It was full-on action in the steeps of The Remarkables Alta Chutes today with skiers and snowboarders competing in The North Face Frontier 4* freeride event as part of the 2023 Winter Games NZ.
With a line up including seasoned Freeride World Tour (FWT) competitors as well as a host of up-and-coming riders eager to test their mettle against the best, there was no holding back in the battle for the podium. New Zealand athletes made the most of the home advantage, claiming seven of the 12 medal spots.
First out of the gates were the women snowboarders, with 13 competitors in the hunt for the medals. Conditions were hard and fast but France’s Noémie Equy was up to the challenge and stepped up from her second-place finish in yesterday’s 2* event to claim the win in her first ever 4* competition.
“It was a really interesting run on icy terrain,” she remarked. “I actually really enjoyed it and I am happy with my run. I did not really do what I planned to, I chose to jump less features and make smaller jumps but I am still happy because I managed to do a little 360. This is my first time in New Zealand and my first time in a 4* competition. The experience was really good. It’s awesome having so many women in the competition.”
New Zealand’s Claire McGregor, a former FWT athlete, finished second with Jaimie Figueira (CAN) in third.
It was a close finish between Kiwi athletes Max King and Mitchell Davern in the men’s snowboard category with Max claiming the top spot on 87.67 points to Mitchell’s 85. Fast through the mogul section at the top of the course, Max landed some big clean 360s, and kept up a fast, fluid pace all the way to the finish line.
“There was lots of space to go fast and it looked really nice for a wee 360 so I went for it and stuck it,” explained Max. “Overall I’m just happy that I could get that down today.”
Austen Brown (CAN) was the third-place finisher.
The 15-strong women’s ski field came out charging, pushing themselves in the challenging terrain and difficult conditions. First to drop into the course, Australia’s Zanna Farrell set the bar high, with the fastest women’s run of the day, showing good control as she sped her way through the venue getting some solid airtime as she hit the rock features and earning points for solid grabs.
New Zealanders Jessie Violet and Jess Hotter, both familiar faces on The North Face Frontier podium, knew they were going to have to go big to nail the win today and both opted for a backflip on their final feature. There were only two points in it but in the end, Jessie took out the top spot by taking a more fall line approach to her line, going bigger on her tricks and stomping the landing on her backflip.
“Winning in New Zealand is really special,” said Jessie who is hoping to use today’s result to launch her Northern Hemisphere competition campaign. “A win at The Frontier just makes such a big difference going overseas, so I’m really stoked on that.
“I’m really excited to see so many women throw down today,” she continued. “The level of rising was so high and I’m really, really happy.”
Zanna Farrell finished in third place.
Last category of the day to drop into the venue, the men’s ski field put on a heart-stopping display of fast, technical skiing, hunting out the exposed terrain and rock drops to launch tricks and score extra points wherever possible.
The USA’s Henry Zakowski, who has spent his season coaching young freeride athletes at The Remarkables, held on to the hot seat for quite some time after laying down a well-executed run which incorporated four 360s and a double drop in the pipeline chute and finished his day in third place.
Saving the best for last, it came down to the last two riders of the day to seal the win. 2022 winner Blake Marshall attacked the course, throwing down some stylish tricks and getting huge airs. He ended up with a little too much speed, causing him to fly right past a crucial feature and miss a crucial opportunity for a few more points. He landed a ginormous backflip off the windlip at the bottom of the course for an impressive score of 92 points, enough for second place.
Fynn Powell backed up his win in yesterday’s 2* event with a stunning run which earned him a score of 95.33 points. Starting out with a 360 out the gate he aired right into the rock exposure and tackled the most challenging terrain in the venue without any sign of hesitation. The judges described his run as almost flawless.
“I’m feeling so great,” said Fynn after the event. “I’ve always loved this event and I’m overwhelmed to be able to put my run down today. I’ve been lucky enough to ski here all season so I’ve had a long time to scope this. I’m happy to land on my feet. My brother has been injured this season with a broken back so I’m happy to fill some shoes for him.”
The final event of the 2023 FIS Park and Pipe Junior World Championships went down today with the Big Air Finals. After qualifiers the expectation was high, and the athletes did not disappoint, laying down hugely technical tricks.
It was an amazing day, with perfect weather and a world class jump allowing the junior athletes to show the world their talent. The thrilling day started with the freeski finals for the women and men who had qualified through on Sunday.
Linshan Han of China was initially the one to beat after stomping double cork 1080 mute grab on her first run, but Flora Tabanelli of Italy (slopestyle silver medallist from slopestyle) answered back swiftly with her own massive double cork 1080 rotation.
Combined with her first run score, she was unbeatable and was crowned the champion today. Tabanelli explained; "It feels really good, I am really happy. I hope to continue with these results into the 2024 Northern Hemisphere season."
Tabanelli was joined on the podium by Linshan Han in second place and Ruyi Yang in third place, both of China.
The men's freeski finals were dominated by one athlete from the get go - Leo Landroe of Norway. Claiming the two highest scores of the day, he was untouchable from the moment he dropped into run one. This was also Landroe's second 2023 Junior World Championships podium, he also claimed bronze in Slopestyle earlier in the week.
Landroe was understandably stoked after his win, saying; "It feels amazing, it was so much fun to ski today, I am super happy. Landing the triple cork 1800 mute grab was my favourite trick, and today was just the third time I have ever done this trick. I was nervous but then I was so happy when I landed!"
The men's freeski podium was rounded out by Matthew Lepine of Canada and Fadri Rhyner of Switzerland, for whom this was also his second podium at this Junior World Champs.
Up next we saw the snowboarders in action, with the women dropping in first. It was a hard fought battle for the women's podium, with the women pushing each other to their limits.
Emeraude Maheux of Canada was crowed the Junior World Champion today. Despite coming into finals as the sixth overall qualifier out of the 12 women in finals, Maheux showed she had the nerve and the quiver of tricks to rise to the top come time for the main event.
After stomping a big switch backside 720 Weddle on her first run, Maheux wasn’t able to put her frontside double cork Indy down clean in run number two. However, with her final run of the 2023 JWCs the 17-year-old stepped up and stomped that trick down, adding a score of 87.25 to her 81.75 from run one for a total of 169.00 and the gold medal.
Maheux explained, "It feels great. So happy I landed that run. It was a really good day. Stressful but fun and landing the frontside 900 was my favourite trick today!"
Eun Seoung You of Korea finished in second place, with Kiara Morii of Japan rounding out the tightly contested podium in third.
Taiga Hasegawa of Japan, who is the current overall men's snowboard big air world champion, was the favourite today to win the men's finals.
He started off his finals with a statement trick, putting down a near-perfect cab 1620 frontside grab for a score of 92.00 that had him well in the lead after run one. However, after washing out on the landing of on run two, Rocco Jamieson of New Zealand was holding the top spot after the second of three runs.
After Jamieson's third and final run he remained in the top spot, but with six riders who had qualified into finals ahead of him still to drop, it was a nervous wait. The final athlete of the day Hasegawa dropped in and stomped a regular frontside 1620 frontside grab, giving him a dominant big air gold.
Jamieson finished in silver medal position, in the biggest podium results of his young career, with Italy's Ian Matteoli rounding out the podium in third.
And with that, the 2023 FIS Park & Pipe Junior World Championships were in the books, showing that the next generation is ready to set the world alight and setting the stage for the season to come.