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The Judge's Perspective: The Athletes Do Make a Difference

The Judge's Perspective: The Athletes Do Make a Difference

[ January 21, 2010 - 10:25am ]
Candide at Bib Draw
Freeride World Tour judge Tom Winter gives us a behind-the-scenes look at some of the top athletes competing at this week's Freeride World Tour in Russia.

To understand how the Freeride World Tour differs from similar, competing events, it’s best to start out with the athletes. While other freeride tours have good skiers—excellent skiers, in fact—the FWT has the best. The start list here at Krasnaya Polyana is awash with the hottest ski and snowboard talent of this generation. How good are these guys? Let’s take a look at a few of the competitors here:

Reine Barkered started competing last year on the Freeride World Tour as a relative unknown, finishing second overall while notching up a victory at the Nissan Tram Face event at Squaw Valley, California, and finishing second at the Nissan Xtreme event in Verbier, Switzerland. But the Swedish athlete’s success shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Barkered scored a pair of podium finishes in 2006, winning the Swedish Big Mountain Championships and taking second in the Scandinavian Big Mountain Championships and he exploded two years later in 2008 with multiple wins including taking the top spot at the Lofoten Freeride, the Hemsedal Freeride and the Norway Freeride Cup.  Add in a second place finish at a Freeride Qualification event held in Schruns, Austria and it’s pretty easy to understand that those who overlook Barkered in 2010 do so at their peril.

And, to be honest, as impressive as Barkered’s resume is, it is par for the course here. Consider snowboarder Xavier de Le Rue. Le Rue’s impressive competition results go all the way back to 2002, when he finished first in Mount Baker, Washington’s legendary Banked Slalom. A few other highlights include Winter X Games gold medals in boarder cross, an FIS world championship overall #1 ranking (2009) in boardercross and countless victories in freeride competitions including first overall for the FWT in 2009 and 2008.

Then there is legendary the French skier Candide Thovex. In more than a decade of organizing, watching and reporting on freeride events, I’ve yet to see an athlete compete in any other tour with the kind of stuff that Thovex brings to the table. Gold medals at Winter X games? Check. Countless movie and film appearances? Check. Numerous podium finishes in slopestyle and halfpipe at prestigious events like the Rip Curl Freeskie and the European Freeskiing Open? Yep.

That’s what makes the World Freeride Tour so compelling. The athletes are pre-qualified based upon Freeride World Qualifying events or on the strength of their resumes. There are no pretenders, just pros. And while Barkered, Le Rue and Thovex are only three of the guys here in Krasnaya Polyana, the rest of the field is just as impressive. So strong is it, in fact, that even our group of jaded and cynical judges is excited and hard pressed to identify a favorite. And, with the weather getting colder and snow falling on top of the mountain today, we won’t have to wait much longer to see the action unfold.

Read the first post from judge Tom Winter. Or check out Tom's column, Winter on Winter.

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