Cover photo: Markus Eder capping
The third annual Nendaz Backcountry Invitational went down today and, with the exception of it being ‘I’m still wondering when my genitals will reappear’ cold, it was an absolute banger of an event once again. Seriously, this might be the best ‘competition’ out there right now. I should probably have been in Laax for the World Cup but this felt like a whole different world and I certainly know where I’d rather have been.
The crew scoping dreamland
Once again, this was free-skiing worthy of the name. The vibes, from the start gate to the finish area party, were clear to see. Maybe it was the complete freedom of line choice, the perfect backcountry booters, a crew that was more about the run than the result, the rider-voted podium, or any of the whole host of other things the BCI does right, but this event truly feels different. There are a couple of others I’ve been to with that sort of feel, the B+E invitational springs to mind, as much of a polar opposite as that might seem, but this truly is one of the best events out at the moment. And despite it being below -20C at the start of proceedings, it was full send and constant stoke from start to finish in Nendaz today.
As always with the short call-up time due to the last-minute nature of the event, the rider list was an interesting one. A mixture of local talent and some of the world’s best skiers, there was certainly a varied level on show, but the highlights were many, and not far between. Ralph Welponer (aka easytigerz) isn’t someone I’d ever seen ride outside the park but he was arguably skier of the day for me. He sent a perfect dub 10 first run, following it up with a true backcountry run on his second outing, sending a huge nosebutter(?) three off the start cliff and charging the natural features all the way down.
Spot Lea Bouard sending the huge backflip
Speaking of that cliff, Lea Bouard, who took the win on the women’s side of things, backflipped it first try in one of the gnarliest moments of the comp. And Sven Rauber deserves a shoutout for a loose but lit 7 off it too. Astrid Cheylus was on a mission, stomping threes and backflips all day long and running Leah a close second, and Zuzanna Witych was also mixing it up with three clean runs of her own.
Aside from Ralph, it was the superstars of freeride who dominated the Men's side today, with Maxime Chabloz and Markus Eder stomping insanity on all three of their runs. Maxime put down a smorgasbord of sevens, dub 10s, and even sent a triple backflip. He’s going to be hard to beat on the Freeride World Tour this year. But ultimately, it was Markus Eder who deservedly found his way to the top of the podium. Simply put, it’s a pleasure to watch him ski. He can do it all from doubles to steezy, slow rotations, capping grabs and there was even a nosebutter cork 7 in there too. Simply unstoppable.
Markus even has that OG gorilla steeze when called upon
But in reality, this event isn’t about the particular tricks thrown or who took what podium spot. It’s about showing off what backcountry freestyle can be. A stoked crowd of local kids was watching intently throughout, taking selfies with the riders in the finish area. One even got to take home Markus’ broken pole, showing it off to all his friends as soon as Markus's back was turned. The same kids could be seen chucking (in some cases their first) backies on the smaller of the jumps after the event.
Meanwhile, the finish area had turned into a dance floor despite the cold, and the podium ceremony quickly turned into a dubstep rave. By the time I headed down to write this recap, the beers were flowing and the main party is still to come. This event is a treasure, and I hope I’ll be back next year.
1) Lea Bouard
2) Astrid Cheylus
3) Zuzanna Witych
1) Markus Eder
2) Ralph Welponer
3) Maxime Chabloz
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