How can an event be so lucky? Four days prior to the 16th incarnation of the Verbier Xtreme, with the last snowfall having hit the area a full four weeks prior to the event, the legendary Bec des Rosses looked even more menacing than usual. The cold, north face drops 1,640 feet at an angle of 45 to 56 degrees, and this year the Bec, with its notoriously sharky terrain, was baring an even bigger mouthful of razor-sharp teeth.
On inspection day, top big-mountain skiers and snowboarders from around the world were visibly sketched as they scanned the face for a line that could win and wouldn't kill them in the process. Then the snow came. Last Thursday, 8 inches of snow and a howling southwest wind miraculously transformed the face overnight. Another 4 inches blew in on Saturday, postponing the event until Sunday. Saturday night word came in from the head guide that the face was in great condition with a consistent layer of fresh snow over a solid base. Sunday morning, the day of the event, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
The ladies started with aggressive riding. Former FIS/Olympic ski racer, Sweden's Janette Hargin, won the women's ski division with a controlled line that included two big, cleanly stomped airs. Hargin is currently first on the Freeride World Champion overall standings. Hargin's sister, Christine Hargin, took second and New Zealand's Janina Kuzma was third.
In women's snowboarding, Anne-Flore Marxer's freestyle cred is in serious danger of being eclipsed by her growing reputation as a freerider. Marxer got into the first FWT competition in Chamonix as a wild card and won the event. She was invited to join the tour and finished on Sunday as the winner of the Verbier Xtreme and the 2011 Freeride World Champion. "I was thinking that I would take a steep line to take speed and jump a lot of cliffs but in the end I decided to be safe partly due to the sluff and hidden rocks," Marxer said. "This title makes all my efforts this season worth it." American Maria De Bari and Austrian Ursula Wohlschlager rounded out the women's snowboard podium.
In the men's ski division, the only thing standing between five of Europe's best freeriders -- Stefan Hausl, Aurélien Ducroz, Samuel Anthamatten, Reine Barkered and Henrik Windstedt -- and the Freeride World Champion title was a win on the Bec. Windstedt drew the first bib number, dropped in, pointed for the first drop, nailed a shark on the takeoff and crashed. After a hairy tumble, the Swede cowboyed up, skied several hundred feet of 45-degree terrain -- on one ski -- retrieved his tombstoned ski and finished the course.
In the end it was Aurélien Ducroz who, with the third-to-last bib number, couldn't believe that nobody had taken his line by the time he dropped. Ducroz threw down his trademark fast, fluid style with a couple of cleanly stomped drops to take home the day's win and the 2011 Freeride World Champion title, his third overall title. "Everything went perfect for me today," Ducroz said. "I was really surprised nobody went on my line and thought to myself, 'You guys gave me a big present!'" France's Jérémy Prévost and Adrien Coirier took second and third, respectively, in the Verbier comp.
In men's snowboarding, French charger Xavier de Le Rue's hopes for a fourth consecutive Freeride World Champion title were lost to an unusually bad season, but that didn't stop his domination of the Bec des Rosses. De Le Rue locked in his fourth Verbier Xtreme win with a line that included a fat double and another nice drop. Austrian Mitch Toelderer placed second and scored the Freeride World Champion overall title. James Stentiford took third in Verbier.
The Nissan Xtreme Verbier is the final event of the men's 2011 Freeride World Tour. The women's eight-event tour includes one more event, the Röldal Freeride Challenge on April 25. The results of the top five women riders are now locked in and Röldal will be a showdown among women hoping to score one of the remaining spots on the 2012 Freeride World Tour.