FWT 2013: On tour with points leader Ralph Backstrom

We are officially halfway through the 2013 Freeride World Tour (FWT) and American, Ralph Backstrom, is sitting in first place with a 1265-point lead (see 2013 men’s rankings) over Emilien Badoux from Switzerland.

With the recent merger of the FWT and The North Face Masters, we check in with Ralph to see how he’s feeling about his current lead and how this year’s tour is evolving the big mountain snowboard scene into a powerhouse, must-watch tour.

You’re halfway through the first year of the new Freeride World Tour and you’re leading the points race for the overall title. How does all that feel?

I’m pretty excited to be leading the tour. It’s exactly the same spot I was in last year except I had two firsts and a second at this point, and the second place competitor had two seconds and a first. So it was a lot closer of a race. This year I have a little bit more of a lead and if I stay solid and on my feet I have a pretty good shot at taking the lead.

I talked to Xavier (De Le Rue) about it and he said, “Just get one. Then you can keep competing if you want or stop. But as long as you have one, you’re good.”

Ralph Backstrom’s winning run at FWT stop 1 – Revlestoke

There have been some major changes over the past year with the Freeride World Tour. What are the main differences in competing in this year’s tour compared to last year’s tour?

Well, the tour has a new judging system that everyone is still trying to figure out. You can get deductions for butt checks or mistakes in your line but then you can make up for that in the rest of your run. It’s still a tough one for me, but at the end of the day the public and the riders want to see a clean and solid run win.

See Also: [VIDEO] Kirkwood 2013 – The fight for survival

If you think about it from filming a part in a movie, if you make a mistake the shot gets cut out of the movie. So the new format is very similar to that. Your winning run should be similar to a stand alone part in a video.

But then you talk to some guys at the bottom of their run and you ask them how it went. They tell you they butt checked and think they’re out, but then end up on the podium and have no idea how they got there.

Ralph Backstrom ready to drop in at Revelstoke | Photo: freerideworldtour.com/D. Carlier

So how does this type of judging compare to last year’s?

Last year’s judging was more of an overall impression. If you stomped your run and it had a wow factor to it, you were standing on the podium.

Now that there’s a bigger presence of Americans because of the merger, is there more of a competition between Europe and America on tour?

I think so. Most people from each region are super cool and have a little bit more of the freeride vibe. Then there are a few guys from each region that are a little more serious and competitive.

I do feel like the American vibe is a like yeah, beat the Frenchies. It’s awesome to have Sammy (Luebke), Tim Carlson, Jamie Rizzuto, John Rodosky and Matt Annettes there. It’s definitely more noticeable at the bar and during the after parties. And it’s cool to have Sammy and John on tour as they’re still pretty young and into the freestyle scene.

When watching last year’s tour and comparing it to this year’s as a spectator, there’s a lot more freestyle in the runs and it seems like the Europeans aren’t into that. They are more hard charging and into dropping cliffs. Do you think that the Europeans have to step up their game now that this bigger freestyle element has been introduced?

For me, I always want to do tricks in my run. But if the feature and the setup isn’t exactly what I’m expecting it to be it throws off my thought process and I just try to land. But as soon as you have guys on tour doing tricks, it definitely puts a fire under everyone’s ass to step up their riding.

Ralph atop the podium at stop one in Revelstoke | Photo: R. Sihlls

I think it’s cool to see those types of riders come in and shake up the game. You saw it at The North Face Masters this year with Hans and Nils Mindich: Two riders who have been in the park and pipe scene, come in and stomp their runs with a very technical freestyle aspect to it. It really helps in making the sport bigger and will hopefully result in bigger prize purses for you guys.

Exactly. I’ve been saying this for a while now, but I would like to see these competitions work the way surf competitions work where you have a lower level of hungry charging riders putting everything on the line to eventually make it up to the 5-star FWT stops.

I thought that the FWT had a bit more budget when it came to the competition venues. It would be cool to be able to jump in a heli if the conditions at the venue weren’t up to par and go a little further. But I found out it’s not the case and the venue has to be within the resorts that are sponsoring the tour.

It would be cool to have another tiered competition like the skier’s Swatch Skiers Cup where the competitors are on more of an Alaskan style face doing insane things. Hopefully over time the tour will evolve into that.

How have the conditions been so far on tour?

The conditions have been great so far. Courmayeur was a bit sugary on the rocks. Maybe it was a good thing, maybe not, but the night before we had some high winds that really packed things in. Otherwise it would have been a foot of blower on top of sharp rocks.

Since your sitting pretty in first place, 1200 points ahead of the next competitor, who do you see as your biggest threat to take over your first place spot?

I think Sammy Luebke is sitting good at fourth place and could take it all if I don’t perform. Also, Jonathan Charlet could take it, but he’s 4000 points behind me so he’d have to do pretty good, and I’d have to pretty much fall on all my runs.

The fifth stop of the Freeride World Tour goes live February 27 from Kirkwood Mountain in California. You can watch the entire broadcast at snowboardmag.com/live to see if Ralph Backstrom can stand upon the podium and keep is points lead for the 2013 tour.


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