There is a reason that the location of my first freeride contest of the season is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Organization. Misurina in the Sexten Dolomites and is most well-known for the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, popular among rock climbers. But this quaint, sleepy community is the gateway to some breathtaking, mind-boggling, striking scenery and even better; endless new and interesting looking faces. An absolute dream playground for any photographer or freerider but more importantly right now: the venue for the Tre Cime Freeride Contest (initially set mid-December but postponed several times due to weather and snow issues). The third times a charm as the old adage goes and we were finally able to meet up on the weekend of January 25th and 26th for some good snow, good laughs and good friends.
Saturday was the check in and face check day. The organization had the party ambiance going in full motion by the time I arrived. The small Igloo Bar was so covered in powder snow that it really looked like an igloo. Music was playing, the sun was shining: a stunning 360° panorama of the finest dolomite sculptures nestled in heaps of snow.
As soon as 2 friends from the FWQ series (Clemens Bergmann and Lukas Steger) arrived, we rode on snowmobiles along a twisty-turny, up and down track leading deeper into the mountains towards our venue. We were dropped off at the start of the hike to the face and packed our gear up for the climb. I started off first soon realizing there was no trail yet… each step I took disappeared in the snow just under knee high… the boys took over switching up, blazing the trail to the first shoulder. A group of local Italian skiers who had ridden in with us, then took over with a group of 4 people rotating turns leading the pack. After a fairly strenuous hike in the bright sunshine left us all nice and sweaty, we reached the top and could have a look from the starting area. The start began with a bit of a convex hill essentially hiding the rest of the face. You pretty much see nothing beyond the first few turns. There was a tight little rocky chute which looked like it could have a wind lip at the bottom… I was drawn to it and curious to try. I took a few steps towards the gully to try to get a peek inside. I wanted to see if there was enough snow in it or any kind of cliff but I couldn’t get close enough to see down it. It looked pretty promising from the top and I figured the snow inside should be nicely protected from the sun and wind. It would be wild to try something like a method off of the lip. We rode back down along the ridge we had hiked up. It’s not allowed to ride in the contest face before the comp. We rely usually on binoculars and if we’re extra lucky, we can hike to the top to have a look at least. The lower part of the face turns into huge natural halfpipey terrain, flat sections and bumpy hills. The wind had carved through the terrain making traps for riders to easily get stuck in. Navigation would be interesting in this section over here. We hiked back to the a hut where the skidoo was waiting for us. I sat behind the driver and several others held onto the back or sides of the trailer. It looked pretty funny… maybe like the frozen version of those buses in third-world countries that have people hanging out the windows and on the roof.
That evening at the riders meeting, we gathered outside the Igloo Bar around a bonfire to draw our starting number out of a box. I was happy about pulled number 14 because it would give me a minute to catch my breath after the hike. We hung out enjoying the music and warmth of the fire, under the intensely starry sky. We had a great time until hunger took over and we left for dinner before going to bed.
We got an sms during breakfast saying the start was postponed an hour, due to wind and fog. We all went straight back to bed for an hour 😀 Waking up a second time for the contest, we threw our gear on, packed our stuff and headed up to the contest area. I went straight to the skidoos to start hiking asap. Several numbers were not taken by riders so I was actually the 4th rider! There were crazy fog and clouds hiding all of the beautiful peaks I had seen yesterday… I couldn’t recognize the area. It was pretty cold riding up on the skidoo trailer. As we approached the face on the winding bumpy road up, I had hoped to get a look inside the chute, but the face was almost entirely shrouded in fog. Everything appeared to be the same color in totally flat light. No chance of seeing into it. We were dropped off and started hiking without delay. The wind was blowing fiercely, making steps a bit of a stumble when a particularly strong gust came through. It was so strong that it picked up tiny icy bits of snow and caused a sideways hail storm. Sometimes the clouds broke apart allowing some of the light of the sun to illuminate the snow being blown sideways along the invisible face. The cloud of crystals reached far up overhead and I wished I had had a camera with me. I have to admit that this particular situation lends the advantage to snowboards over skis: a board shields your exposed face from the wrath of the storm. The hike felt grueling compared yesterday. I couldnt stop wondering, how it was possible to have a contest in these conditions?! The wind was just ripping on the top of the second shoulder at the bottom of the ridge leading to the start.
The first riders were already collected here and some were digging a hole to make a bit of a shelter. As it turned out, that was the idea of the century because we ended up hiding out in it for what felt like about an hour and a half… if it was more or less?… no idea. We did have our fun inside our bunker though. Lots of laughs trying to keep warm. The wind constantly blew snow up in on top of us. If someone stopped moving for a minute just closing their eyes or something, it made them look like a Himalaya ice mummy.
At some point there seemed to be lots of movement outside of the hole. I realized that riders were actually making their way to the start: so not just back down the side postponing til Monday. Fighting the wind to the top I see them moving the start down to the top of the main gully.They let me start up at the top to take the chute as I had planned. My mind went back and forth weighing the lack of visibility. It would be impossible to orient anywhere in the lower section outside of the central gully. I didn’t spend much time looking over there as it made the face short and lacked features. Whatever. I was going for it. All last season I chickened out at the last minute and took the safe line. Even though I did get pretty good results, I felt disappointed in myself for not really going for it. I decided I wanted to change that this year. Might be a strategic disaster but I think it will help push me as a snowboarder and that’s what counts for me.
Standing strapped in at the top of the face ready to go (or at least as ready as I would ever be in those conditions), I knew it would just be one, big improvisational run. I hoped to not get stuck or lost in the labyrinth of the rollers and halfpipes of the last section. In a whiteout. Being slapped by icy pebbly snow carried by a 100km/h breeze. 😀 I love contest day! The countdown was on and I dropped into the fog aiming towards 2 dark spots I hoped were the rock sides of the chute. The snow felt really good, deep but a little spongy. I realized fast that I had started the contest standing on top of the wide-mouthed chute entrance and not the original start. That made everything happen very fast and I had to deal with the uncertainty of which chute I was aiming at. I realized about halfway down that the entire chute was one big wind lip. No chance to try anything vaguely cool. I was out the chute before I could blink and then it was just “Mr. Magoo” the rest of the way down to the finish. I managed to not get stuck or lost anywhere but also couldn’t really ride fast as you never know if you’re going to go up or down next… Getting to the bottom to the others at the finish line, I was happy that I went through with the gully even though it wasn’t what I had hoped it would be… and the lower section… no clue. Couldn’t see it! I don’t think my run was particularly strong or weak… I don’t even actually know where I came down because of the fog. But it’s just a warm up for the FWQ series and the whole experience was fantastic.
We all watched as well as we could for the rest of the riders to take a go at it. The weather did start to clear up towards the end of the race day and believe it or not, it went completely clear for the rest of the evening. We returned for some lunch at the chalet before heading outside to the Igloo bar for prize giving. The podium was carved into the snowbank which was pretty clever! We enjoyed the sunset and the good vibes as the Tre Cime Freeride Contest came to a close. Clemens won the men’s snowboard division and both Lukas and I stood on 3rd in our categories. It will be a fun race when there is blue sky for sure. I cant wait to come back to this magical place!
Right after the prize giving, I had to jump back in the car to go to Alta Badia to catch a ride to the ISPO… next episode coming soon 😉