FREESTYLE & SNOWBOARD: France’s 17-year-old Ledeux wins inaugural Big Air in Canyons Village

France's World Champion Tess Ledeux

The first two days of the 2019 FIS Freestyle and Snowboard have provided one consistent theme: first-time winners. All six of the gold medalists in Freestyle (4) and Snowboard (2) won their first Worlds in their events, and there are still eight more days to go.

The first-ever Big Air competition in the Freestyle Worlds – held at Canyons Village – turned out to be a showcase for Europeans Tess Ledeux (FRA) and Fabian Boesch (SUI).

Ledeux, just 17, had been quite successful on the World Cup circuit in Slopestyle with three wins over the past two seasons. And she put a lot of pressure on the field with a sensational 94.75 score on his first of three runs, with the best two to count.

In fact, that was the highest score anyone achieved on the day; only Swiss Sarah Hoefflin was close, at 92.75. The third-best score came from American Julia Krass, 21, who has been on the World Cup tour for a couple of seasons and only won her first medal on 27 January, a bronze in the Seiser Alm Slopestyle. She earned an 88.75 for her first-round effort.

Ledeux kept the pressure on, scoring 89.25 in the second round and had a strong lead heading into the third round. Britain’s Isabel Atkin scored 81.50 for a two-round total of 160.75 and was second and Krass had 156.50.

The last round was probably not going to keep Ledeux off the podium, but Hoefflin could not manage better than a 75.00 and ended up fourth at 167.75. Atkin improved to 87.25 for a 168.75 total, but Krass was terrific and her 85.00 gave her a 173.75 total and the silver medal. And Ledeux? She finished with a brilliant 90.00 and won easily at 184.75.

Boesch was a World Champion in 2015, but in Slopestyle. He had won five World Cup medals – four in Slopestyle and one in Big Air – but he took the suspense out of the event with scores of 96.00 and 90.00 in the first two rounds.

But Boesch was not the leader after the first round, as four men score 90 or more points: Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut (92.25), Alex Beaulieu-Marchand (CAN: 91.25), Finn Bilous (NZL: 91.00) and Boesch.

But Boesch’s 96.00 in the second round was the best of the day and effectively gave him the gold at 186.00. Behind him came Harlaut, who scored 91.75 in the third round for a 184.00 total. Beaulieu-Marchand also got a second big score at 92.00 in round two and was second heading into the final round, when Harlaut passed him. American Alex Hall also got a 90.75 score, but his 180.50 left him fourth.

In the Freestyle Ski Cross events at Solitude Mountain, it looked like Canada’s Brady Leman might be ready to complete an Olympic-Worlds double, but then … another surprise winner.

Instead of Leman, it was France’s Francois Place, 29, who flew into the lead around the first corner and got to the line first, completing a remarkable transition from an unheralded career in Alpine Skiing to World Champion in Freestyle.

“It was an incredible race today,” said Place, “It was a little tough this morning with the weather and the wind, but in the end it was a great day. To be the champ, it’s cool.”

Place entered the Alpine World Cup in 2009 and continued through 2016, never achieving even a single medal. With such poor results, he changed to Freestyle Ski Cross and he found almost immediate success, winning the bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships in Sierra Nevada (ESP).

He didn’t do much in the Freestyle World Cup either, with 11 top-ten finishes from 2017 on, and no medals. But he’s been a contender, and now, World Champion.

The women’s Ski Cross had a similar story. Canada’s Marielle Thompson was much better known than Place, having won the Olympic gold in Ski Cross at Sochi (RUS) in 2014. But no World Championships wins, although she won silver in 2013. She had been eighth in 2015 and fifth in 2017, but this time she got her Worlds gold, edging Swiss Fanny Smith, who had finished ahead of her in 2013.

“Going into the second-to-last corner I thought maybe I could generate some speed on the outside, and thankfully it worked out for me,” Thompson said. “Coming back this season (after missing last season) I feel like I’ve been building my skiing back up at every race. So to come here to the biggest stage of the season and come out on top, I’m overjoyed. And to all the people that helped me get back here, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

It was the third Canadian win in Ski Cross in the eight times the event has been held at the Freestyle Worlds. Smith is the most successful skier in the event, having won medals in four Worlds in row, going 1-3-2-2 from 2013-19.

The Freestyle and Snowboard Worlds continues through the 10th. Look for results here. Summaries:

FIS Freestyle Skiing World Championships
Park City, Utah (USA) ~ 1-10 February 2019
(Full results here)

Men’s Big Air (at Canyons Village): 1. Fabian Boesch (SUI), 186.00; 2. Henrik Harlaut (SWE), 184.00; 3. Alex Beaulieu-Marchand (CAN), 183.25; 4. Alex Hall (USA), 180.50; 5. Finn Bilous (NZL), 179.75; 6. Oliwer Magnusson (SWE), 171.00; 7. Jesper Tjader (SWE), 152.75; 8. Oystein Braaten (NOR), 109.00. Also: 10. Nicholas Goepper (USA), 43.00.

Men’s Ski Cross (at Solitude Mountain)/ Big Final: 1. Francois Place (FRA); 2. Brady Leman (CAN); 3. Kevin Drury (CAN); 4. Alex Fiva (SUI). Small Final: 5. Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA); 6. Johannes Aujesky (AUT); 7. Viktor Andersson (SWE); 8. Filip Flisar (SLO).

Women’s Big Air (at Canyons Village): 1. Tess Ledeux (FRA), 184.75; 2. Julia Krass (USA), 173.75; 3. Isabel Atkin (GBR), 168.75; 4. Sarah Hoefflin (SUI), 167.75; 5. Silvia Bertagna (ITA), 122.25; 6. Anastasia Tatalina (RUS), 92.50; 7. Mathilde Gremaud (SUI), 77.75; 8. Maggie Voisin (USA), 41.75.

Women’s Ski Cross (at Solitude Mountain)/ Big Final: 1. Marielle Thompson (CAN); 2. Fanny Smith (SUI); 3. Alizee Baron (FRA); 4. Sanna Luedi (SUI); Small Final: 5. Kelsey Serwa (CAN); 6. Brittany Phelan (CAN); 7. Nikol Kucerova (CZE); 8. Mikayla Martin (CAN).

FIS Snowboard World Championships
Park City, Utah (USA) ~ 1-10 February 2019
(Full results here)

Men’s Snowboard Cross (at Solitude Mountain)/ Big Final: 1. Mick Dierdorff (USA); 2. Hanno Douschan (AUT); 3. Emanuel Perathoner (ITA); 4. Lucas Eguibar (ESP). Small Final: 5. Jake Vedder (USA); 6. Baptiste Brochu (CAN); 7. Paul Berg (GER); 8. Leon Beckhaus (GER).

Women’s Snowboard Cross (at Solitude Mountain)/ Big Final: 1. Eva Samkova (CZE); 2. Charlotte Bankes (GBR); 3. Michaela Moioli (ITA); 4. Francesca Gallina (ITA). Small Final: 5. Lindsey Jacobellis (USA); 6. Raffaella Bruto (ITA); 7. Chloe Trespeuch (FRA); 8. Carle Brenneman (CAN).