The 10th edition of the Freeride World Tour got underway in a big way last week, and it was the Americans who ran the house, taking a third of the 12 podium spots on Day 1 in Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra. Drew Tabke won the men’s ski competition, while Sammy Luebke continued his dominance on the men’s snowboard side, earning his fourth win in six tries.
“I had really bad nerves this morning. Usually I’m not that nervous, but I kind of took that as a good sign,” Tabke told GrindTV. “I knew I was going to try and ski hard, ski a line that was going to put me in the running … I’ve been competing for 12 years, so I relied on experience and put it on autopilot.”
The Andorra stop was originally set to take place Feb. 11, but with sunny skies, cold temperatures and over a foot of new snow up high, event organizers decided to bump the action to Feb. 9 to take advantage of the brief weather window.
Despite having 13 athletes in the 55-person competition field, American domination is anything but a sure bet, especially when it comes to European soil. Because of international travel days, fatigue and lack of general home-turf knowledge, North Americans are often at a distinct disadvantage compared to their European counterparts.
A win, much less a pair of them, is something of a rarity for Americans on the FWT. In fact, only a handful of Americans have been able to come across the pond and walk away with the coveted FWT overall crown (including Tabke in 2013 and Luebke in 2016).
While the move (along with a last-second course change) was a lot to handle for the first event of the season, Tabke threw down the gauntlet early, skiing a unique and fluid line accentuated by a drop into a big backflip at the bottom. Spaniard Aymar Navarro did his best to steal the show with a death cliff that defied reason, but ended the day in third. It was the first-ever podium for a Spaniard on the FWT.
Luebke reasserted why he is best in the world with an absolutely flawless top-to-bottom display that earned him the early season win outright. Following in his wake, Thomas Feuerstein of Austria finished second, and hard-charging American Ralph Backstrom shot through a no-fall chute to take third on just his fourth day on snow this season.
“[With the cancellation of the Verbier event] we have been in Europe for two weeks now, and snowboarding has been at a minimum,” said Luebke. “To show up in Andorra with good snow and keep the streak going, it’s been epic.”
After a week of skiing and training around the Andorra Pyrenees, Americans kicked off the second stop of the FWT (rescheduled from Chamonix) where they left off, with the ladies making serious moves in both the skiing and snowboarding competitions. Shannan Yates earned second in a historic women’s snowboard event, finishing on the podium at the age of 39 — nearly double the age of some of her competitors. In women’s skiing, American Jackie Paaso added to her second place from Day 1 with another second on Day 2, giving her the overall lead in the women’s ski field heading into the Fieberbrunn, Austria, event on March 6.
Luebke continued his strong riding as well, earning second in men’s snowboarding.
With nearly a month before the Austria event, North American athletes will scatter back to their home stomping grounds or remain in Europe to chase snow and high mountains. It’s a unique break that can give the bruised and battered second life — and cost red-hot athletes precious momentum. For Americans, it means long flights and uncertain winters, but at least for now, they head back home in position for some end-of-season hardware.
For a full schedule of events and results for the 2017 Swatch Freeride World Tour, tune in to freerideworldtour.com.