The Freeride World Tour, a series of events pitting the top skiers and riders against each other on some of the boldest big-mountain lines on slopes around the world, has a couple of interesting updates this year. Since its conception in 1996 as a single competition event, to the debut of the tour format in 2008, featuring icons from Candide Thovex to Xavier de Le Rue, the FWT has consistently created a stellar format to showcase talent. It recently released this year’s Rider’s Roster and will continue to operate under the direction of FIS (a new development last year). What does this mean for riders, and more importantly, for viewers?
The tour will still be action-packed due to its judging characteristics: riders are scored based on their ability to pick (and complete) challenging lines, maintain control, link maneuvers together fluidly, exercise proper technique, and showcase style by making it all look good together. Though tricks are not required, they tend to score well, and with plenty of cliffs on steep terrain, there’s room during airtime. The most thrilling part of the FWT, as opposed to other ski competitions, is that the riders are only allowed a visual inspection of the contest venue – they ski their line for the first time during the contest.
FIS, short for the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, acquired the FWT in December of 2022 and will continue to manage the large-scale of the tour this winter season. However, not too much will be shaken up from the viewing perspective, as the FWT will still run the day-to-day operations of the events. FIS will focus on broadening the audience for the FWT, as well as strengthening opportunities for the Freeride competitors.
FIS is the largest winter International Federation, and acquiring the FWT means spotlighting these athletes for Olympic opportunities and large-scale projects as opposed to the athletes competing on the tour as a standalone event. The CEO of the Freeride World Tour, Nicolas Hale-Woods, stated that the tour was “thrilled to be joining forces with FIS… Being under the umbrella of the largest winter sports international federation will give them more access to support, increased visibility, and additional resources that will ultimately allow the FWT and all of its stakeholders to grow.”
If you keep up with the WSL tour, you may be somewhat familiar with the FWT format. Interestingly, the FWT has many structural parallels to the WSL. Like the WSL, the FWT is actually a larger brand as well as a competitive tour, and there are several other competitions catering to different skill levels and ages, such as the FWT Qualifier and the FWT Junior. There are also returning winners and rookies, keeping the competition fresh each season, with crowd favorites returning and younger generation riders hoping to break into the big leagues. And, like the WSL tour, there are wildcards.
For the FWT this year, the 2024 Rider’s Roster was released on October 26, and with 19 new Rookies split between men’s and women’s ski and snowboard categories, there’s a lot of potential for surprises. Of course, there are some non-returners: Reine Barkered left the tour after an impressive 15 years. For women, Jess Hotter and Elisabeth Gerritzen are also not on the 2024 list.
There are plenty of skiers for the men’s division in the mix this season who have not yet been on tour, such as Martin Bender, Jackson Bathgate, Kendall Goodman, Wei Tien Ho, Tenra Katsuno, and Colton Shaff. On the women’s side, seven out of eight women have less than one year of experience on the tour. Additionally, three of these women are rookies: Astrid Cheylus, Lydia Nelson, and Taylor Dobyns, adding even more excitement to what could be a crazy season.
Due to all of the new talent this year, the viewing experience should be pretty nuts. The younger generations often push the limits more than the “old heads,” even though it takes a season or two to really root for someone on tour and watching successful skiers and riders from season’s past can be really satisfying. Winners often get in a groove and take out more than one event, so it’s nice to see so many fresh faces (and new opportunities for countries to be represented on the podium)! I’d be willing to say this season may be one of the most compelling seasons we’ve ever had in over a decade (pretty much the whole lifetime of the modern tour).
Who are your picks for this season? The experienced riders we have a sense of already, or the title-hungry rookies? No matter who you’re betting on, we’ll find out starting on January 27, and on February 1, we’ll know for sure.