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Monday, March 3, 2014
Weather and the Freeride World Tour

By John Rodosky
XGames.com

Wyoming's John Rodosky is one of the fourteen men competing on the snowboarding side of the 2014 Freeride World Tour. Since most contest coverage has taken a backseat to the Olympics this season we asked him to give us an update of how the FWT has been going so far. This is his report.

Competitors on the 2014 Freeride World Tour have been a holding pattern this week, waiting for weather conditions to shape up at the only U.S. FWT stop at Snowbird, Utah. This event was originally supposed to take place in Kirkwood, Calif., but had to be moved due to lack of snow in Tahoe. Finals were originally slated to run Sunday, but wind-loading and heavy snowfall caused a slide on Sunday on Snowbird's Baldy face that the event was supposed to take place on. Tour organizers are currently searching for a new venue on which to hold the contest, which will run on Tuesday or Wednesday if they are successful.

The 2014 season has seen a winter full of weather curveballs. Riders and FWT contest organizers have been forced to cope with unpredictable circumstances since the start of the season. The first FWT event in Revelstoke, B.C. was scheduled to take place mid-December but had to be postponed until March 9 due to low snowpack. Competitors had to make the journey across the Atlantic to finally take part in the first event of the season at Courmayeur, Italy.

Current 2014 FWT points leader, Sammy Luebke, displays the skills that are putting him on top this season.

Unfortunately, that resort was also lacking snow. Because of this organizers were forced to select a new face to hold the contest on because the original choice was a rock-ridden shark pit. After a dramatic battle with the weather that lasted several days, we finally got a clear day and the much-delayed first event of the Tour was able to go down.

From there media, athletes and organizers traveled back through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to the big mountain Mecca of Chamonix, France for stop No. 2. Chamonix was also struggling with a low snowpack, but a last-second storm provided a much needed layer of fresh snow. Thanks to a well-timed break in the weather the event was able to go off just as planned. Chamonix stands alone as the only event of the season to run with clear weather on the original date the contest was scheduled for.

Next we migrated seven hours around the Alps to Fieberbrunn, Austria. Once in Fieberbrunn, a warm weather front and a major wind event left the venue looking more like Mordor than anything that could be safely rippable. So, once again, organizers were forced to pack us all up and move. We headed back west three hours to the resort of Kappl.

After a completely socked-in inspection day, we all went to bed thinking that we would have to use photos and videos from last season to plan out our lines. The following day was crystal clear, however, and the event was able to go off without a hitch. Which was nice.

All of this brings us to this week at Snowbird. Aside from having some of the rowdiest terrain in the lower 48, Snowbird is currently one of a few locations in the States that has been receiving consistent snowfall throughout the winter.

Though the FWT gets little media attention Stateside, in Europe the events draw crowds in waves - especially at the Chamonix and Verbier stops. They are edge-of-your-seat viewing experiences. The scene in the U.S. is still relatively small (but growing), but we hope Snowbird will rival the European stops in excitement and spectator numbers. The close proximity to Salt Lake City, a winter-sports hub and home to many snowboarders, makes it the perfect location to draw a large crowd.

Men's 2013 FWT snowboarding champion Ralph Backstrom competes in Chamonix, on the only sunny, issue-free day of the 2014 tour.

As Snowbird is the fourth stop in a series of five events that will be used to determine who advances to the FWT finals in Verbier, it is a critical event for competitors to do well in. Only five of the 14 male and four of eight female snowboarders currently on tour will compete in Verbier. Ranking is based on each competitor's top three results, so the pressure to perform is on.

As the overall points stand now, Samuel Luebke -- who finished the Tour third overall in 2013 -- is the current men's leader. He wasted no time locking in the top spot this season, riding strong and stylish to take home the win at the first event in Courmayeur, and follow that up with another win in Kappl.

In second place is Canadian Jamie Rizzuto. After a rough go last winter he failed to requalify for the 2014 tour. But Rizzuto fought tooth and nail through the Freeride World Qualifier series earned his spot back. With two fourth-place finishes and a second-place in Chamonix, he has locked down a position in the finals and a shot at the world title.

Rounding out the top three is Emilien Badoux of Switzerland. Emilien opened his 2014 season with an uncharacteristic fall, but came back swinging in Chamonix where he took the win. A solid run in Kappl earned him a third-place finish, which placed him comfortably in the third spot on the current rankings list.

Points are even more critical for the women on the FWT, who have only competed in two stops so far this year, Chamonix and Kappl. Shannen Yates won both of those events, and is currently the points leader. Austria's Amber Scheucker and Switzerland's Estelle Balet round out the top three in a tied position. Scheucker finished second at Chamonix and third at Kappl, while Balet finished third and second, respectively, in the same contests.

While the top riders are all feeling safe at the moment, things could all change after Snowbird. As competitors who have struggled at the early events get more opportunities to post good scores, the overall standings are always subject to change. The stage is set, the battle is on. Tune in and watch as riders risk it all in Utah this week for a chance to be World Champion.