The first of the Winter Games NZ freeride events got underway today at The Remarkables Ski Field in Queenstown, with skiers and snowboarders competing in The North Face Frontier 2-star event. A long-running event on the Freeride World Qualifier international calendar and one of the first of the 2023 season, today’s competition once again saw a heavy-hitting field ready to unleash on the course venue in Shadow Basin despite some challenging snow and weather conditions.
The start list featured 76 competitors from a dozen different countries and a good mixture of young, up-and-coming riders and more experienced athletes using today’s event as a warmup for the 4-star competition later in the week. New Zealand athletes were on strong form and landed six out of the 12 podium places.
Icy underfoot and with snow showers coming in and out throughout the day, the decision was made for safety reasons to allow competitors to make an on-site course inspection rather than the usual visual-only inspection from the bottom of the course, and head judge Dion Newport warned riders to make smart decisions when tackling the exposed terrain.
Competitors were judged on the technicality of their line choice through the course venue, including their use of the natural features, and were rewarded for maintaining fluidity rather than hesitating before hitting features, and showing strong technique and control throughout their run, with points also awarded for ‘air and style’ including the size of any jumps, tricks and grabs.
Women’s snowboard was the first category of the day with Canada’s Jaimie Figueira topping the scoreboard with fast fluid riding at the top of the course, well-linked turns all the way down the venue and a small indy grab to finish her run.
“It was definitely pretty challenging out there, the snow was pretty rock solid,” Figuera explained after her run. “I had a couple of turns where I got bounced off the ground but I didn’t have any falls so I was stoked with that.”
Second place went to Josephine Wruck (AUS), with Zoe Macgeorge (SUI) in third.
Kiwis took a clean sweep of the men’s snowboard podium with Ronan Thompson once again taking out the top spot to back up his win at The North Face Frontier 2-star event in 2020. Coming hot out of the gate, Thompson impressed the judges with fast riding and a huge 360.
“That was tough out there,” said Thompson. “I just wanted to do the 360, that was my goal for the day. It was a real fast run out with not great snow but I’ve done that before, so I thought I’ll go with what I know.”
Scott Beacom finished in second place, also scoring highly for fast, fluid riding with solid airs and well executed tricks including a 180 at the bottom of the course. Max King finished third with a clean frontside 360 off a cliff at the bottom of the course a highlight in his run.
Kiwi athletes also went one-two in the women’s ski field with Jessie Violet in first place and Elke Marshall second. 19-year-old Jessie Violet, who has previously landed on the podium at junior freeride events, proved that she is ready to make her mark on a bigger stage, putting aside her concerns about the icy conditions and skiing an extremely fast, aggressive line from top to bottom of the course and incorporating a huge air into her run.
“The bottom half of the course is fun, but the top half is really challenging,” said Violet after her run. “Conditions were really icy but I thought my run was ok and I liked that bottom air.”
GB’s Rachel Little finished in third place in women’s ski.
Last category of the day, the men’s ski field saw some of the biggest and gnarliest tricks of today’s competition. Japan’s Tenra Katsuno described the course as “sharky” but didn’t let that stop him from launching an enormous backflip off a windlip and then backing it up with a double rock drop. Katsuno, who only made the step up from junior to senior level competition two years ago, impressed the judges with his fast, controlled skiing.
“I was just focusing on the windlip to start and hadn’t decided what I was going to do next, it all depended on how the windlip went,” Katsuno explained. “Once I’d done that I thought, ok here we go, let’s do some tricks.”
Kiwi Lach Powell picked up a second-place finish in men’s ski, making a crucial turn before the windlip feature before launching into a leftside 360 followed by a huge air. Third place went to Calum MacAllister from Great Britain who landed a solid air at the top of the course followed by a left 360 off the windlip into a tight, exposed chute. Had it not been for a small butt check he could have been a challenger for second place.
Next on the Winter Games NZ freeride programme is the 4-star event, which will be held on Thursday. Taking the competition standard up another few notches, only the best of the best are eligible to compete in FWQ 4* events. The course venue is the Alta Chutes, which with its steep, exposed terrain provides a formidable stage and the promise of some heart-stopping action.
Winter Games NZ is the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest snow sports event, featuring 16 events across alpine, freeride and park and pipe disciplines between the 27th August and 11th September.
The North Face Frontier 2* Results: