Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be a competition skier, or a competition judge. I am an avid amateur who likes to think he skis somewhat well. This article is a lot of speculation on my part, but it comes from a place of wanting to see the Freeride World Tour(FWT) judged fairly and better than it has been this season, and in recent seasons too.
The FWT is a massive operation. Considering how many qualifiers there are in different regions around the world, having a worldwide, unified system for freeride is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. I appreciate everyone involved in the tour for making it happen, riders, judges, organizers, medics, everyone. It is awesome to watch.
That being said, I think that the FWT has had a bit of a judging issue this year, and during the past few years that I’d like to bring to light. But, to explain the present issue, we first must talk about how we got here.
Back in the day freeride was crazy in a different way than it is today. It was about skiing the gnarliest lines, as fast as you could, with control. Here’s the problem with that: To have a chance at winning, skiing the gnarliest line as fast as you could, was mandatory, and if you were skilled, but also lucky, you'd stay in control. To show you what I mean, check out this video from Snowbird’s 2010 Freeskiing world championship:
https://www.newschoolers.com/videos/watch/1037365/2010-Subaru-Freeskiing-World-Championships-at-Snowbird--Utah-Full-TV-ShowThe lines going down here are absurd considering the conditions are essentially spring hardpack. The broom closet double hit by Drew Stoecklein and Lars Chickering Ayers at the end is ridiculous. These are two of the heaviest hitters of that era duking it out on hardpack. The problem with this style of freeride is that eventually, you reach the limit of what the human body can take safely. Injuries, and sadly, even fatalities, forced a change, and a good one at that. Freeride moved away from skiing the gnarliest line, and jumping off the biggest thing as fast as you could, to something a bit safer, and more indicative of skiing ability. Fluidity and control became emphasized in a major way, and as a result, the skiing became less ‘huck and pray’, and more about finding a creative line that you could ski very fluidly, in control, and if possible, with freestyle.
This brings us full-on into the 2010s, where we see skiers like Drew Tabke, Loic Collomb Patton, Kristopher Turdell, and Markus Eder all finding major success on the tour. These skiers specialize in identifying a great line, skiing it well, and making freestyle elements look natural as a part of their line. 2018-2020 was where the judges had it as close to right as it’s ever been in my opinion. Despite the crash at the bottom, I think this run (which everyone agrees was going to be the winning run) exemplifies what a great freeride line should look like.
Now we arrive at the present day, where freestyle reigns supreme. Getting onto the FWT is a grind. It takes a ton of time, money, and travel just to participate in the qualifiers. To actually win the qualifiers, which are often run in not the best conditions, is another beast entirely. In no way shape or form do I want to dog anyone on the tour. Just to make it to the tour is ridiculously hard and an incredible achievement. Despite all this, I think that the average strength and technical skiing ability of skiers on the FWT today is not quite what it once was, or at least it isn’t showcased as well. What the judging system rewards right now is freestyle. If you can put a 360 and a backflip into your run with no control issues, you will outscore the person who did not perform the backflip and 360, or only performed one of those, pretty much every time. Granted backflips and 360s in the middle of freeride lines are extremely difficult. I think they should be rewarded generously, but not to the point where the FWT becomes centered entirely around throwing freestyle tricks.
To give you an example of what I mean, let me point you to this year’s competition at Baqueira Beret. Leif Mumma skied what I would call the best line of the day, with the best fluidity and control that I saw all day.
For his efforts, he received 7th place.
This was 6th Place:
https://www.newschoolers.com/videos/watch/1064586/Le-run-de-Simon-Perraudin----Baqueirat-BeretI can understand why Simon Perraudin scored above him based on the current judging criteria. He had more features up top and skied a new double at the bottom too. The difference between his run, and Leif’s was the fluidity. Leif skied his run beautifully, fluidly, in full control at an incredible pace. Also, his double was a larger, scarier line. Somehow, some way, the fluidity factor needs to be scored higher.
Here is how the FWT is judged in 2023:
https://www.newschoolers.com/videos/watch/1064587/How-Freeriding-is-Judged-on-the-Freeride-World-Tour---FWT23-JudgingWhat becomes apparent to me from this video is that the judging is, in large part, feature-based. There are some points given for control and fluidity, but not enough in my opinion which leads to many lines on the FWT being ‘ski up to a feature, perform on feature, make way to next feature, perform on feature, done’. These kinds of lines seem a bit fractured, and not fully indicative of who the best skier that day is. However, judging criteria as it is today rewards these kinds of lines.
The key change I would make to the judging system is to put an emphasis on tricks being a natural part of your line, not just a checkbox for a backflip or a 360. If I were to judge, it would be something like this: A Great, fluid line with tricks is the ideal. However, the person who skis a great, fluid line to perfection should outscore the person who does a 360 and a backflip while not skiing fluidly, or taking a markedly easier line. Right now, the person who does a 360 and backflip always outscores the skier who takes an amazing line without the freestyle, which isn’t quite right for a freeride competition.
I get that judges can’t be perfect and judging freeride is not easy, but this is an issue that I’ve noticed becoming more prevalent for the past few years. The good news is, the athletes who are at the top of the tour now, Maxime Chabloz, Ross Tester, Max Hitzig, Max Palm, and Marcus Goegen are all pushing freeride the ‘right’ way. They consistently pick great lines, and freestyle becomes a natural part of their line. They don’t ski fractured lines just to have a 360 and a backflip be a part of their run,
Once again, this is largely speculation on my point, and how I personally feel the tour should be judged. I love that we can all watch these incredible athletes perform at fabulous venues in real-time, and I hope it keeps doing well. If you think the judging should be different than what I described above, I’d love to hear why!