Why Did So Many Riders Crash at the FWT Comp in Fieberbrunn?
Tricky, variable conditions challenged younger, less experienced athletes while tour veterans managed to podium.
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The Freeride World Tour event in Fieberbrunn, Austria, just wrapped up, and surprisingly few skiers performed without bobbling or crashing. Roughly half the men’s field made mistakes, facing snow snakes, backslaps, and lost skis. While the women’s roster fared marginally better, several overall title contenders, like Addison Rafford and Molly Armanino, didn’t put down clean runs.
Will Tucker, who assisted organizers in the start gate at the Fieberbrunn event, pointed out that unpredictable snow conditions likely led to the lack of controlled skiing. “In some places, it was really, really good, and in other places, it was still very thin and therefore sharky or hard, choppy, and heavy,” said Tucker. During FWT events, you aren’t allowed to ski the venue before your run, meaning firm snow and hidden rocks can catch athletes off-guard.
Arianna Tricomi, the winner of the women’s category at the Fieberbrunn FWT stop, used inexperience to explain the many bobbles amongst younger riders. Two traits frequently appear together in the current FWT roster: lesser competition experience than freeride veterans and a penchant for sending huge tricks. When mixed with inconsistent snow, these attributes can lead to tactical errors and bails. Young rookies like Marcus Goguen, Max Hitzig, and Simon Perraudin encountered the snowpack’s limitations by crashing during risky freestyle maneuvers.
“Yesterday, I think it was the proof that you need experience for this sport,” said Tricomi, whose first FWT appearance was in 2016. “We got really stoked about the snow, but we also knew it was some new snow on top of bad conditions. So you’re not going to go full gas. It’s not going to work,” she continued, explaining the pre-comp mindset of riders with more FWT years under their belts.
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Tricomi’s assumption applies to the winner of the men’s category, Andrew Pollard. Pollard’s competed in freeride since high school and started his FWT tenure in 2019, meaning he has more comp experience than many of the other, younger male athletes. During his run, he prioritized smart skiing, taking fluid turns and creative line selection over enormous tricks.
Pollard’s approach accounted for a unique freeride characteristic that sets this form of competition apart from other, more manicured competitive skiing disciplines, like alpine racing. Success typically hinges on a rider’s ability to account for what the snowpack does and doesn’t permit. During the Fieberbrunn event, the mountains appeared more inclined to reward riders who dialed back the amplitude.
“Yesterday was a crazy day,” wrote Pollard in an Instagram post after the competition. “Lots of crashes and bobbles. Been playing the consistency game for a long time, and it finally worked.”
Event organizers tried to begin the Fieberbrunn competition on Monday, March 13, but faced warm weather and low visibility, leading to a delay. Additionally, little snow has fallen in Austria this winter, exposing dangerous rock features on the competition venue. “The face was in really bad shape. Like I’ve never seen it such low tide,” said Tricomi.
A mid-week storm changed the seemingly dire circumstances, and the event went off on Thursday, March 16, without any apparent hitches. On the live stream, the conditions looked perfect, with athletes kicking up vast plumes of powder.
Yet, according to Tricomi, the blue sky and fresh snow were illusory. “[The new snowfall] was some kind of illusion because we had pictures of the face, the way it looked before, and it was pretty gnarly,” she said.
Below the fresh snow lurked two problems: refrozen hardpack from the warm weather earlier in the week and rocks. Due to the roughly 10 inches of powder, these hazards were hidden, masquerading as prime conditions.
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Pre-competition weather and snowpack difficulties have impacted multiple FWT competitions this season. At the last event, in Kicking Horse, B.C., a persistent weak layer hid beneath recent snowfall on the venue, causing snowpack instability and avalanche risk.
Yet, that’s part of the deal with freeride competitions. Organizers typically can’t change pre-established FWT event weather windows (the weeklong, weather-dependent competition day period). Alongside this scheduling rigidity, freeriding occurs on natural mountain faces, meaning grooming machines and snow blowers aren’t viable when conditions don’t cooperate. Ultimately, a successful FWT stop is about working with what Mother Nature provides.
“I’m always for a completely open season, where everywhere you go can be at the right place and the right time,” said FWT organizer Tucker, “but that, unfortunately, isn’t the reality.”