On March 23, the 25th edition of the Xtreme Verbier went off after multiple days of snow opened up to sunny skies in Switzerland. The event marked the finals of the World Freeride Tour, the pinnacle of big-mountain skiing and snowboarding, and Eagle County snowboarder Blake Moller finished third at the Xtreme Verbier finals, and second overall on the Freeride World Tour featuring stops in Austria, Andorra and Verbier. Frenchman Victor de le Rue won in Verbier and claimed the overall FWT title.
The Bec de Rosses course in Verbier has a distinguished history in the sport, with the first competitions merely being snowboarders showing they could get down the steep face of rocks, boulders and other natural features. The sport has evolved to today, when skiers and snowboarders are hucking the cliffs and adding spins, grabs and other style points on the way down.
“It usually puts a lot of cramps in my stomach, remembering all of the times here in Verbier passing in front of that face,” announcer, snowboarding legend and four-time Xtreme Verbier champion Xavier de le Rue said ahead of the competition. “So the Bec de Rosses has set the legend of freeride competition for 25 years. Back in the day, it used to be pretty crazy to set up a contest there, but riders have shown it’s possible to ride down this face and it has become the mecca of freeriding — the biggest faces, the most exposed, the most challenging, the most opportunities, and every year it’s just amazing to see how much the evolution of freeriding is being witnessed here.”
For Moller, his older brother Grifen used to compete in the Freeride World Tour on skis, so he’s seen the Bec de Rosses over the years spectating his brother. Moller said he’d always look up at the course while supporting his brother and think about the line he would take himself if given the chance to take on the Bec de Rosses.
“It was super fun, super playful,” Moller told the cameras after his run. “It was really quick, though — everything was one right after the other. I’m glad I finally got to ride this mountain.”
The Freeride World Tour footage of the event both shows the beauty of the mountain as well as the insane lines the skiers and snowboarders pick to come down.
“Oh my goodness, look at how steep that is,” announcer Adam Gendle said from a helicopter before the event. (There’s no lifts where these men and women go, only helicopter rides up). “It is incredible and absolutely terrifying. That is the Bec de Rosses, one of the scariest venues in the world of sports.”
The Xtreme Verbier is known as the climax of competitive freesking and free riding, with no room for hesitation and no room for mistakes.
Impressive rookie season
Only six riders qualify for Freeride World Tour finals based on their top two finishes in the three events on the tour.
In the first race, Moller finished second. He followed that up with his first win — both of those races being in Andorra. In the third event, a “throwaway” comp having already qualified for finals, Moller threw down an aggressive run that included an attempted 720 — a rare trick in the sport — but wasn’t able to finish the run clean.
Moller has enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with being on the Freeride World Tour with some of the best snowboarders in the world. He said he’s been riding with a lot of the other riders on their days leading up to the competitions — whoever’s at the lift that morning.
He’s also enjoyed some family time. His younger brother, Tanner, is preparing to compete in the Junior Freeride World Championship — also in Verbier — along with his friend Joey Leonardo.
“I was kind of unsure what the whole year would bring with Europe, so I took everything with a grain of salt,” Moller, 20, said from Europe after the first competition. “Once I was here, it set in that it was going down. I am just fortunate to be over here as an American.”