I-FREE Scufoneda 2011: Moena-Passo San Pelligrino A freeride race? Why not!

“It’s only 35€ to register for the contest” he said, “maybe you’ll be the only girl and you’ll automatically win.” The guy I was dating really wanted to try an Italian freeride competition. That was his idea of persuassion, maybe he needed me to drive. The thought of me actually competing in a freeride race felt unrealistic: but for only 35€ it was an affordable chance to try something a little wild and crazy. Hell yes! Upon completion of the registration form, a little wave of panic wash over me… what was I thinking!? I started riding just 5 years earlier and already broke 2 vertebrae in the process. I wasn’t particularly good but quite passionate about it and really enjoyed the feeling. The anticipation built up during the weeks leading to the event.
Arriving at the mountain to fill in the paperwork the morning of the contest, made it all really hit home, this was happening! There was a lot of commotion with stands and tents being set up as we filled out the forms and got our starting numbers. I got number 43, which was my lucky number in ice hockey… being the superstitious person that I am, it was actually a little comforting! They set up a large screen TV and had a DJ booth and more and more people gathering around. We had time to take a warm-up run before the entire group of riders were going to view the zoning by riding down the side of the face to get a good look at it from the side. That helped calm my nerves because it wasn’t going to be a blind run at least. A large group of pro riders sponsored by Polartec had flown over from the US to compete… that wasn’t intimidating at all! A bunch of us were joking around which helped ease the tension of the race in my opinion. I took a few warm up runs as the contest slowly started off. Having 42 people before me made for ample time to stretch and try to prepare my line. It also meant carrying the tension of the moment with me for most of the day! I decided basically to stick to an easy line to go fast and smooth. There was only one tricky section of rocks in the middle of the face which I wanted to avoid; other than that, it seemed pretty straight forward. It was time to go through the safety gates where a gear and avalanche beacon check was preformed. I passed through the gates and crossed over to the starting gates to take a look from the start. The skiers were just tearing down the mountain with big wide turns, it was impressive and I was really worried about humiliating myself. I didn’t want to be so much worse than the others that people were asking why on earth I even signed up. I put so much pressure on myself that I was really quite worked up. As my start neared, I was more and more nervous… silly really but that’s me. I strapped into the board and got in line to start. My heart was pounding, adrenaline racing through my body. I tried to focus on at least the first few turns, thinking it would all just work out once I started down the face. I don’t really remember the countdown, just the mega choppy snow tracks made by the 42 people before me. I dropped into the face a bundle of nerves and tried to charge the top section as best I could… I can remember the first few turns and looking for the section of the face I had chosen to ride. It felt like I was looking through the core of a paper towel roll. Tunnel vision. Tunnel vision for a few select moments in the face, the rest was a black out. I don’t remember much about the top section after the start, but I did “come to” again in the middle of it when I found myself smack dab in the middle of the rocky section I had wanted to avoid. I somehow find a way through, but it sure wasn’t pretty! In my mind I was thinking “just stay on your feet, just stay on your feet!” Another black out… I came to somewhere near the bottom when I realized that I had to try to find the finish line! My legs felt heavy and I was breathing heavily… this was a long face and I had used up so much energy with being nervous. The snow was pretty heavy down at the bottom as the temperatures had risen during the day. I found myself in a pretty flat section on the way to the finish line and the soggy snow sucked all of my speed up. I had to cut back to the left at the bottom to even make it to the finish line. About a meter in front of it, I got stuck in the snow… I actually had to hop across the finish line and was utterly embarrassed. I took a few minutes at the bottom to regain some energy, breath and face the fact that I had a pretty bad run. I headed over to the viewers area to grab a beer and meet up with the other riders to watch the rest of the contest on the screen. I saw another girl take her run shortly after mine and was really impressed with her riding. She had a level that made sense to compete with and even crossed the finish line normally. There were a few skiers who were so insanely talented that it was thrilling to watch. We all enjoyed the rest of the contest and joined a few of the local guys who offered to take us around some backcountry. The day was beautiful and we had some great runs with fresh snow. I was able to ride with ease and concentration, even playfully now that there was no one watching. I wished I could have been that free during the competition! I wanted to keep riding but the guys wanted to be back for prize giving so we returned to the viewers area. The entire presentation was in Italian, which I couldn’t really understand. They did a lot of thanking of people and started calling the winners of the Women’s category. The women’s division was both skiers and boarders together, so it was no surprise that the podium had 3 skiers called as champions. They then called out a bunch of the other women who were given some backpacks, hats and small prizes. It became horrifyingly clear to me that they were having all the women go up… as the list went on and on without hearing my name, I realized that I had in fact, finished last. As the last name in the women’s division to be called, I was humiliated walking up there. They shook my hand and gave me a shovel and probe as consolation. I was happy to get those instead of a backpack, but it all didn’t make any sense to me. The men’s categories crowned their champions and we started getting ready to take some more runs when the local we had been freeriding with came running over to me. “Jenny” he said, “its you right, you’re the American snowboarder,” yeah I confirmed, confused. “You won, you won” he said and shoved a finalist poster into my hands. I couldn’t understand why he was picking on me. “Very funny,” I replied, “its bad enough that I made a fool of myself! No need to rub it in!” “No” he said, “no, you won! You were the first place snowboarder!” “Huhh?” I answered, “I was last of everyone, they called me last!” “No, you placed 4th overall” he said, “but first place for snowboarders!” The finalist card he gave me was my starting ticket to the Freeride finals for Italy… It would mean a helicopter ride! I was so shocked! Energy surged through me and I could not believe it. My magical lucky number somehow came through for me! I was headed to the finals!

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