Getting sunshine in Japan is an exceedingly rare occurrence, but you know at some point it’s going to arrive and when it does it’s the shit; even better than you could have possibly imagined. That is why the first stop of the Freeride World Tour in Hakuba, Japan ran a day early this year. The stars aligned and after two years of stormy conditions, the Hakuba FWT event finally got a hallowed Japanese bluebird day.
The wind was still whipping around the peaks and had scoured the exposed parts of the mountain, but lower down the legendary Japanese powder had collected in huge pockets and gave everyone the confidence to send it. We caught up with Mons athletes Gigi Ruf and Manuela Mandl, two of the seven Mons ambassadors on the Tour, to run down the whole event.
Discipline: Snowboard Women
2018 FWT Best Result: Two first place finishes in Vallnord, Andorra and Kicking Horse, Canada
Favourite Mons Piece: Olympus 3.0 Legging
Discipline: Snowboard Men
2018 FWT Best Result: First place at Fieberbrunn, Austria
Favourite Mons Piece: Olympus 3.0 Hood
In the women’s snowboarding there were some very smooth lines laid down, but it was the direct approach of Anna Orlova who eventually triumphed over reigning world champion and Mons Family member Manuela Mandl. In the women’s skiing however, it was business as usual with the reigning world champ and Mons athlete, Arianna Tricomi taking another big win. She opened her line with a huge 360 off the first ridge and then proceeded to tear the mountain to pieces with her inimitable elegance. Despite a solid line from Maud Besse, the judges were forced to give the first win of the year to Ari.
The men’s snowboarding this season is a star studded affair, the reputations of Victor De Le Rue, Travis Rice and Gigi Ruf (best known as film riders) are on the line as they go up against FWT regulars like Sammy Luebke and Davey Baird. De Le Rue, younger brother of four-time FWT champ Xavier fell when he misjudged a landing. Gigi opted for a straight-line approach, building incredible speed and then hitting two of the biggest cliffs in the face. One of which he landed onto a pillow, giving him a commanding score of 87.25. Davey Baird arced a beautiful line down the face that earned him 73.33, making sure that Travis Rice could afford no mistakes if he wanted a spot on the champagne steps. Opening with a 720 into a fresh pocket and stomping it, Travis proceeded down the face like a bull in a china shop, throwing in drops with tweaked grabs and then an inspired backflip off a lip that no one else had seen, let alone could line up. A score of 95 flat was enough for the top step with the Mons athlete double of Gigi and Davey in second and third respectively.
Then it was the men’s skiing, arguably the most competitive field with twenty men waiting to drop. The standard is truly insane now and to win, lines have to be very fast, direct and include some monstrous drops. Mons' own Craig Murray laid down a huge 720 off the first ridge, but was unable to back it up further down the face and found himself in 5th. Local Japanese wildcard Yu Sasaki claimed 4th with a beautifully sculpted run that linked a couple of lovely drops. And Canadian tour rookie, Tom Pfeiffer attacked the face with the urgency and ambition of a man with something to prove. It paid off with a third place at his first ever FWT event. Second went to Tanner Hall who seemed to be treating the comp like an X Games Slopestyle course; hit after hit, trick after trick. Tanner rammed home the point that Travis in the snowboarding and Craig Murray in the skiing had already made; that technical freestyle is very much a part of freeriding in 2019. That said it was Marcus Eder, a man who made his freestyle repertoire work so hard for him in 2018, who took the win with a very technical big mountain approach to his run. The centre piece was a huge transfer mid-face that elicited whoops so loud from the spectators, that they could be heard bleeding through the commentators microphones.
For Mons athletes, it was a great day. Four podium spots, a 5th for Craig Murray and a 10th for Yann Rausis. Now the tour moves to Kicking Horse, Canada and the pressure will start to ratchet up. With only three events until the cut for Verbier, every result is vital.
We'll be following Mons Royale athletes across the globe as they compete at each of the five Freeride World Tour stops this winter. Stay tuned for the next recap from Kicking Horse, Canada on Feb 2nd - 8th.
Photos: Johno Verity & Manuela Mandl
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