Welcome to part four of our five-part series looking at some of the world’s best ski and snowboard tours. Our goal in this series is to take a look beyond traditional alpine racing and bring to you some of the most inspired competitive freeride skiing and riding happening today.
- Part One: World Ski & Snowboard Tours, Explained: Freeride World Tour
- Part Two: World Ski & Snowboard Tours, Explained: Natural Selection Tour
- Part Three: World Ski & Snowboard Tours, Explained: The Winter Dew Tour
A Successful Start For Junior Freeriding
In the first part of this series, we looked at the Freeride World Tour and its origins in extreme skiing and snowboarding. This week’s article will take an in-depth look at how these junior athletes get started as we explain, The Junior Freeride World Tour (JFT).
FWT founder Nicolas Hale-Woods emphasized in the importance of FWT’s junior freeride athlete program when he said, “The FWT development since 1996 has gone beyond our expectations… But more importantly, the success of the Junior and Qualifier series, with over 130 events and 4,000 licensed riders worldwide is what gives a true dimension to the sport.” – FWT website
Many of these junior freeride athletes feel the same way. These are the type of freeriding competitors who want to pursue natural terrain features without the gates or constrictions of traditional alpine racing.
International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA) was founded in 1996 by legendary freeskier Shane McConkey with hopes of giving athletes a voice in the governance of their sport. Today the JFT partners with the IFSA to operate a network of unified regional, national and world freeride tour events.
Each season junior athletes ages 12 to 18 compete in their geographical area’s Regional and National Qualifying events. Each run is scored according to five criteria: line choice, control, fluidity, technique, and style & energy. Points are awarded to each of the event’s top finishers. These points are used to create a Global Ranking system among freeride athletes.
The Global Ranking system (expected to be fully implemented by 2024) shows an athlete’s total points over a rolling 52-week period. Those with higher rankings are given priority access to register for events as well as a chance to earn an invite to the Junior Freeride World Championships in Austria the following year.
Junior Freeride Champion Profiles
Who are these talented junior athletes and how did they get started on the JFT series? Those were some of the questions I asked when I sat down to interview last season’s JFT 2022 World Champions Jenna Meyers (women’s skiing) and Tavo Sadeg (men’s snowboarding). Here’s what they had to say.
Jenna Meyers (Women’s Skiing 2022 JFT World Champion). Born in Delaware and without a mountain in sight, Jenna Meyers (age 18) may have started behind the proverbial eight ball as a prototypical ski racer. However, growing up in a family of athletes and having an older sister who also competed and won on the Freeride Tour, Jenna’s ski career would clearly take a different path. She shared her love for the sport explaining,
“I almost didn’t know any better. I started on skis at age three and before I knew it my family started spending more and more time each year at Vail. By the time I was 12 I was already full-time on the Vail Freeride Team and loving it. I was determined to get better. It was so much fun!”
That determination eventually paid off as Jenna entered her first competition at age 12. Her precocious talent and dedication then helped her capture her first victory two years later at a freeride event in Snowbird, Utah.
Tavo Sadeg (Men’s Snowboarding 2022 JFT World Champion). Tavo Sadeg (age 19) was introduced to his beloved sport at the young age of six by his father who Tavo readily admits was “an avid snowboarder.” Tavo learned quickly growing up in the Lake Tahoe area and calling Alpine Meadows Resort his home. Joining the Alpine freeride team as early as age six, Tavo excelled at his craft and earned a special invite to the 12-and-up competition as an 11-year-old athlete. Young Tavo was well on his way to snowboarding stardom.
For this skilled rider who humbly shares, “I just love pow”, Tavo earned himself his first World Championship invite at just 16 years old. Finishing fifth among a top field of competitors and on an incredibly difficult course that received in excess of four feet of snow in four days, Tavo knew a repeat visit was necessary, and it came in 2022.
At the end of each season, and by special invite only, the world’s best junior skiers and snowboarders come to Austria to compete at the Junior Freeride Tour World Championships, otherwise known as The World’s. For the last nine years, they have been held on the Quellspitze face in Kappl, Austria. (Interactive map of Quellspitze)
Quellspitze Face Stats
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 8,825
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 1,148
- Slope Steepness: up to 60 degrees
- Length of Slope (miles): 0.34
The World’s is the season’s final contest for the best junior freeride athletes who competed in more than 80 junior and qualifier events from across the globe. In 2022, 65 total riders qualified (31 ski men, 16 ski women, 12 snowboard men, and 6 snowboard women) representing 18 nations.
Ahead of the 2022 championship, Jenna worked her way into position by winning both IFSA 2021 Junior Regional Qualifiers in Vail and Crested Butte. Tavo found his way to the championships after multiple podium finishes in his 2021 Regional Qualifiers; Sugar Bowl 3rd, Squaw-Alpine 2nd, Kirkwood 1st, and Alpine 1st.
For Your Eyes Only
Unlike competitions held in the U.S. where athletes can inspect the course ahead of the contest, JFT Championships play by a different set of rules. Only a visual course inspection is permitted so most coaches and athletes resort to using binoculars for a closer look. This change proved to be a significant challenge to both Jenna and Tavo in regard to their line choice and on-course management.
Starting Gate Nerves
Regardless of how well you pick your line or even how confident you may be in your riding, the starting gate is a truly different experience. Just ask these athletes. Jenna says that to keep her nerves from getting the best of her she focused on what her coach told her, “Ski fast! Don’t try to make too many turns. Just let your skis ride!”
In contrast to Jenna, yet just as effective, Tavo let his laid-back style and humor come into play. To manage his excitement at the gate Tavo explained, “I knew my friends and family were staying up late to watch back home. I just wanted to make them laugh so I pounded on my chest and made monkey noises to bring me back into the moment. It made me feel better. And I hope I got them to laugh.”
Correct Course Management
Now looking back, Jenna laughs at the broadcast of her run. Despite her best effort to prepare, she said she got lost after dropping into a natural halfpipe to the looker’s left. Recalling the confusion of the moment Jenna explains, “I was so lost. Everything looked so different from what I saw through the binoculars. I had to make a decision. I just picked a spot and said to myself ‘I’ll go there!’ as I dropped out of the halfpipe.”
The young female champion relied on the many drills she had done back at home in Vail with her teammates and coach Matt Luczkow. She described how they would traverse along Prima Cornice until her coach would call out “Just Go!” and then she would have to ski the fall line regardless of the features that lie in her way. Jenna explained, “You gotta get really good at dealing with unexpected obstacles.” Despite getting lost during her championship run, Jenna’s line paid off as she linked what the FWT website reported as “… a fast and fluid line with strong technical skiing,” for her championship run.
Unlike Jenna who was first to ski for the women, Tavo sat back and watched as a number of other snowboarders ahead of him fell during their runs. Following his new line to the looker’s far right, and still concerned about the course conditions, Tavo sent his first air with a melon grab as he got a feel for the snowpack which by his account “was variable and firm up top.” Expertly finding his way down to a steeper section Tavo cleanly hit two more jumps before sending what was arguably the competition’s best air of the day. In typical pro fashion, Tavo stomped a 25-foot cliff that he recalls was “bigger than I thought” and set the crowd on fire as he rode on to victory.
Head Coach for the Palisades Tahoe Snowboarding Team coach Wes Pyatt described Tavo’s championship line as a “reflection of his dedication and a fun, well-dialed, aggressive run.” The FWT characterized Tavo’s choice as “… a strong and technical line…. into a steep and exposed section of the face and highlighted with an exposed drop into a tight shoot to show exceptional control and technical ability.”
Although these super-talented young athletes may be reigning world champions, you surely wouldn’t know it by talking with them. They are affable, modest, and a pleasure to listen to when they tell their stories. And although these athletes may be separated by only a few points on the podium don’t let that fool you either. These superstars cheer and support each other on every run, especially their fellow competitors. Both Jenna and Tavo specifically commented about the new friendships they made on tour and how some of the older veterans welcomed them into the mix. (Hats off to those stars like Sammy Luebke and others!)
For the upcoming 22/23 season, Jenna will build on her success working with the University of Utah’s Freeride Team perfecting her 360s. She also has plans to compete in both the Snowbird and Big Sky 2023 IFSA Qualifier events. Tavo plans to continue his professional career on the FWQ series this year with the ultimate goal of making it to the 2024 FWT. Tavo also shared that he hopes to exceed 120 days of riding this season. Go Tavo!
Both Jenna and Tavo readily admit they would not be where they are today without the incredible support of their families, friends, teammates, coaches, and countless others who have helped them along their way. This also includes Jenna’s sponsorship with Dynastar and Tavo’s sponsors; Jones Snowboards, NOW Bindings, Smith Optics, Vans Snowboard Boots, Tahoe Dave’s Ski & Boards, Inclined Burgers, and Wild Bar.
Regardless of who may sponsor these athletes or where their future leads, their kind-hearted nature and ridiculous talent clearly show the future of the sport is in great hands. Congratulations to Jenna and Tavo! Best of Luck!
We hope you enjoyed reading and will follow us along in this series. The next article will be the last. We have a special surprise planned. Please stay tuned.