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The Story Behind Freeskiing’s Greatest Prank Competition

An exclusive backcountry freeskiing comp seemed too epic to be real. Turns out, it was.

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A few evenings ago, I sat down to watch the November release of “Ritsch’s Roll,” a recent freeski competition produced and live-streamed by the production company Legs of Steel. At first, it just seemed like another epic freestyle comp: An enormous backcountry jump, a jam-session format, and some of the best riders around made for some exciting skiing.

But then, as the video rolled, things started to get weird. First, the prize purse—$100,000? In this economy? Tanner Hall’s scores seemed a little fishy, too, coming in at 4.20 and 69.69. Other oddities included a newfangled artificial intelligence judging system, bizarre ads for a product that didn’t seem to exist, and a distinct lack of chemistry between the announcers.

When a drone sped toward one of the announcers at the end of the live-stream and beheaded him (not kidding), I paused the video and looked around my apartment. My partner was in bed, happily watching Netflix, and here I was, wondering if I needed to go check our carbon monoxide detector. Before I got up, I quickly looked at the Youtube comments and realized that I was, indeed, born yesterday. One commenter wrote, “pure gold. I hope people get it,” while another posted, “top tier production, I was fooled till Tanner got 69.69.”

Watch: Ritsch’s Roll Backcountry Invitational

Turns out, “Ritsch’s Roll” wasn’t exactly a real event. Here’s how it went down: Last season, Legs of Steel brought a crew of all-star riders to the Austrian backcountry for a jump session. Then, they filmed the session, editing it to appear like a live-streamed competition, which was released this past month. All the tomfoolery, like the wacky scores, enormous prize purse, and AI judging system, was a convincing farce.

The only real part of the event was the skiing (which is worth a watch, jokes aside). The rest? Somewhere between a prank and satire—think ski movie meets “Monty Python.”

Despite this revelation, I needed to know more, so I got in touch with Paddy Graham and the eponymous Tom Ritsch, two professional skiers who helped mastermind “Ritsch’s Roll.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

SKI: What is “Ritsch’s Roll?”

Paddy Graham: The initial idea of making a session at the jump came from Tom, and we wanted to make a movie that would stand out from the rest, which is hard these days, so we put a rather dramatic twist on it.

Tom Ritsch: Ritsch’s Roll is the name of a scenic backcountry spot located in the alpine, close to my home resort Kitzsteinhorn. It’s a glacial moraine, and it’s got the perfect shape to build a jump on it. We first built it in 2021 for our movie “Long Days” and immediately realized that this spot has huge potential for something special. I have to say that I was a bit skeptical when Paddy first hit me with the idea of doing a “live-stream” competition, but after a bit of deliberation, I was in on it.

Paddy Graham: The initial idea of making a session at the jump came from Tom, and we wanted to make a movie that would stand out from the rest, which is hard these days, so we put a rather dramatic twist on it.

And what is “Ritsch’s Roll,” the edit? Is it a prank? A commentary on skiing competitions? Something else?

Ritsch: It’s a one-of-a-kind backcountry invitational big-air event that is poking fun at the current state of live-streams and competitions in general. It was a prank but also turned into a sort of a ‘social experiment’ in a way to see how easily people will fall for stuff they see online, e.g. the Bio-Mechanical Judging System [the artificially intelligent judging system referenced earlier in this article].

How did the logistics of doing the fake live stream work? Was the announcing live, and then the footage of the jump from last season?

Ritsch: The footage of the jump is from last season, and also, the announcers have been there in person. There was some post-production that went into the commentary, but most of it happened on-site.

Graham: Like every production we get into, there are always hurdles to jump over, scheduling issues, and weather! The fact we got this rider lineup in one location and got good weather was a miracle. Everything was shot before we went live (sorry), and actually, Tim [Warwood], Johno [Verity] and Ben [Benson], the “event production,” actually never got to see someone hit the jump; they had to leave the day we started to ski!

Any highlights from putting Ritsch’s Roll together?

Ritsch: My highlight was to have the chance to invite some of my friends out to my place and show them where I live and ski. I look up to each and every one of them, and to have such an exceptional field of riders come together for a session on my home mountain still feels surreal.

How do you feel about the current state of freeskiing competitions?

Ritsch: What’s concerning to me is that there are barely any contests left these days which are not being held by FIS (the International Ski Federation). We are seeing a decrease in events being organized by the scene or the riders, hence it seems like nowadays, there’s hardly any way to make it as a skier without going the FIS road of things, and that’s a shame. It is vital to the preservation of the culture to not have some corrupted organization take over our sport and make it something it was never meant to be; we cannot let that happen.

Graham: I loved seeing the NST [Natural Selection Tour] from Travis Rice; this was great, something new and fresh in the world of events. There have been loads of progressive events in the ski world over the years, but nothing has stuck around. I hope there will be something new soon.

If you could describe the perfect freeskiing comp, what would it look like?

Ritsch: Organized by riders, judged by riders, and the prize money gets split.

Graham: An amazing feature, the best conditions, AI judging, and a huge prize purse.

If FIS announced that they were rolling out AI judges this season, how would you react?

Ritsch: With a lawsuit, haha.

Graham: I wouldn’t be surprised! It might be better for that side of skiing… judging is an opinion, and opinions have shaped the sport to where it is today.

How’s the announcer doing after his run-in with the drone?

Ritsch: Thankfully, we were able to reattach Tim’s head! The joke originally came from a short film we made, “Action Men,” where one of our clay characters gets decapitated by a race drone… if it’s not obvious, Johno made that scene too, he’s a very talented individual with his own humor, and we love it!

What’s next for Legs of Steel?

Graham: In terms of ski movies, always something innovative and fresh. There are very few content pieces that stand out these days, so you always need to find something special. We will keep entertaining our audiences and showcase skiing in the best possible way; it’s what we love to do and have been brought up on as freeskiers.

 

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