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freeskiers

Tom Bause

Storms and Stunts in Stubai

As the FIS Freeski World Cup made its first ever stop in Stubai, a duo of Scandanavian shooting stars defied the glacial storm winds and delivered a spectacular show.

By Chris Cummins

“I am speechless,” gasped Jennie Lee Burmansson, “I am just so happy that I don’t know what to say.” The Swedish skier had just won the women’s event at th FIS World Cup in Stubai at the tender age of 15 and she’d won it in tricky conditions.

The wind had been blasting over the Stubai glacier, blowing uphill into the faces of the skiers, slowing their speed on the approach to the kickers and thereby reducing their time in the air. Nonetheless Burmansson managed to land a Left Cork 720, Right 540 und Switch 540 on her first run and leave the rest of the chasing field with too much to do.

the winners

Tom Bause

The New Era

It was great just to see the world’s elite in action. Austria has waited a long time to host a FIS World Cup freeski event. Since the last edition of the Austrian Freeski Open four years the sport has been in a state of flux; going through a sort of puberty that has involved lost innocence but new possibilities.

Freesking has become an Olympic discipline and has been absorbed in the rigorous system of care offered by the FIS (International Ski Federation).

On the one hand that has meant that the joyous, renegade devil-may-care image the sport had fostered may belong to the past. But for ambitious skiers there has been the opportunity to hone their talents with the aid of training camps, junior development teams, physios and a clear route to the Olympics - the biggest stage in the world.

Jumps have gone higher, tricks have got more spectacular and intricate and new talent has invigorated the scene. The speed of change is dizzing. What was cutting-edge 12 months ago is now de-rigeur and that is happening season after season. It is no real surprise that a 15-year old took the top prize.

Canadian coach TJ Schiller

Chris Cummins

Still only 31 himself, Canadian TJ Schiller is considered a sort of godfather of the youthful freeski world where riders tend to peak before their 25th birthday. Now acting as a coach for the next generation of his countrymen, he is astounded by how the boundaries are being pushed by shooting stars:

“They are doing things that are just incredible. We had 14 and 15 year olds here in Stubai doing the same tricks that the top guys are doing. They are going to blow the sport apart. It is frightening really.”

„A Bigger Media Platform For Freeskiing“

It’s good to see them frightening us here on Austrian snow, said the man who brought the World Cup to Stubai. Erich Flatscher spent the weekend stalking calmly around on the glacier in yellow ski trousers with an eye on the weather and the media and the wellbeing of the athletes. He’d been working up to this showcase event, televised live on ORF 1, for nearly 18 months.

“The freeskiing scene in Austria is very big. There are so many young talented skiers involved in the sport,” he told me, “and so they deserve a platform like this to show their skills to a bigger media platform.”

The windy conditions had hounded the event, causing, in particular, delay after delay for the women’s qualifying on Saturday. “It makes you kind of nervous,” said Swiss skier Giulia Tanno of Switzerland, who broke her arm in a frightening crash at the 9 Queens last spring, “because you’re just waiting around and you don’t know when it is going to happen, or if it is going to happen at all. But in the end I think it is just part of the game and you have to just find a way to keep your focus.”

An Austrian in the Final

In the men’s event, it was a disappointing end to a great weekend for Sam Baumgartner from Hinterstoder in Upper Austria. In his first ever Slopestyle World Cup event he’d caused a minor sensation by qualifying for the final , the only Austrian to make the cut.

Sadly he reached too high and crashed on both runs, finishing back in 15th place. Still, it was a valuable step towards a possible starting big on the greatest platform in skiing – the Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

It’s the obvious season highlight but Baumgartner is batting away questions about the shadow of such glory:

“I wouldn’t say that it has created any extra pressure. Maybe it is at the back of my mind because everyone is talking about it, but it is not in my mind when I am skiing. I am just concentrating on the event at hand.”

Freesking

Tom Bause

The men’s event was won by Oystein Braaten, who was imperious through his routine of a Switch Rightside Double Cork 1080 Reverse Japan and a Switch Leftside Double Rodeo 900 Double Japan. “I landed what I wanted to do,” grinned the Norwegian winner. “I’m just glad I could get up the speed to pull of my plans.”

He says the wind was a nuisance when he was in the start hut, but as soon as he launched his run he just forgot about it. He was coy about his Olympic chances: “My plans for this season are just to land some good runs, stay injury free and keep skiing as much as possible.”

The Shadow Of The Olympics

And yet the Olympics have to be playing on the top athletes minds says TJ Schiller because they present them with a tactical quandary. “You have to kick ass at each event but you can’t afford to hurt yourself so you can’t take too much risk,” he says. And yet the competition never sleeps, so if you play it too safe and become too passive and new star might emerge and snatch away the Olympic start bib you were saving yourself for: “People are going to be stepping it up to get on a team. So where is that fine line between making the best run you can possibly do that is safe and not too crazy. That’s the balance, but that’s what the sport of freesking is all about.”

Colline

Chris Cummins

I think the French star Coline Ballet-Baz has the right approach when she evokes the old spirit of fearing nothing but fear itself. “For sure it would be a bummer to get injured now,” she told me, “but sometimes the best way not to get injured is to go for it 100%. So yeah, I am just going to ski the way I ski and see what happens.”

It is going to be a long and fascinating winter.

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