The FIS as a gamechanger for the sport of freeriding? That was the question to which an answer was sought at the second edition of the Freeride Talk at the start of the Freeride World Tour in Fieberbrunn. Stefan Steinacher welcomed an illustrious round of talkers at the official Riders Hotel TUI Blue with Valentin Rainer, Lukas Müllauer, Nadine Wallner and Roman Kuss.
Since this season, the Freeride World Tour is part of the international ski federation, which CEO and founder Nicolas Hale-Woods calls an absolute milestone for his sport in a video message during the Freeride Talk in Fieberbrunn: "We will get more attention or also be able to apply for subsidies for athletes," says Hale-Woods. Among the freeriders themselves, however, there was initially not only positive feedback on this development, as two-time freeride world champion Nadine Wallner also knows: "It takes a certain freedom and flexibility to be able to practice the sport. I do think that the FIS is an opportunity for the youth. But I know a different vibe and hope that it will be maintained by the riders."
Which Tyrolean Valentin Rainer, currently the overall leader of the Freeride World Tour, has no doubt about: "So far, nothing has changed for the worse for us, we don't feel constrained. From the beginning, I was one of the few who said that this step is needed now if you want to become bigger. I hope for more training opportunities for us freeriders, for example in the Olympic centers."
Freeriding is still in its infancy as far as the federation structures in the Austrian Ski Federation are concerned, explains Roman Kuss, the division manager for federation development & sports coordination in the Austrian Ski Federation: "Of course there have been discussions. We have 15 sports and 392 athletes in the Ski Association, serving 75 Olympic decisions. At some point there has to be a stop. On the other hand, I believe that as a professional association it is necessary to always be on the lookout for new things. Society continues to develop, which is why we must not close our minds to innovations. Not even to a further development of skiing. We are in the fortunate position that the presidium also sees it that way. Now we look where the journey leads".
Stefan Häusl, who after his active career in the Freeride World Tour himself acts as a freeride instructor training manager and coaches his own team on the Arlberg, sees the takeover of the Tour by the FIS as basically positive. For the former Tour athlete, the merger with the FIS could also raise the sport of freeriding in Austria to a higher level in terms of promoting young talent: "If you look internationally, we are not yet at the forefront. Switzerland, Canada, the USA and a few others are far ahead of us. As a skiing nation, we need to catch up and get the appropriate support to get more teams to the top."
The question of whether freeriding could also become an Olympic discipline in the near future is not yet on the mind of Valentin Rainer, who currently leads the FWT: "At 24, I'm already one of the oldest on the tour. In 2030 I would already be 31 years old. There are a lot of strong riders coming up. So it's rather unlikely that I'll still be there."
It is more likely that the Tyrolean will take another step towards overall victory in Fieberbrunn. Austria's only World Cup stop for freeriders, however, is currently "On Hold" due to the weather. A contest window has been set up for the elite riders until March 17. Promising looks at the moment the coming Monday. Tomorrow, Saturday, the Freeride Juniors get their big appearance.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)