December 10, 2008 – Adopting Europe's vast alpine ranges as a play-ground for exploration and adventure, The Swatch O'Neill Big Mountain Pro returns for 2009 with more promise than ever.

The concept remains the same – 12 of the world's best freeriders reaching some of the most challenging and varied backcountry terrain that the mountains have to offer.

The inspirational mobile format of the event ensures that the riders are free to roam the Alps with no fixed destination in a quest to find the best snow and mountain faces for the varying conditions.

However, the element of adventure is pushed to the next level this year with the riders poised to hike to more remote backcountry, and camp the nights in mountain huts. This ensures that in addition to the big mountain days on steep rock faces, there will be a more varied mix of freeriding to enjoy.

Reputed freerider, Mitch Toelderer is just one of the talented snowboarders eager to start hiking. "I love the more exploratory side to The Big Mountain Pro this year," he says. "Hiking and staying in huts creates a completely different experience within the mountains. It's more authentic – especially for this competition. It gives you much more time to get connected with the snow and the face and get a feeling for it. It's so much quieter and more relaxed to hike – it's what we would do at home with friends."

The other confirmed snowboarders are world renowned freerider, Jeremy Jones, Xavier de la Rue – winner of the first Big Mountain Pro in 2007 and Stefan Gimpl. They will be joined by two other as of yet unconfirmed snowboarders.

The six skiers taking part in The Big Mountain Pro 2009 are Santa Cruz native, Cody Townsend who last year astounded everyone with his gutsy descents, as well as freestyle skiers Loris Falquet, and Thomas Diet, along with the talented youngsters Richard Permin and Jeremie Heitz and the French freerider, Arnaud Rougier.

The success and popularity of the rider judged format of the competition sees its continuation for the third year running. Wherever the final face may be, the riders will head to Saalbach-Hinterglemm back in Austria for the unique judging session where they all judge each other's runs. An overall winner will be crowned, as well as a winner for skiing and one for snowboarding, with a total prizemoney of $60,000 on offer.

The Swatch O'Neill Big Mountain Pro 2009 will kick off on February 3rd St. Anton in the Arlberg range in the Austrian Alps – the birthplace of alpine skiing and the freeride mecca of Austria.

For Mitch Toelderer, the Austrian start brings an added element of excitement to the event. "It's great it starts in my home country," he says. "The whole area is an incredible place for freeriding. I'm excited because I'm sure I'll get to places in Austria that I've never been before."

Where it will head from there is anyone's guess – the only certain element is that it will follow the best snow conditions, and will end with a spectacular party in Saalbach-Hinterglemm on February 10th.

Daily highlights of The Swatch O'Neill Big Mountain Pro can be seen on



What: The most original and innovative freeride contest on the planet
When: February 3 – February 10, 2009
Where: The Alps
Start location: St. Anton, Arlberg range, Austria
Finish location: Saalbach-Hinterglemm in Austria
Who: 12 of the best freeriders in the world – 6 skiers and 6 snowboarders
Prizemoney: $ 60.000