On January 20, the Freeride World Tour returned to the Hakuba Valley in Japan for the first competition of the 2020 Tour. The best male and female freeriders in the world converged on the South Bowl of the resort in the Japanese Alps under blue skies, ready to show off jaw-dropping and gutsy big mountain skiing to the judges and spectators below. The first comp of the season was filled with massive airs and full-throttle skiing, but in the end it was FWT veteran Drew Tabke who won the men’s skiing comp, while Norway's Hedvig Wessel took the win in the women’s ski category. Here are the highlights form Hakuba.

American Drew Tabke Claims 1st FWT Win Since 2017

Drew Tabke wins FWT20 Hakuba

Drew Tabke starts of the FWT20 with a win in Hakuba. 

A staple on the men’s FWT, two-time FWT Champion Drew Tabke has spent the past three tours struggling to climb back onto the podium. But the 35-old American showed up in a big way for the season-opening comp in Hakuba.

Drew Tabke, FWT20 Hakuba

Despite challenging visibility at the top of the venue, Tabke’s confident and smooth skiing was on full display even while connecting two full wingspan transfers and finishing with a huge back flip that ended his run with an exclamation point. Judges rewarded the American’s line and tricks with 89.67 points, giving him a narrow lead over New Zealand’s Hank Bilous (88.67) and his first victory since winning the 2017 Andorra comp.

“Japan is dreamy stuff … the reason I’m still competing is for destinations like [this],” Tabke said after the win.

Sweden’s Reine Barkered rounded out the podium in third with 88.33 points after stomping a similarly massive backflip as Tabke. With last year’s champion, Marcus Eder, out of the picture, all eyes were on last season’s runner-up, Sweden’s Kristofer Turdell, who kicked off the 2020 Tour with a disappointing 12 place finish. Wildcard competitor Tim Durtschi, however, impressed with a strong 8 place finish in his first FWT competiton.

See the full Men’s Ski results from Hakuba here.

Hedvig Wessel Solidifies Reputation as Queen of Backflips

Hedvig Wessel wins FWT20 Hakuba

Hedvig Wessel claims victory in Hakuba, the first stop on the FWT20. 

On the women’s side, Hedvig Wessel’s season-opening win came as no surprise to those who watched the Norwegian compete on the 2019 Tour. Wessel finished last year’s tour ranked fourth in the women’s ski category and a growing reputation as one of the biggest, baddest backflippers on the Tour.

Hedvig Wessel, FWT20 Hakuba

Hedvig Wessel, Queen of Backflips. 

Picking up right where she left off, Wessel demonstrated her fearless air game and crushed her competition in Hakuba with a backflip that rattled her helmet cam. Judges awarded Wessel the winning score of 80 points, a healthy lead over reigning World Champion Arianna Tricomi (ITA), who finished in second with 75.33 points. Switzerland’s Elisabeth Gerritzen, ranked third overall last season, also picked up in Hakuba where she left off in 2019 to finish third with 72 points.

“It feels amazing to win, obviously, and to be done with the first event,” Wessel shared after the comp. “It’s always so nerve-racking, but now to be done and celebrating with everyone is so cool!”

American women Jacqueline Pollard and Jackie Paaso landed in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

See the full Women's Ski results from Hakuba here.

Watch: Full FWT20 Hakuba Broadcast

From Hakuba, the FWT travels to Kicking Horse, B.C. for the second comp of the Tour, with the event scheduled to start on Feb. 6 pending weather and conditions.

SKI Magazine is an Official Media Partner for the Freeride World Tour. For more freeride action and the latest FWT news, tune into SKI’s FWT channel.

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