Hakuba just hosted the first ever Freeride World Tour Qualifier events in Asia. Didn’t catch it live? Don’t worry, you can see the full video of the Freeride Hakuba 4* Freeride World Qualifier on replay here. The Men’s Snowboard category is first, preceded by a taste of the snow that had fallen in the days before, so click and enjoy:
The venue attracted some comments for being on the short side, with a vertical drop of only 270m, but with the relentless snowfall all week the higher alpine terrain was ruled out. Rather than give in to the ridiculous amounts of powder, the venue for the 4* event had to retreat to below the tree line. For all those thinking “I could do that”, the face averages 48 degrees, with the bottom of the lookers left significantly steeper than that. From the top you can see very little, and until you are over the convex roll halfway down you can only see what looks like a cliff. While short, this slope was a good representation of the densely crenelated complex terrain in Japan – a lot harder to get rad on than it seems from the bottom. It was noticeable how many of the riders failed to stay on their feet.
Nagano’s own Shin Biyajima, who rode with Travis in The Fourth Phase, had the pleasure and pressure of dropping in first. Struggling with visibility at times he still squeezed in more airs than anyone else and topped the pack behind Travis. Hakuba local Slash rider, Yuta Kobayashi, who qualified through last week’s 2* event, started well with steez for days off the first hit but couldn’t make the line he wanted on the lower section (24:15 in the replay video). The conditions were deep powder with flat light. Far from ideal for sending it, but Travis didn’t seem to get the memo. He seemed to have the sixth sense switched on for his run, as you can see for yourself in the video below. Which begs the question ‘What goggle lenses was he using?’
Of course going fast down a more open line meant fewer white rooms, showing his experience of working with the terrain. Getting lost from getting whiteroomed for too long in a Freeride comp costs you points, and in higher consequence terrain might cost you a lot more – another way the FWT comps reward the same riding skills as freeriding in the wild.
If you need any further confirmation of the gap between what it looks like on film, and what it looks like to do, check out the POV footage of Travis’ run. Clearly for him a massive bs7 is a safety trick for when you are landing by feel in world of white on white…
So he strapped in, he span, he conquered. But Travis Rice did a lot more than that. Having spent two months over the previous two winters in Hakuba filming for The Fourth Phase, resulting in what was widely acclaimed as the standout section, it seems like Travis was all about paying it back. He hung out with locals, did mammoth signing sessions and lent his name and presence to the first ever Freeride World Tour events in Asia. When you are a global shred superstar, whose fame rests in the highest production values videos ever seen, rocking up and entering a Freeride contest is really putting yourself out there. No heli back up to the top again if the style wasn’t just right. This was one run, no practice, no riding down and checking the landings or prepping the take offs. The Freeride World Tour shows how hard it is to get anywhere near the level of videos while riding in a natural terrain comp – which makes that winning run all the more impressive!