The 2023 Freeride World Tour at Kicking Horse
Last Friday, Kicking Horse was skiing great with 40cm of recent snow and the sun shining. Two of Kicking Horse’s faces looked particularly good: Ozone and Terminator 1. The Ozone face had been closed all season and was pristine and primed for some of the best skiers in the world. This wall of white divided by vertical rock bands has been made famous by the annual return of the Freeride World Tour. North America’s only stop on tour, Kicking Horse, has seen its fair share of memorable moments including Tanner Hall’s first foray onto the FWT (if it was today he'd be skiing the Limited Edition Magic J's) and Yu Sasaki’s massive 25m drop off the pyramid cliff in the middle of Ozone.
Last year winds ravaged the Ozone face and moved the contest to Terminator 1, where Jess Hotter charged hard into second place and made everyone believe the Kiwi was on her way to a world title. So this season, Terminator 1 had also been closed to save it as a backup venue. Locals were drooling over it and speculating how long after the contest they’d have to wait to ski its fresh powder.
Skiers had already waited longer than they’d liked. Initially scheduled for mid-January, the FWT stop was pushed back to February 17 due to a lack of snow and “dangerous conditions.” But by last week, it finally felt like the winter was turning around, and the mountain was skiing great. Just getting to the venue, we had fun runs off CPR and Redemption Ridge, which both had fresh snow drifted in on the fans.
Crowds lined the finishing corral below Ozone, but even more, gathered along Redemption Ridge to watch the action while sitting in the sun. And the athletes did not disappoint. Flying on the very edge of control, athletes bound down the venue connection unlikely airs with powdery landings. In recent seasons, the men especially have added a freestyle flair to the tour by incorporating spins and flips into most runs. By the end of last season, double flips and 720s had almost become common. This year the progression has continued, and new athletes like Finn Bilous (NZL) have been throwing butter tricks and connecting even more airs with new variations. This day was no different as Bilous’ playful style landed him in fourth place, and Xander Guldman (USA) launched a 360 screaming seamen for the crowd.
Max Hitzig going HUGE! Photo by Jeremy Bernard / Freeride World Tour
But, it was Max Hitzig (GER) (on the K2 Reckoner 112), throwing potentially the biggest backflip in FWT history, who took the win. He sent the infamous Pyramid so deep you must see it to believe it. His entire run was fluid and fast, linking a couple of airs at the top into the historic backflip to finish first. “I wasn’t sure if the backflip was going to work,” Hitzig said. “I saw Yu Sasaki send the Pyramid cliff three years ago, which is why I went for it today. I’m so stoked!
Whistler local rookie Marcus Goguen (CAN) (on Rossignols) shot up the rankings and secured his place in the FWT Finals with an edge-of-your-seat run that featured committing airs with technical turns to earn second place. Valentin Rainer (AUT) backed up his win in Andorra with third place.
Photo by Jeremy Bernard / Freeride World Tour
On the women’s side, Megane Betend (FRA) delivered a career-defining performance to take first place, ensuring she made the cut for a chance at the world title. Megane didn’t take her foot off the pedal with a fast and powerful display of freeriding, which included an insane triple drop into the finish line. Elisabeth Gerritzen (SUI) (on Factions) finished second with a fluid run, and Addison Rafford (USA) (on Black Crows Atris Birdies) rounded off the podium to take the overall rankings lead.
“I knew I would have to finish first or second to qualify for the finals, so I said to myself, ‘go big or go home!’ I am stoked that it worked,” Betend said after the run.
Photo by Jeremy Bernard / Freeride World Tour
The World Championships
With Kicking Horse being the third stop on tour, the field was cut after the event based on overall placing to decide who would battle for the world title in the final two events of the season. For those who’ve survived the cut, Fieberbrunn, Austria, will have a new two-run format where only a rider’s top score will count. This format should lead to dramatic, if not terrifying, action.
The season’s final event in Verbier has crowned a champion for two decades, and the face itself has become legendary. The FWT says, “The Grand Finale returns to the undisputed home of freeride, the Bec des Rosses at Verbier, Switzerland. Unrideable to most, athletes not only tame this beast year after year but turn it into their playground, consistently combining new line variations with death-defying stunts.” It sounds like we better tune in! You can watch it all live on the Freeride World Tour website:
Fieberbrunn Pro, Austria: March 11-17, 2023
Xtreme Verbier, Switzerland: March 25 - April 2, 2023
Kicking Horse for the rest of us
On Saturday, ski patrol opened Terminator North and South, and the rest of us got to pretend we were pros. The untracked south face got mobbed by happy skiers while a few of us raced for the chutes on the north side. Still rocky off the top; everything skied great once you were off the ridge top. By the bottom, we were slicing up boot top powder and cheering for ourselves even louder than we’d cheered for the contest the day before.
Since Saturday, Kicking Horse has received another 30cm, so if you can get there soon, you’re in for a treat. You might not win any prize money, but you won’t be expected to throw a 25m backflip either. Just enjoy the powder and cheer for your friends.
If you are going to shred the Horse, may we recommend these: