Verbier Xtreme in Switzerland

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I have been to more Big Mountain Freeskiing competitions, than anyone I can think of. This year I got invited to the Verbier Xtreme in Switzerland. No big deal really, I’ve been invited to a bunch of contests. Coming from a girl that has been to the best competitions the world has to offer, I can honestly say there is not one other contest that compares to the Verbier Xtreme. With the combination of a crazy peak, a town that goes off, and some incredibly talented and fit athletes, this is a competition that surpasses all others.

First, you’ve got the venue, the Bec des Rosses. This 55-degree slope is about an hour’s hike off the Mt. Fort tram in Verbier. So it’s a little steep. Whatever, I’ve skied down steep stuff before. It’s a 1600ft run that peaks at 11,000ft above sea level with cliffs everywhere. There is absolutely no way to ski this peak without being above gnarly exposure. With massive exposure everywhere and a long 55-degree pitch, the Bec des Rosses is insanely hard to ski fluidly without stopping. Fluidity is part of the formula for doing well in a Freeskiing contest. You have to be extremely fit for your legs to be able to handle the length and seriousness of this terrain.

Secondly, nobody is allowed to ski the Bec des Rosses for three weeks before the competition. The organizers make sure of this by sticking a guy at the bottom of the hike everyday for three weeks. Doesn’t matter if it’s storming or freezing cold, that guy is there, watching. Although it would have been really great to go up there and see what the Bec des Rosses is really like, this at least ensures that we get fresh snow.

On the flip side of that, the patrol doesn’t do any avalanche control and the fresh snow covers up hidden rocks everywhere. Not only do you have to watch out for your own sluff (the surface snow that releases when you ski) possibly taking you out, but you also have to be aware that there could be covered rocks looming under that snow at any point. This is why the organizers make all the competitors wear full face helmets, harnesses, back protectors, avalanche transceivers, a back pack with a probe and shovel in it and make us do transceiver searches before the competition.

So, without being able to ski this overwhelming peak, you have to pick a line just from looking at it. We all have binoculars and digital cameras out trying to pick solid lines. Not having ever been on the Bec it was virtually impossible for me to pick a line that I could be sure I wouldn’t get lost on and would impress the judges. I was envious of the athletes that had been up there before and tried to get as much information out of them as possible. In the end, I didn’t pick a great line and ended up loosing my way, missing a crucial turn that would have taken me over the three airs I had picked out.

That brings us to Verbier. The town gets taken over by this competition. Thousands of spectators come to see the event so they shut down the main street and make it into a festival with pig roasts and booths with a number of companies showing off their products. There’s a main stage with a huge screen behind it where they introduce all the athletes and have us draw bibs and in the end have the award ceremony. Every night we signed posters for hundreds of people. Tram loads of people watch the competitors come down the Bec des Rosses then come and watch it again in town while the competitors vote for who they think should win a brand new Nissan pick-up truck.

Marja Persson from Sweden put the best women’s run together, picking a fast, fluid and open area of the peak, airing a couple of cliffs on the way to win the women’s skiers side.

In the men’s skiing there were a lot of crashes, more than half the men fell breaking a bunch of equipment but no bones. Last year’s winner Kaj Zackrisson went the more technical route at the top making his run just slightly less fluid but still incredibly impressive with a number of large airs including an insane triple. He couldn’t knock out Frenchman Olivier Meynet who ended up winning the much-desired brand new Nissan pick-up truck worth over 30,000 euros. The best part of that is that Olivier doesn’t even have a driver’s license, so I suspect there’s a Nissan truck for sale.

On the snowboard end, Ruth Leisibach from Verbier won the women’s competition for the third time in a row. Xavier De Le Rue from France won the men’s after winning the qualifiers competition the week before.

I ended up in forth place. It’s not the greatest result I’ve ever had but this was definitely the greatest competition I’ve ever been to and I can’t wait to come back next year. Hopefully with stronger legs!

Author

Jen Ashton

Date

April 14, 2007