Born in Verbier, set out to conquer the world. This was the fate of the Xtreme, a legendary ski event created a quarter of a century ago on the north face of Bec des Rosses before being at the origin of an international circuit called the Freeride World Tour. It will also be that of the E-Bike Festival, which is in its second edition until Sunday. Officials from the resorts of Flachau (Austria) as well as Tignes and Val d’Isère (France) announced on Friday their intention to decline the event as of next summer.
It is understandable that the genesis of this future “E-Bike World Tour” does not arise from chance when we know that in the maneuver of this recent event to the glory of electric mountain bikes operates Nicolas Hale-Woods, founder of the Xtreme and General Manager of the Freeride World Tour. For his small team, the boom in the e-bike in general – and the e-mountain bike in particular – is a boon comparable to that which it represents for ski resorts, sports shops and the sector. mountain tourism as a whole: it opens up considerable development prospects over the summer period, so crucial at a time of global warming.
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“The goal is to become a benchmark for the rapidly developing electric bike industry, and for its best athletes,” says Nicolas Hale-Woods. In Flachau and in Tignes-Val d’Isère as in Verbier, there will be something for all tastes and for all audiences, from the most beginners to the most seasoned. But it is a very high level competition that will link the three stages of this “world tour” for the moment very European, which should include two additional destinations from 2022, possibly on other continents. – exactly as it happened for the Freeride World Tour.
But the links between mountain biking and freeriding did not appear only through the grace of a clear business opportunity. They bear witness to real similarities on the cultural and even technical levels. “The freerider, like the one who goes into the mountains on his bike, is attracted by the same notions of freedom, wide open spaces, contact with nature and play with a terrain to be tamed, launches José Carron, from return from an organized tour to discover the practice as part of the Verbier festival. I even find a connection with surfing the water. In all these activities, we find this fundamental idea of sliding. ”
Read an interview with Nicolas Hale-Woods: “I am convinced that my great-grandchildren will ski”
This 40-year-old mountain guide has practiced climbing at a high level, and participated in the Xtreme as well as the Freeride World Tour. Mountain biking he did when he was a teenager. But the hardware had not yet reached its current level of sophistication. It was banging. The fun was not completely there. So he came back to it much later. “There is a lot of talk about the rise of the e-bike because it really opened up the mountain trails to people who could not have ventured there without assistance,” he notes. But the real revolution, the one that is at the origin of the movement, is that of the suspensions. They made it possible to really find sensations comparable to those that we have on skis, even if, of course, we continue to be aware of the ground in MTB while in the powder, we really have the impression of flying. “
At 26, Théo Cheli has always ridden a lot alongside his career in winter sports, between skicross and the Freeride World Tour (the Qualifier) antechamber in recent years. “There are many analogies between summer downhill biking and winter off-piste skiing,” he says. We find the speed of decision-making, the analysis of the terrain, the choice of lines, piloting … “So one practice feeds the other. “For years my priority was the winter season. But in the summer, I was pushing hard on the bike, and it allowed me to come back stronger on the snow. “
Reversal of perspectives
Today his plans have changed. The e-bike is currently so promising that it is planning a real career as a guide and coach in this field. He opened the Rad Biking agency two years ago with Yann Rausis… who is among the best in the world on the Freeride World Tour. “From now on, it is clearly possible for me to envisage an annual activity on the bicycle,” notes Théo Cheli. I will continue to ski a lot but my goal now is to get in good shape at the beginning of the summer … “His friend hails the” real complementarity of the two activities “.
They are not the only e-bike guides from the freeride world. José Carron also has his structure, Pure Biking. “I feel like the transition is easier this way than the other. Without starting to ski very early, it is difficult to reach a big level. By bike, everyone learns the basics from early childhood and by adding experience in extreme skiing, we can progress very quickly. “
“Perhaps as a skier, the feeling on the reading of the terrain comes faster,” admits freerider Jérémie Heitz, famous for his film La Liste, where he descends terribly steep faces at full speed. Over the past three days, he has participated in the queen event of the Verbier E-Bike Festival: 300 kilometers and 16,000 meters of elevation gain around the Mont-Blanc massif. It comes out a little rinsed, after a number of technical issues. He always looks to the future on his skis.