As the fifth and last event prior to the big season finale in Verbier, Switzerland this weekend, every rider who dropped into the 600-meter Wildseeloder face at the Swatch Big Mountain Fieberbrunn by Nissan last weekend had something on the line...
Some needed to score enough points to get an invitation to Verbier while those at the top of the ranking were going for the win in order to break into the lead for the overall title. Today four Austrians dominated the podium with Stefan Hausl (AUT) and Mitch Toelderer (AUT) taking the top step with solid, exciting runs down the challenging face.
Faced with a long, demanding venue with less than perfect snow, today's event was notable due to the riders who played it safe by focusing on fluid lines to preserve their position in the rankings. Others, on the other hand charged the course with everything they had in order to score the critical points that would boost them towards the top of the rankings.
British snowboarder James Stentiford took the 3rd place at the Fieberbrunn Freeride World Tour event. He is now in 7th position of the overall ranking.
"I was very nervous on the top. Y'know sometimes on the top you feel really energetic and good and sometimes you feel really nervous, not sure what you're doing there. That's how I felt today. But as soon as I got riding and the snow wasn't as bad as I thought it was gonna be I got confident. I didn't really do anything big but I tried to stay fluid and just have a nice flow, jump off a few things, stay on my feet and for a guy from the UK to come third, and me being nearly 40, I think that's a good achievement so I'm going to celebrate."
James will compete in the final in Verbier on Saturday 19 March, on the infamous Bec des Rosses.
"In the back of my mind, even though you try not to think about it, I knew I wanted to try to make it to Verbier and I have two good results and one bad, so I thought I better stay on my feet. I don't know, I think I might have made it and if I have then in Verbier I can let it go and jump off some big stuff."
Austrian rider Stefan Hausl was clearly one of the latter, charging hard, and took the lead early with a crowd-pleasing line that started with a cleanly landed 15-meter air, and followed with a fast and fluid line from top to bottom ending with a big, old-school "Spread Eagle" trick at the bottom. Reine Barkered (SWE) came in second followed by Fieberbrunn's native son Matthias Haunholder (AUT).
Stefan Hausl (AUT): "It was a perfect day. The conditions were very difficult, like spring conditions but we gambled a little bit and in the end most of the Austrians made the right decisions for this venue. This is my first FWT victory and after I placed third in Sochi I'm completely stoked. This face is perfectly tailored for my riding style: at the beginning it's very steep and difficult with big rocks, then there's a section where I could show some speed, then, in the last section, I tried to two or three fun things."
The men's overall ranking has been amazingly close all season long and following Hausl's win today, (his first of the season), we now have our fifth overall leader after as many contests. Hausl (4300 points) is a mere five points ahead of last week's leader Samuel Anthamatten (SUI, 4295 points) with Aurélien Ducroz (FRA, 4180 points) dropping from second to third.
The snowboard men were no less exciting with the Austrian locals pushing hard for the win. As the second snowboarder out of the gate, Mitch Toelderer (AUT) rode the course like a man possessed, with a run that started immediately out of the gate with a few smaller drops to landing a huge double jump clean and then taking a six-meter cliff drop with a slightly sketched landing. Coming in second place was another Austrian Max Zipser followed by the sole Englishman on the tour, James Stentiford, with his best finish of the season.
Mitch Toelderer (AUT): "For an Austrian to win at Fieberbrunn for such an amazing audience, it was really special for me. Max [Zipser], Stefan [Hausl] and Hauni [Matthias Haunholder] and I all rode almost the same line and it was a really good decision, but in the beginning I was not sure. But I'm super happy that everything went as planned and that we decided to go on this spectacular line."
James Stentiford (UK): "I'm happy that I stayed on my feet all the way through the course and to be on the podium is better than I expected. It's a great achievement for someone from the UK. Basically I decided yesterday to go skiers' right because no one had chosen that line. I tried to stay fluid, keep my speed, I jumped over a few things and stayed on my feet."
Austria's Flo Orley rode into this event in the top overall position with 5300 points his lead is solid enough that he remains in the top position going into Verbier. However, Mitch Toelderer's win today boosts him into second place with 5200 points while 2010 Freeride World Tour Champion, Xavier de Le Rue (FRA) drops into third with 4360 points.
Next Stage: Verbier, Switzerland
After an incredible season of strong riding across Europe, North America and Russia, the men skiers and snowboarders will finally compete in the event that they have worked so hard to reach... The season finale Nissan Xtreme Verbier 2011 by Swatch is scheduled to take place on 19 March on the legendary Bec des Rosses face. Now in its 16th edition, this event is the longest-running big mountain competition in the world and riders will be giving everything they have to not only see their name alongside past winners but also for the chance to win the overall ranking and be crowned 2011 Freeride World Champion. This is an event you do not want to miss so if you can't be in Verbier to see it live then check the live stream on FreerideWorldTour.com.