It was a sketchy start for the Freeride World Tour Qualifier Thursday morning, with fog settling in early at the event location at Happo One, Hakuba Valley. Organisers made a tough call after early morning snow testing, deciding to relocate the competition to its second face location lower down the mountain.
Riders eagerly anticipated their runs, unable to even get a visual of the competition face until around midday when a weather window allowed the contest to run.
Snowboard women’s entrant Mel Weise from Germany moved to Hakuba this season to work at Evergreen Backcountry Guides. Finishing second in the FWQ, Mel admitted she is not well versed in remaining calm before “big happenings”, and prepares her riding gear the night before a contest to remain focused and free from nerves on the morning of her rides, an approach she had to blow off this time around after waiting hours in the snow for the contest to start.
“In the end, standing on the mountain thinking about the line helps me to relax,” she said. “Thinking about snowboarding, imagine riding the line, talking about it with friends, thinking about it again; I actually like that, that’s the creative part. I am a horrible painter, but I always think this is how a painter must feel in a flow moment.”
“I decided to choose a short, ‘safer’ line higher up in the gully (anticipating better snow),” she added. “As I saw many people struggling with the conditions down the natural line. I had to ride in along an avalanche path with big debris to get to the finishing line…I was so impressed by the size of the debris and saw so many people struggling with the variable snow conditions and crashing. So it was a very weird run.”
Luke Smith, long-time Hakuba resident originally from the UK, was a last minute entry into the qualifying event, only receiving the call up to ride at the accreditation last week. Fourth rider out of the gates, Smith put on an impressive snowboarding display that earned him third-place on the podium.
“The change in location actually helped me. I had been planning the route in my head for venue one since the Face Check two days before the contest, but I couldn’t decide what line I wanted to take,” Smith said. “With the venue changing at the last minute and only actually seeing the new location for a few minutes during a weather window forced me to quickly decide and focus on what I wanted to do.”
Bernanrd Bumsti Rachiller, another Evergreen guide, put on one of the best ski performances of the day, earning him second in Men’s Ski on the podium, falling just short of victory.
“We all had to choose our lines just two hours before the start, and with the crusty snow conditions this made the competition even more difficult and more exciting,” Bumsti said. “The second location was shorter with less features than the first original venue, so I knew I had to come up with something different to set myself apart from the other freeriders to entertain the crowd, the judges and myself.”
This week the FWT announced that it would be back to Japan in March for another qualifier, great news for the Academy team and Japanese freeriders.
“It is awesome that more Japanese riders can get involved because there are some really great riders and now they have the world stage to show what they can do,” Smith said. “For me personally it is a great change to hang out and meet more Japanese riders and hopefully get to carry on riding with them outside the competition.”
The FWT Hakuba Main Event is currently on hold (visibility was extremely low today) as organisers anticipate better snow this week. Bumsti (who won’t be riding in the Main Event this year as additional wildcard entries were set aside for Japanese riders) has been following the weather forecasts closely as he plans to shoot a ski film in late February that will donate part profits to Protect Our Winters Japan, a chapter of Jeremy Jones’ non-profit organization that rallies snow sports lovers to take action on climate change.
“Extreme weather changes or anomalies like we had last week are a great reminder of how important it is to change our ways of interacting (with) and inhabiting our Planet,” said Bumsti. “I am passionate about supporting organisations like POW, POW Japan, and my buddy Paul Nuttall’s social enterprise Sustainable Ski Bums so that our grandchildren and great grandchildren have the opportunity to enjoy this awesome element that we call snow. Because life without snow would be a mistake!”