The Future of Freeride is Coming of Age
The Future of Freeride is Coming of Age: How the Junior Freeride Movement Has Created a League of Up-and-Coming Superstars
Champions are not made overnight and while it’s every freerider’s dream to stand on top of the podium in Verbier, Switzerland and bask in the glory of the prestigious title of Freeride World Champion, it’s a long road to becoming a finely-tuned freeride machine. Now in its 10th edition, the Swatch Freeride World Tour (FWT) and Freeride World Qualifier by Tyrolia (FWQ) are about to welcome the biggest generation of highly-skilled, talented, and competition-ready Junior riders thanks to the vast development of the Freeride Junior Tour by Head (FJT) from the ground-up.
(c) Jeremy Bernard, Rider: Finn Andersson
Think of any famous athlete – Cristiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan – what do these athletes have in common? Besides being some of the most incredibly gifted athletes in the history of their respective sports, they benefited from sport development programs which allowed them to achieve their dreams through rigorous athletic training, coaching, and organized competition leagues.
Freeride, like any other sport, thrives on a grassroots-level development league, the FJT, which provides the infrastructure to guide young talent to fruition on the qualifier and elite tours. With over 1800 competitors divided over two regions, the Americas and Europe/Oceania, these young riders form the base of a robust league that runs dozens of contests all over the world during the winter in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The governmental body of the FJT is the same as the FWT and is therefore based on the same rules which have proven successful for nearly ten years of elite competition.
"The Open Faces Contests and the Freeride Junior Tour push the limits of all the young talents. It’s really cool when all the guys come together in one place and show each other what they’ve got!"
- Flo Gassner, GER
Coaching is at the heart of the Junior league and the hundreds of young freeriders are supported by regional and national clubs that provide comprehensive mentorship programs offering young riders education in mountain safety, freeride technique, and competition strategy. As the craft of freeride is passed down from generation to generation, the adult coaches that honed their skills in the early years of freeride are now able to pass the torch on to a generation of young riders that can benefit from a league that their forbearers could only have a dreamed of.
(c) Dom Daher
"Competing in the FJT Competitions, for me, is an opportunity to meet other Freeriders and just have fun! Open Faces, the Austrian organiser of Freeride contests, started a coaching program in 2016 called Open faces Junior Squads, and in some Resorts in Austria it seems to be fairly effective in terms of getting teenagers aware of safety and basic skills. Obviously competing in an FWT event is my dream and the FJWC felt quite like a FWT event with the official dinnner, the long travel, having all riders in one hotel and so on."
Ben Hotter, AUT
The culminating moment for any Junior rider’s freeride career – the moment they get their first taste of the pressure that inspires and drives athletes to perform at their highest level – is undoubtedly the Freeride Junior World Championships (FJWC). Just like the elite FWT, the FJWC offers Junior riders a premium competition experience as an invite-only contest that hosts the finest under-18 riders on the planet with a full-scale production crew and cineflex helicopter. The stunning images captured represent the ever-loftier level of riding for this this annual event where the best riders often showcase tricks and lines that would leave professional adults in the dust.
"Being a part of the FJWC amongst some of the best junior riders this year has had a massive influence on my riding and skill development as I have come such a long way to compete in it. Doing the Freeride Junior Tour is like a journey of development, you gain knowledge of competing and line choice in every comp. The FJWC was in a league of its own, as the face was longer than most other comps (being a 4* event) it felt like a World Tour event, making the riders hungry for it."
- Alistair Garland, NZL
But if today’s batch of Junior riders benefit from a culture and foundation that offers them more advantages than ever before in their quest to become future world champions, what does this imply about the current state of the sport? What about the future?
(c) Dom Daher, Rider: Josep Maria Naudi Descarrega
All sports need a vibrant incoming youth cohort to provide a fresh perspective on their respective disciplines, and if the strength of the youth is a sign of what’s to come, then Freeride has a brilliant future. Whether it’s a newfound rejuvenation through the integration of cutting-edge freestyle tricks, or simply reaching a level of performance through the discovery of new talent and the inevitable progression of the sport, the demonstrable truth is that freeride’s best days may be yet to come.