SECOND TO NONE
Celebrating our Freeride World Tour champions - Sammy Luebke, Ralph Backstrom and Mitch Toelderer
That’s what you got when you’re standing in a Freeride World Tour start gate. There is no second run, no do-overs, no mulligans. You got one run to prove what you got that day. If you want to win, you better leave the gate in beast mode.
The one run, hero or zero format of the Freeride World Tour (FWT) is a big part of what makes the FWT so exciting to watch as a fan and so difficult to win as a competitor. When you’re tuned into the live tour broadcast the excitement and suspense is real because you know every rider is gonna give it 110%, and whether they stomp or tomahawk, the outcome of their all-in effort will likely be spectacular. Standing in a competitor’s boots, this pressure to perform can be so deafening that it drowns out your true talent. To win a FWT event you need to match extraordinary riding skills and mountain sense with unbreakable confidence.
Since the foundation of the brand in 2010, the Jones team has always been home to some of the top riders on the Freeride World Tour. It’s been a natural fit as we pride ourselves in making confidence inspiring snowboards built for riders’ who push the limits of what’s possible in the mountains. And while we take no credit for any world titles, it’s been an honor to support FWT champs Sammy Luebke, Ralph Backstrom and Mitch Toelderer as they’ve shown the world what they’re capable of riding our boards.
Watching these riders strap in, drop in and win it all on the tour has been one of the most exciting stories of our first decade. In celebration of our three world champs, we’re stoked to relive their success by sharing videos of all their winning runs with commentary from the riders about each contest run. Read on to hear about Sammy’s incredible three-peat from 2016-2018, Ralph’s title run in 2013 and Mitch’s win in 2011.
2016 - 2017 - 2018
Tahoe shredder Sammy Luebke needs little introduction in the world of competitive freeriding. Sammy joined the Freeride World Tour in 2013 and has been a fixture on the podium for the past eight seasons. His first three seasons on the tour he came up just short of winning the title, taking 3rd in 2013, 4th in 2014 and 2nd in 2015. That all changed in 2016 when he joined the Jones team and started riding the Ultra Mountain Twin.
Sammy started the 2016 tour on a tear. He won the Fieberbrunn and Chamonix tour stops and took second in Haines. The huge cliff he stomped at the top of his run in Fieberbrunn is still the stuff of Freeride World Tour legend.
“I wanted to send something big that I hadn’t ridden before so that cliff was on my mind the whole week leading up to the contest. I was a little hesitant because i’d just watched a few skiers go down on stuff they would normally stomp, but after thinking about it so long I knew I had to go hit that thing. Somehow I found a little pocket of pow just to the right of a bomb hole from a skier tomahawk. Super stoked that it worked out and that I was able to put down something big at the top and then enjoy the pow the rest of the way down.”
When Sammy arrived in Verbier that April he had already secured his first world title. Now all that was missing was his first Verbier Xtreme win.
I had done well in all the events that year and had already won the title so I came in just feeling it. I knew I wanted to drop some bigger cliffs so I opened up with that top cliff that I had seen Ralph Backstrom hit the year he won the tour. As soon as I stomped that cliff I knew I was going to put down the rest of my line and go for the win. So nice to finally get that victory, after coming up short the three years prior.
Fresh off his first world title, Sammy came into the 2017 tour swinging like the heavyweight champion he was. He won the first tour stop in Chamonix and never looked back. When the dust settled he had won four out of five events, secured his second world title and finished with a perfect 10,000 points, a first for any skier or snowboarder on the tour. His second win of the tour that season was at arguably the most epic Freeride World Tour contest there has ever been - Haines, Alaska.
This face was easily the best contest venue the tour has ever had, and the best snow conditions. It was blower pow all the way down with spines, pillows and cliffs - full on Alaska dream line. It was one of those runs that didn’t feel like a contest. Definitely one of the most all time contest runs I’ve ever had in my life.
“I had already won the tour before Verbier so my plan was to take a mellow line, send a few things and just have fun. The one feature I had lined up was this cliff at the bottom of the Dog Leg couloir that I had been looking at since my first year going to Verbier. It looked like the perfect jump with an epic landing, but I didn’t think it was going to be that big. I kinda blacked out a bit and just sent it! Winning was super cool because I was just out there having fun.”
– Sammy Luebke
“2017 was definitely one of the best seasons of my life. The way I was riding that season just felt really solid. I knew I was ready to win every event, but to pull it off was really special. And winning Verbier again was the cherry on top.”
Could he do it again? Could Sammy win his third consecutive world title in 2018? After his dominating season in 2017 that was the question on everyone’s mind. The 2018 tour started on a low note with the cancellation of the first tour stop in Hakuba, Japan. What would have been a minor disappointment turned into a major bummer for Sammy as he injured his knee hitting a piece of ice during one of the inspection days. The injury was still bothering him when the second contest went down in Kicking Horse, but he still managed to take 4th. Returning from BC, he spent the next three weeks healing at home and showed up in Andorra back in top form.
“Coming off an injury I wasn’t sure how my knee was gonna be, but I knew I had taken enough time off and it was feeling pretty good going into Andorra. The conditions weren’t great, just enough fresh snow and coverage to get the contest done, so I didn’t plan on pushing it. Just wanted to put down a solid run, link up a lot of features and throw in a little freestyle. Winning was a huge morale booster as it made me realize that I still had it and my body was feeling healthy again. This was also a pivotal win going in to Verbier.”
– Sammy Luebke
Sammy’s victory in Andorra left the door open for a third world title. It was no gimme this year though. If he wanted to take the title again, he had to win in Verbier.
“This was my first time going into the Central Couloir on the Bec de Rosses. I had always gone into the Dog Leg in previous years, but this year the Central just looked right, it was filled in and looked good for snowboarders. The scariest part of the line is getting into it. It is so steep in there, you don’t realize it until you get in there, you are holding onto your heel edge for dear life. After straight lining through the center area I felt a weight lifted off as I knew the gnarliest part was over and I could just drop some cliffs and have fun in the pow. I had always imagined riding the Central would be pretty gnarly, but it was actually SUPER gnarly. I was really happy to come out unscathed and on my feet, let alone to win. That was definitely my proudest moment on the Bec.”
2018 was such a crazy year. From hurting myself, to taking time off to heal, then needing a win in Verbier and taking it with my best line ever down the Bec. Sometimes the universe just lines up for you and it all works out. It was really special to win my third title in that fashion. Definitely one of the highlights of my life.
Tahoe shredder Ralph Backstrom was already a veteran of the North American freeride contest circuit when he joined the Freeride World Tour in 2012. With a powerful style, Ralph’s ground quaking snowboarding had won him several national events and his contest runs were always a sight to behold as he barreled through rocks and chunder on his Carbon Flagship. Ralph instantly left his mark on the tour in 2012 as he won the Revelstoke stop and took second in Chamonix. He finished his first full season on tour in second overall, a telling sign of what he was capable of.
Ralph started the 2013 season with his foot on gas. He won the first stop of the tour in Revelstoke and took second in Chamonix. A fifth in Courmayeur and a sixth in Kirkwood kept him in world title contention going into the tour finale in Verbier, but his confidence had also been shaken by a poor line choice in Fieberbrunn that resulted in a fall and 13th place. Entering the start gate in Verbier the pressure was on as he needed to podium to secure the title.
"I knew I was going to be dropping first for the snowboarders, but up until the morning of the contest I thought the skiers were running before us. Finding out that the snowboarders were going first and that I would be the first competitor down the Bec was definitely a little nerve wracking. Especially considering I had changed my line choice minutes before I left the judges tent to start hiking up. I’d been in Verbier for five days and had chosen a line that spoke to me, but the night before the comp I kept having these thoughts that parts of my line were too tight for the amount of slough and I couldn’t visualize individual turns. The weird dreams kept me awake so I woke up super tired the morning of the contest. I was definitely not in a state to ride a technical line so I changed to something less technical and exposed.”
Ralph’s last minute line choice was a wise one as the line he rode fit his style perfectly. He dropped a big cliff at the top and then pinned it down the face dropping several more cliffs enroute to the finish line.
It wasn’t until I saw my score that I knew how good my run was. I’d flown past some features I’d planned to hit so I thought I’d be easy to beat, but my run held up. Definitely dodged some bullets sitting there at the bottom watching the others come down!
Ralph’s run scored a 93.67, besting second place finisher Aurelien Routens by a five point margin. After coming so close the season before, the world title was finally in Ralph’s hands.
Austrian shredder Mitch Toelderer burst onto the European competitive freeride scene in 2001 when he won the Verbier Xtreme as a rookie. Mitch competed in invitational freeride contests around the Alps for the next several years until the first official Freeride World Tour events started in 2008. Mitch got serious about the tour in 2010, the same year he joined the Jones team and started riding the Flagship. Mitch rode super solid that season, always placing in the top five, if not the podium, and finished the tour in second place just behind Xavier De La Rue.
The 2011 tour kicked off in Chamonix. Mitch took fifth place in Cham and came into the second contest in Fieberbrunn, Austria ready to prove he was still a world title contender. Mixed conditions on the face made line choice critical and Mitch nailed it with a fast, technical run highlighted by an exposed double drop mid-venue.
“I remember my line in Fieberbrunn like it was yesterday. It was really warm the day of the contest so the snow was super variable. The skiers’ right side had a better chance of powder, but I thought it would be a little too inconsistent so I went for the skier’s left side that had been in the sun earlier hoping it would be evenly soft. The left side was a good call. The snow was great and the double drop I had scoped worked out well.”
For the remainder of the season Mitch was Mr. Consistent. He took second in Sochi and second in St.Moritz which made him the tour leader going into the final contest in Verbier. To win the world title he had to podium in Verbier.
I can’t remember my Verbier run quite as well as Fieberbrunn. I competed in the Verbier Extreme eleven times. Half the times I was on the podium and half the times I crashed, haha! I remember it wasn’t the perfect run, but a lot of people crashed that year so I was just happy to stay on my feet, make the podium and take home the world title!
“It was a huge honor to compete with all these incredible riders and win the title at the end of the season. The contests were just one part of what made the tour so fun though. I had such good times traveling and freeriding with all the competitors before and after the events. The contests also taught me a lot about my own potential and the mind set it takes to be successful. When you have the right mind set and believe in yourself anything is possible, including winning a world title!”