Following a few seasons competing down at the I-FREE Italian Freeride Series left me interested in exploring further competitions. I was particularly interested in finding some races a little closer to home. It would be great to meet some other riders from the region and explore the level on the international scene. With this in mind, I registered with the Freeride World Qualifier Series. After several failed attempts for a starting spot in a competition other than the Open in Hochfügen, I finally got a call for the 2* Dakine T-Bar Freesession to be held in Morgins, Switzerland. Morgins was anything but local, but after not getting starting spots into any other contests closer, it was perfect. I tried to send messages to the other Austrian and German competitors to carpool, but those who even answered me back were already riding with others. Thursday night, I ended up getting a starting spot for the guy I was dating, so we traveled spontaneously over to the Valais region late after work on Friday. The competition would be held on Saturday so we were cutting it close! Leaving directly after work early on Friday our route went from Pinzgau Austria over Innsbruck to St. Gallen Switzerland, past Zurich, Bern and down towards Lake Geneva which we followed around on Route to Sierre/Sion before taking a right off the main road and following a twisty turny mountain road up to Morgins. We arrived close to midnight in the snowy village nestled in the Alps between Verbier and Mt. Blanc. We were staying in a wooden hut with other riders which was pretty cool. Most of the guys had gone or were getting ready for bed when we arrived so we quickly settled in as well.
The next day, contest morning, was bright blue beautiful sky and we got our first taste of the Portes de Soleil. The resort itself is quite vast and spread out, requiring traversing along the mountain range using several different lifts to get to the back of the resort where the contest face was. We wanted to take some runs to warm up on the way to the face check. Unfortunately we managed to get bogged down in a deep and flat section of terrain and had to hike back up to the trail. It took massive amounts of energy out of me and I was pretty well sweaty by the time the “warm up run” was finished. I was getting a bit nervous at not having time to see the face before the race started. There was a fair amount of stress and struggle involved with arriving at the venue and some bad vibes with my boyfriend which really brought me down. I was happy to have a chance to meet some other girls competing and be off on my own before the race. The face looked exciting: pretty open and with clear lines as options. There weren’t many places where you would lose your way at least, and that was a relief. Some of the competition faces looked extremely difficult for orientation: I do not feel too confident with my orientation skills at this point. Actually referring to them as skills is even a stretch! I had an early starting number as is usual for the women’s categories, so not too much time to decide on a line. The steeper sections on the lookers right really caught my eye. A CAT (trail groomer) showed up with a long rope tow behind it. The riders had to hold on to the rope and the truck pulled us up along the trail. It was really tricky to hold onto the rope when the CAT started back downhill before we reached the top, the rope got lower and lower until it essentially buried itself in the snow while we tried to hold on, bent over and struggling. OK, that was just me most likely, but all I could think of was “Don’t let go! You’ll miss your start and you don’t know where to go!” I made it to the top of the track using a death grip on the rope and was relieved to arrive. There was another chairlift to take to the top of the resort where we would have to hike a little bit to get to the contest start. I met some really amazing women at this competition which was inspiring. Wild ladies throwing down and breaking stereotypes: this was awesome! Arriving at the top of the hike at the first starting gate (lookers left side), I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to hike over to the other side of the venue where the steeper lines had caught my attention. I would have to just drop in from the first gate or risk missing my turn. I peered over the edge of the slope and saw a pretty easy open gully face below me. A small cornice was overhanging the top of the wall and offered an interesting variation to start. I went back and forth in my mind about 100 times: to jump or not to jump: that was the question. When my turn rolled around, I still didn’t actually know if I was going for it or not. As I rolled slowly towards the edge, I think I closed my eyes even… with massive amounts of indecision and not really knowing what to expect, I kind of lobbed myself over the edge of the cornice and dropped into the face. It was the first time I had even ever tried to go over one… I actually was fine in the air, it wasn’t really a big drop, but was still kind of so spaced out by indecision that I washed out to my butt upon the landing… I guess just in case or something. I don’t really know what my body was thinking. The rest of the face went fast: I tried for some fluid fast turns down the face. It wasn’t a strong run but I was really proud of myself for somehow going for the drop in. I got to see most of the other competitors, which was cool to watch. One of the Swiss girls took a central line and essentially straight-lined it from half way down the face. She picked up so much speed quickly that when the nose got stuck on some crusty snow, it sent her tomahawking down the face all the way to the bottom. Regardless of the wipe-out, it was still pretty much one of the gnarliest lines I had ever seen a girl go for. It was awesome! Usually a fall means last place in the FWQ series: her line, crash and all, still made 3rd place! That’s how cool it looked! I enjoyed the atmosphere at the finish line/spectators area watching wild runs, supporting friends and meeting new people. Some funky music mixed with blue bird sunshine was a recipe for relaxation. After the contest ended, we took some more freeride runs with other people before returning to the village to pack up our stuff and get ready to leave after prize-giving.
I ended up finishing dead last in the women’s category which felt hard considering some girls fell for real, but I was still pleased to have pushed my own limits a little and just put myself out there. The thrill of competition, of standing there in the starting gate with your heart pounding… slightly uncertain of where to actually ride, fighting the anxiety and trying to not let the nerves tunnel your vision or black you out completely: that’s pretty epic. The results of the competitions remain secondary to the experience of it all for me. I think that’s a pretty healthy way of looking at the competition. Regardless of the last place finish, I’m excited to give it another go! Never stop learning, never stop trying new things, never stop pushing your limits and tasting life. That’s the motto!