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Freeride World Tour

Freeride World Tour Merges with International Ski and Snowboard Federation

The news that freeride’s biggest competition circuit will now be part of FIS is garnering mixed reactions.

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Here’s one for the 2022 ski bingo card: Today, the Freeride World Tour (FWT) announced its merger with the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS). The acquisition is effective immediately, applying to the FWT’s upcoming 2022-’23 season.

Founded in 1924, FIS is a conglomerate responsible for governing various winter sports competitions, including Freestyle Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, Freestyle Snowboarding, Nordic Combined, and Ski Jumping. FIS sets the rules for these competitions and is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meaning athletes in FIS events can earn points toward Olympic qualification.

The FWT, meanwhile, officially started in 2004, but its history extends further, mingling with a difficult-to-pin-down concept known as freeskiing. Freeskiing, championed by skiers like Mike Douglas, was a response to the restrictions imposed on skiers by competition organizers, particularly in the mogul scene. Douglas and others aimed to retain what they saw as the heart of skiing—creativity and self-expression.

Freeride competitions like the FWT sought legitimacy for freeskiing without conforming to competition standards and erasing freeskiing’s origins. They hosted events on imposing faces and judged skiers on a loose set of criteria, like style and fluidity, as opposed to stricter guidelines.

“The biggest thing is… it’s opposed to everything that FIS does. It’s [freeride competitions] not an altered piece of space that we’re competing on,” says Berkeley Patterson, previous FWT competitor. “You can win freeriding in more of a variety of ways than the other sports,” he added, noting that the FWT’s current competition format offers riders considerable freedom in comparison to ski racing or freestyle.

However, according to the press release of the merger, FIS will not alter the pre-existing format of the FWT, with judging and the Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) system set to remain unchanged. FIS will instead focus on the “marketing and governance” of the FWT.

The potential upside of the acquisition is twofold. First, it legitimizes freeriding as a possible Olympic sport. Presumably, if the IOC picks up freeriding, the FWT could now become a qualifying event. Second, it increases the financial and marketing resources the FWT has access to, which could lead to future event growth and greater exposure for involved athletes. Although the exact changes the FIS plans to make to the FWT are not yet clear.

Related: Get ready for more double-backies and extreme skiing on this year’s FWT

In a follow-up letter sent to Downdays, FIS noted that the acquisition does not mean freeride is an official FIS discipline in the “formal and statutory sense.” For freeride to be fully absorbed by the FIS, a motion would need to pass in the organization’s internal Congress. According to this letter, the FWT will continue to operate “rather independently” for the time being.

“The merger with FWT will see FIS add one of the most exciting, dynamic winter sports to its portfolio,” said Johan Eliasch, FIS President. “This is truly a win-win for all parties as FIS can bring massive growth potential to the FWT providing the chance to develop on a broader stage. FWT brings a highly professional tour that offers breathtaking action and an entirely new element of skiing and snowboarding to FIS.”

Current FWT athletes Reine Barkered and Jess Hotter are optimistic about the acquisition.

“Being a part of FWT and seeing the sport develop over so many years makes this feel like a natural next step to take. It will be interesting to see where it leads us, and I think it will bring more recognition to the sport and all the benefits that will come with it,” says Barkered.

“I am really excited to hear the news and looking forward to seeing future opportunities for athletes competing in the world of Freeride,” reports Hotter.

Despite positivity from a handful of current FWT athletes and management, the merger has sparked disdain in certain corners of the skiing community. On Newschoolers, a freeskiing forum and media website, one commenter wrote, “Great, so now FIS can take the revenue and pump it into ski racing instead.” Another said, “RIP Freeride World Tour.”

The comments section on the FWT’s Instagram merger announcement looks similar. Alex Hall, freeskiing legend and former Olympic athlete, wrote, “is this a joke?” Paddy Graham, also a professional skier, matched his sentiment, writing, “this is the worst.”

In a less negative take, one Instagram user commented, “mixed feelings… on the one hand, a great opportunity to grow the sport further and provide more visibility and support to the athletes. On the other hand, a risk of losing the unique spirit and culture of freeriding. Curious how it will play out.”

To Patterson, the ex-FWT competitor, the possibility of stricter judging or regulation presents a real threat to the FWT, “looking for perfection in these things, in like runs… in my opinion, only makes the sport more boring,” he says.

The concern expressed on Instagram and elsewhere illustrates a common opinion amongst skiers—that the FIS is too corporate and rules-oriented to have a place in freeride skiing and freeskiing. Without a crystal ball, though, no one can precisely say what the acquisition will mean for the FWT and its athlete roster. Stay tuned for further updates.