Fieberbrunn-PillerseeTal, Austria (16 March 2013) – Competition was intense at today’s SWATCH FREERIDE WORLD TOUR 2013 BY THE NORTH FACE® (FWT) at Fieberbrunn-PillerseeTal, Austria. This was the fifth and last event prior to the grande finale in Verbier (SUI).
The battle has been tough all season as more than 80 competing athletes focus on making it to the finals in Verbier. The spots are few. Only the top 12 male skiers, five male snowboarders, five female skiers and four female snowboarders qualify for the last and final competition.
For New Zealand skiers Charlie Lyons and Sam Smoothy the season has held mixed fortunes. Ahead of today’s competition Charlie Lyons, who has made his FWT debut this season, was sitting in fourth place on tour rankings, assured that whatever should happen in Austria his Verbier spot was safe.
For seasoned pro, Sam Smoothy, however, the pressure was really on in Austria. Smoothy, who last year achieved three FWT podiums including a win in Chamonix, was sitting in 18th place on tour rankings. Qualifying for Verbier was already looking to be too big an ask but possibly of more concern for Smoothy was whether or not he could hold on to a qualifying spot and a chance at redemption in next year’s Freeride World Tour.
“Today I needed a top five result to qualify for Verbier but it was made all the more difficult by being currently ranked 18th,” said Smoothy. “That meant I could not afford to crash as that would mean crashing out of the top 18 that qualify for next year’s tour.”
After a week’s waiting period, due to difficult snow and weather conditions, the sun finally came out at Fieberbrunn-PillerseeTal. With blue bird skies and a 20 cm cover of fresh snow on the 600-metre Wildseeloder north face, riders had to negotiate a mix of deep powder, wind affected snow and hard layers. A fluid and fast line choice, executed with creativity and perfection, was key.
“Today was really tough,” related Lyons. “I woke feeling under prepared having not seen the face in good light for over a week.”
Although he could afford to relax somewhat, with the Verbier qualification spot already a done deal, Lyons’ day did not go as he had hoped.
“Today I made a small mistake after skiing the top half of the venue perfectly which resulted in me punch fronting over my skis. I had to ski to sixth place to improve my ranking so I skied conservatively to the bottom knowing my run was over.”
Lyons finished the day in 20th place.
“Although today did not go as planned I am exceptionally proud to make the top 12 and that I will be only the second New Zealander to compete on the infamous Bec des Rosses in Verbier,” he commented.
Determined to give it his all, Sam Smoothy started his run “super motivated to ski fast, aggressive and take some big air.” He did exactly that but unfortunately a less than perfect landing with a lost pole halfway down the course saw him slip out of the coveted top five.
“It was a hugely devastating day as I poured so much of myself into this run and to not have it work out was pretty heartbreaking,” admits Smoothy.
However, Smoothy’s 13th place finish today meant that he did hold onto his top 18 ranking so will be back on tour in 2014.
Smoothy is philosophical about his performance in 2013. “I am taking this season as a learning process and will reflect on it later and come out as a better freerider.”
While Smoothy is already looking ahead to 2014, for Charlie Lyons the focus is very much on the immediate future.
“Next week is going to be the biggest week of my life. To be skiing the Bec makes me nervous, scared and excited,” he shares. “I know I will be a guest there as I am on any mountain but respecting my surroundings is going to be even more important!”
Click here for results from Fieberbrunn-PillerseeTal
Click here to see overall ranking & qualified riders for the finals in Verbier
Click here to view the runs on video
Image: Charlie Lyons
Credit: Kirk D Carlier