The 2017 Verbier Xtreme went off yesterday, with blue skies, perfect snow, and next-level riding. Carrying on a 22-year tradition, 10 snowboarders dropped in on the infamous Bec des Rosses, testing their mettle on the labyrinth of rock with hopes of distinguishing themselves as masters of line selection, terrain management, and flow in extreme conditions. Sammy Luebke and Anne-Flore Marxer won the day, with Davey Baird (2nd) and Jonathan Penfield (3rd) rounding out the men’s podium and Marion Haerty (2nd) and Canadian Audrey Hebert (3rd) the women’s. Marion’s second was enough to win her the title of Freeride World Tour World Champion. Luebke’s win in Haines had already secured him the title.
The Verbier Xtreme, notorious among big mountain snowboarders, marks the pinnacle of competitive freeriding– it’s the flagship event for Freeride World Tour, and the competition that served as the model for building the tour in 2007. “We really created Freeride World Tour around Verbier Xtreme,” said Nicolas Hale-Woods, CEO of FWT and one of two founders of the Xtreme. “In ’94 we rode the Bec des Rosses on snowboards for a film, and spontaneously 100 guys stopped here [the on-mountain event village] and watched. We thought, ‘if we bring the best guys in the world here, it will be special.’ In ’97 we had the idea to expand to a tour– 10 years later we found the funding with Nissan as a title sponsor, and were able to do three events with a final in Verbier.”
This year, ‘special’ barely did the Xtreme justice. After a difficult season on the for snowpack and stability, the Bec des Rosses gave everyone a reason to finish the season stoked. Steve Klassen, owner of Wave Rave Snowboard Shop in Mammoth and winner of five Verbier Xtremes (including the snowboard-only inaugural event), was a course forerunner for yesterday’s competition. “The snow quality was as good as it gets,” he said, “The snow had a really light layer on top, and then just got denser as you got deeper. It was really consistent from top to bottom, and that’s usually not how it is up there.”
With Steve’s report, the riders dropped in with confidence, taking speed into hits and milking deep and soulful turns. Sammy sent massive airs including a jaw-dropping double, showing once again his dominance on the tour. Anne-Flore turned quickly, and didn’t hesitate above her drops. Audrey popped ollies through the open sections of her run, having fun with it and enjoying the last moments of her rookie season on the tour. But despite the excellent conditions, there were still (as in any big mountain environment) unforeseen challenges that posed problems for some riders. Ralph Backstrom, for example, put down an amazing top section, riding fast and stomping two cliffs with zero hesitation. He ran into trouble crossing a fracture line at the bottom third of the slope. “I underestimated it– it was big, and kind of dished out. Hauling ass into an uphill landing… as soon as I saw it I knew I was going to crash.” Ralph’s bail was heavy, a massive tomahawk that reminded everyone the seriousness of the Bec.
All in all, the event was a high point in this season’s competitive freeriding. Xavier De La Rue, a multiple Verbier Xtreme Winner and World Tour Champion (who did not enter the competition, for the first time in 15 years), commentated, proud as he explained the runs that would carry on his legacy. “I was super proud of Sammy and Ralph, representing snowboarding and sending big lines. This season there were really difficult conditions, and apart from Alaska they were never really able to express themselves. Today that’s what they did, and they put a good shine on snowboarding.”
You can see the action for yourself with full replays of the women’s categories here, and of the men’s categories here. For more information on the Verbier Xtreme and the Freeride World Tour, visit www.freerideworldtour.com.