men like Sylvain Saudan, Patrick Vallencant, Bruno Gouvy and Jean Marc Boivin – who were stretching the limits of downhill riding in a way that had never been seen before. In these years, freeride was truly extreme. If you fell, you died…
But the Americans weren’t far behind. Led by pioneers like Montana’s Bill Briggs and California’s Steve McKinney, a whole new generation of young riders begin testing themselves in the steep slopes of the Rockies, the Wasatch and the Sierra Nevada. More ‘Hollywood’ than their French counterparts, and far more into the entertainment aspects than the Europeans, icons like Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt brought a whole new aesthetic to the American ski experience in the 1980’s. It was their offbeat, out-there style, showcased by filmmaker Greg Stump in such seminal films at Blizzard of Aaaah’s that really set the stage for the launch of the first ever freeride contests.
And what a launch that was! The near-mythical World Extreme Ski Championships (WESC), contested on the hoary slopes of Alaska’s Wasatch Mountains, was the coming out party for a whole new gang of big-mountain freeriders. In fact, the start list for the inaugural 1991 contest reads like a Who’s Who of modern freeriding: Doug Coombs won the inaugural men’s title while Kim Reichhelm was tops in the women.
Meanwhile the Europeans – primarily the French and the Swedes – were honing their big-mountain techniques on the often-nasty inclines around Mont Blanc and the Savoie Region. But the moment they discovered there were contests happening in America, the while game changed. When a French teenager by the name of Guerlain Chicherit unleashed a corker of a run in flat-light and ugly Alaskan conditions to capture his first WESC title back in 1999 (and beat out his mentor, Seb Michaud), few people realized the enormous impact his Valdez victory would have on the freeriding movement. For the new World Champion wasn’t alone. Back home in France were dozens of young chargers just like him. Fast, smooth – and incredibly efficient on skis. Bold beyond belief. Yet completely sure of their stuff – even in big exposure.
This, many ski historian believe, was the true beginning of the freeride revolution…
But what about the snowboarders? From the very inception of the sport in the early 1980’s, it was clear that the one-plank concept was ideal for attacking gnarly terrain and steep drops. More stable and easier to manage in difficult – or changing – conditions, the snowboard became the new tool of choice for many big mountain adventures. In fact, for many early freeride practitioners, it was a snowboard that got them into the backcountry in the first place!
Like the skiers, the snowboarders of the early 1990’s had their very own Alaska event in which to shine. Launched as the World Extreme Snowboarding Championships in 1992, the event soon morphed into the hugely popular King Of the Hill under visionary Nick Peralta’s guidance. Here too, the start list for these event events reads like a list of snowboarding royalty: Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer, Steve Klassen, Julie Zell, Tina Basich, Anthonin Lieutaghi and Axel Pauporté.
It was just a matter of time before the two disciplines would join forces…
But it took a wild Swiss-Brit entrepreneur by the name of Nicolas Hale-Woods to make it happen. Launched in the winter of 1996, the Verbier Extreme was originally strictly a snowboard contest. But all that changed in 2004 when ten of the world’s top two-planked freeriders were invited to participate. The event was never the same again.
Today, Hale-Woods oversees an annual world ski and snowboard circuit – the Freeride World Tour -- that travels from Russia to America and back to his home Alps for the final events. The very cream of riders – skiers and snowboarders, men and women – all vie for an invitation to this prestigious event. ‘Who could have imagined we would have come this far so soon,” says Hale-Woods. “It’s a great event. But more importantly, the riders who participate are truly fantastic people…”

Freeride Legends

So who is the best freerider of all times? Is it a classic old-timer like Emile Allais, a true extreme skier like Sylvain Saudan, a mountain entertainer like Glen Plake, a modern master like Seb Michaud or a relative newcomer like Swedish champion Henrik Windstedt? Hard to tell.
And how do you compare them to a versatile skier-cum-mountain-guide like La Rosiere’s Manu Gaidet. Or to a true adrenaline junkie like Tignes’ Guerlain Chicherit. And what about the newcomers to the tour this year – big-mountain ragers like Thomas Diet or Canadian Brett Crabtree. These guys are ready to do just about anything to push the limits of the sport – and they do it for the sheer joy of discovering new sensations. Should they be considered in the mix too?
And the snowboarders? Is American Steve Klassen the best freerider of all times? How do his countrymen Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer and Jay Liska stack up? Or can we make an argument for French eccentric Antonin Lieutaghi or all-round champion (and World Freeride Tour ’08 champion) Xavier de la Rue? How about the Swiss trio of Alex Coudray, Cyril Neri and Jonas Emery? They’re no slouches either. So many names; so much talent…
As for the women, they’re improving their freeride game all the time. Think of pioneers like Kim Reichhelm, Wendy Fisher and Swiss ace Francine Moreillon. They definitely set the freeride bar high back in the mid-‘90’s. What about the new crop of riders? Alaskan Elyse Saugtsad certainly showed she had it going on last year when she stole the overall title from under the noses of her more experienced rivals. Her Swedish counterpart, Marja Persson also needs to be considered. Then there are wild card entries like Whistler’s Jenn Ashton or Squaw Valley’s Jamie Burge who will have to be reckoned with this season. The field is deep. Very deep.
As for the female side of the snowboard list, the names are just as impressive. Think back to the early 1990’s at what Montana hard-girl, Julie Zell was doing in Alaska. Consider the lines Renaissance woman Tina Basich pioneered in California. And what about defending WFT champion Ruth Leisbach of Switzerland? Seems like she has a pretty good claim to top rider status. Ouf. And then there’s…
Stop. They’re all great. Each one, in their own time and place, has shown the world not only what sliding on snow is all about but also what living life to the fullest really means. For in the end, freeriding stands for far more than just another way to compete for glory and make money. It’s a way of life too. And all these riders – whether Windstedt or Michaud or Crabtree or Klassen or Saugstad or Leisbach – are star ambassadors for that kind of existence. So give it up for the world of freeriding and its crazy denizens. They might not have the answer to the world’s current economic problems. But they certainly know how to have fun!
- See more at: http://around.freerideworldtour.com/history#sthash.evE2U8IH.dpuf

The concept of freeride informs the very soul of the snowsport experience. Indeed, the notion of ‘freeriding’ was born the moment folks figured out how to secure their feet onto long slats of wood in order to move easier over the winter landscape – and discovered that they could suddenly shuck the bonds of gravity and fly. They were free. They could ride down the hill at will. They never looked back…
As far back as the 1930’s and ‘40’s, legendary ski champion Emile Allais and his merry band of mountain adventurers were already assaulting the couloirs and gullies that dropped from the heady summits around Mt Blanc and Chamonix. Some of their early descents beggar the imagination – especially considering the rudimentary nature of the gear they were using back then. But it took until the late 1960’s and ‘70’s – when Ski Extreme was first coined by the French and the gear had improved substantially – for freeride to really attract global attention. Much of it was due to the hard-charging styles of its main proponents – visionary mountain men like Sylvain Saudan, Patrick Vallencant, Bruno Gouvy and Jean Marc Boivin – who were stretching the limits of downhill riding in a way that had never been seen before. In these years, freeride was truly extreme. If you fell, you died…
But the Americans weren’t far behind. Led by pioneers like Montana’s Bill Briggs and California’s Steve McKinney, a whole new generation of young riders begin testing themselves in the steep slopes of the Rockies, the Wasatch and the Sierra Nevada. More ‘Hollywood’ than their French counterparts, and far more into the entertainment aspects than the Europeans, icons like Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt brought a whole new aesthetic to the American ski experience in the 1980’s. It was their offbeat, out-there style, showcased by filmmaker Greg Stump in such seminal films at Blizzard of Aaaah’s that really set the stage for the launch of the first ever freeride contests.
And what a launch that was! The near-mythical World Extreme Ski Championships (WESC), contested on the hoary slopes of Alaska’s Wasatch Mountains, was the coming out party for a whole new gang of big-mountain freeriders. In fact, the start list for the inaugural 1991 contest reads like a Who’s Who of modern freeriding: Doug Coombs won the inaugural men’s title while Kim Reichhelm was tops in the women.
Meanwhile the Europeans – primarily the French and the Swedes – were honing their big-mountain techniques on the often-nasty inclines around Mont Blanc and the Savoie Region. But the moment they discovered there were contests happening in America, the while game changed. When a French teenager by the name of Guerlain Chicherit unleashed a corker of a run in flat-light and ugly Alaskan conditions to capture his first WESC title back in 1999 (and beat out his mentor, Seb Michaud), few people realized the enormous impact his Valdez victory would have on the freeriding movement. For the new World Champion wasn’t alone. Back home in France were dozens of young chargers just like him. Fast, smooth – and incredibly efficient on skis. Bold beyond belief. Yet completely sure of their stuff – even in big exposure.
This, many ski historian believe, was the true beginning of the freeride revolution…
But what about the snowboarders? From the very inception of the sport in the early 1980’s, it was clear that the one-plank concept was ideal for attacking gnarly terrain and steep drops. More stable and easier to manage in difficult – or changing – conditions, the snowboard became the new tool of choice for many big mountain adventures. In fact, for many early freeride practitioners, it was a snowboard that got them into the backcountry in the first place!
Like the skiers, the snowboarders of the early 1990’s had their very own Alaska event in which to shine. Launched as the World Extreme Snowboarding Championships in 1992, the event soon morphed into the hugely popular King Of the Hill under visionary Nick Peralta’s guidance. Here too, the start list for these event events reads like a list of snowboarding royalty: Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer, Steve Klassen, Julie Zell, Tina Basich, Anthonin Lieutaghi and Axel Pauporté.
It was just a matter of time before the two disciplines would join forces…
But it took a wild Swiss-Brit entrepreneur by the name of Nicolas Hale-Woods to make it happen. Launched in the winter of 1996, the Verbier Extreme was originally strictly a snowboard contest. But all that changed in 2004 when ten of the world’s top two-planked freeriders were invited to participate. The event was never the same again.
Today, Hale-Woods oversees an annual world ski and snowboard circuit – the Freeride World Tour -- that travels from Russia to America and back to his home Alps for the final events. The very cream of riders – skiers and snowboarders, men and women – all vie for an invitation to this prestigious event. ‘Who could have imagined we would have come this far so soon,” says Hale-Woods. “It’s a great event. But more importantly, the riders who participate are truly fantastic people…”

Freeride Legends

So who is the best freerider of all times? Is it a classic old-timer like Emile Allais, a true extreme skier like Sylvain Saudan, a mountain entertainer like Glen Plake, a modern master like Seb Michaud or a relative newcomer like Swedish champion Henrik Windstedt? Hard to tell.
And how do you compare them to a versatile skier-cum-mountain-guide like La Rosiere’s Manu Gaidet. Or to a true adrenaline junkie like Tignes’ Guerlain Chicherit. And what about the newcomers to the tour this year – big-mountain ragers like Thomas Diet or Canadian Brett Crabtree. These guys are ready to do just about anything to push the limits of the sport – and they do it for the sheer joy of discovering new sensations. Should they be considered in the mix too?
And the snowboarders? Is American Steve Klassen the best freerider of all times? How do his countrymen Matt Goodwill, Shaun Palmer and Jay Liska stack up? Or can we make an argument for French eccentric Antonin Lieutaghi or all-round champion (and World Freeride Tour ’08 champion) Xavier de la Rue? How about the Swiss trio of Alex Coudray, Cyril Neri and Jonas Emery? They’re no slouches either. So many names; so much talent…
As for the women, they’re improving their freeride game all the time. Think of pioneers like Kim Reichhelm, Wendy Fisher and Swiss ace Francine Moreillon. They definitely set the freeride bar high back in the mid-‘90’s. What about the new crop of riders? Alaskan Elyse Saugtsad certainly showed she had it going on last year when she stole the overall title from under the noses of her more experienced rivals. Her Swedish counterpart, Marja Persson also needs to be considered. Then there are wild card entries like Whistler’s Jenn Ashton or Squaw Valley’s Jamie Burge who will have to be reckoned with this season. The field is deep. Very deep.
As for the female side of the snowboard list, the names are just as impressive. Think back to the early 1990’s at what Montana hard-girl, Julie Zell was doing in Alaska. Consider the lines Renaissance woman Tina Basich pioneered in California. And what about defending WFT champion Ruth Leisbach of Switzerland? Seems like she has a pretty good claim to top rider status. Ouf. And then there’s…
Stop. They’re all great. Each one, in their own time and place, has shown the world not only what sliding on snow is all about but also what living life to the fullest really means. For in the end, freeriding stands for far more than just another way to compete for glory and make money. It’s a way of life too. And all these riders – whether Windstedt or Michaud or Crabtree or Klassen or Saugstad or Leisbach – are star ambassadors for that kind of existence. So give it up for the world of freeriding and its crazy denizens. They might not have the answer to the world’s current economic problems. But they certainly know how to have fun!
- See more at: http://around.freerideworldtour.com/history#sthash.evE2U8IH.dpuf

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