“That is the most awe-inspiring, exciting thing I have seen in my whole life!” That heartfelt quote by a British spectator over in Verbier on holiday captures the essence of the Verbier Ride.
The Verbier Ride in its sixth year has grown from a small resort-based ski bash into a feature event on the four-stop IFSA Freeskiing World Tour in 2006. As IFSA international president and World Tour head judge, Jim Jack, commented in the aftermath of some of the finest Big Mountain freeskiing the circuit has seen, “this is a special venue. The atmosphere is incredible and the Mont Gele face just phenomenal.”
The west face of Mont Gele in Verbier, Switzerland is one of the most fearsome slopes in skiing. Its perfect triangular peak looms over the Attelas lift station, a mass of dark rock and jutting cliff bands, speckled with shelves of snow, narrow couloirs and the occasional open expanse of white. On first viewing, there are few obvious descents. For the sport of freeskiing it makes a perfect venue. As US professional freeskier and Verbier Ride finalist Tyson Bolduc explained “It's such an epic face, it pushes your mental focus and skiing ability to the limit!”
With the qualification round completed on the Sunday, the Big Mountain finals took place on Tuesday 21 February. As the world's leading riders gathered around the start gates, the tension was palpable. Only a select few riders would make it through to the Superfinals the next day and the prospect of gaining World Tour points and sharing in the $10,000 prize pot.
The riding was superb, especially given the ultra-challenging snow conditions. For the women Marte Lise Karlsen and Jess McMillan dominated the field. Marte Lise Karlsen just charges on the slopes. Her leg strength and exceptional balance enabled her to ride the sketchy conditions as if she was on a bed of perfect powder. Her run was super smooth, but fast and aggressive as well.
In the men's Craig Gabriel from Kirkwood, Adrien Corier and Olivier Meynet, both from France , showed the best combination of technical skiing, fluidity and creativity to top the scoring. However, ex-world champion, Guerlain Chicherit was lying in fourth and was hungry to regain his crown.
For the Superfinal, nineteen men and six women assembled at the bottom of the Mont Gele ridge on Wednesday morning for the arduous hike to the top of the competition face. After the 30 minute climb riders were fully warmed up by the time they reached their choice of the three start gate options. The Superfinal consisted of two runs, but only the top five men and three women would get a second run – what British freeski icon and Verbier Ride commentator, Jamie Strachan, christened the Super-Duper-Final.
In the women's section Marte Lise Karlsen, Jess McMillan and Laura Ogden won through to the second run. All three displayed superb skiing skill, courageous route choice and great fluidity to impress the judges. When it came to their second run Jess McMillan put in what was clearly the best run of the day for the women, skiing into and successfully out of a particularly exposed funnel chute while snow sluffed off the cliffs around her. However, the results were the combined total of the three final runs and in the end it was Laura Ogden's consistency that won the day. For her precise, controlled and smooth riding, Ogden walked off with the Verbier Ride 2006 Big Mountain title and a cheque for $2,000.
Read more about the Verbier Ride: http://www.verbierride.com