FWQ 3* Engadinsnow 2014

3 days after the contest in Hochkönig, I left for Switzerland where I was able to get the final starting spot in the contest.The weather had been dumping without signs of slowing down since Christmas leading to a snowpack double the standard season average.  Our contest was postponed to Thursday hoping on a weather window. We got a free ticket for a face check on Wednesday. We arrived in Engadin with about 10 meters visibility in crazy fog. The snow piled up higher and higher the closer we got to St. Moritz, as did our excitement. Stefan brought me to Majola where I was staying in a dorm room with 5 other riders. We actually drove past it because I couldn’t believe that the hostel was in the palace literally. The snow was higher than I have ever seen it in person. It reminded me of pictures of Japan! I checked in to the palace where a bunch of the riders were all over the place. It was a really cool atmosphere. Hallways looked like a freeride gear bomb went off with stuff spread out to dry. People were downstairs in the spacious cathedral-ceiling-chandeliered-foyer hanging out or online. Total riders village!
Wednesday was beyond foggy at Silvaplana where you can view the contest face, Forcla. We took a look at the foggy mountain but it seemed that the wind had really done a number on the exits… seemed difficult to find a solid exit without an obligatory jump somewhere… we decided to ride a little. Excited to get into the powder we took off. First turn I made right behind the top station of the gondola was into a little ice block. I landed on my wrist. Fattest sickest deepest snow conditions I have ever seen with my own two eyes, and I hit ice on my first turn. Only me man. Wrist hurt… who cares… onwards. I had to try to catch up to the others as I had never been here before and had no idea of where to ride. Considering the fog, no chance of easily finding my way either. The rest of the day can be referred to as “not my day.” I couldn’t take 2 turns without landing face down in the snow. Like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Wasn’t happening. I have never had such a crap riding day in my life. I’m pretty sure that I was riding better my first day on a board than today. WTF. Frustration. Pure. All I want are steep and deep runs right… well here is steep and DEEP… so whats the problem?! No chance. I was fighting my sexy T.Rice the whole day… is he too stiff for me in really deep snow? Too wide? Why the hell am I riding with an entirely boned front leg?! Yeah. Shit day. Period.
I had a sauna after “riding” and by the riders meeting in the evening, already felt a whole lot better. I was given start number 64 for the next day’s comp, which meant having a real face check and even getting to watch a few guys ride the face before having to hike up myself. Much better for me than super early starts: after years of hockey practice late at night; my body doesn’t “do” sports well in the morning. We were told that the contest face hadn’t been ridden in 2014 as there has been no visibility or high avalanche risks. They would be bombing the whole mountain range from Majola where our hotel was, all the way up to Silvaplana and beyond. They guides would watch how the snow reacted on similar peaks/hangs and make a decision about our contest. By the time I drop in (64th) however, I’m just hoping there will still BE snow in the face!
Contest day we woke up to absolute stunning bluebird sky and whipped cream covered mountain tops. A contest with fat snow AND visibility!?!? Jackpot!! The contest face looked fantastic that morning riding up the gondola. The problem finding an exit seem to have solved itself over night: there were massive rocks and cliffs and heaps of snow in the face… a total playground! How exciting!!
I took a run right away to test the snow AND especially my board and myself. I rode much better regardless of the heavy and fatiguing snow where it had already been tracked out. I went back to face check and ended up missing the morning Riders meeting. Luckily there was no new news and I was able to watch the starting 20 or so runs before finalizing my line and heading up the gondola to get to the start. At the top it was super windy and offered an absolutely amazing view. I rode over to the start of the ascent. The first thing that came to mind was that the hike was actually so much steeper than the pictures at riders meeting showed. That is always a bit of a problem in general with pictures: they can be so insanely misleading: the perspective is often entirely different when you see it in person. Hiking up to the top, the snow still looked fantastic. I climbed around a little to try to see over the edge of the face hoping to see the first jump I chose from the bottom to see if it was reasonable or just too big. The others at the top said that it was getting sharky as so many people have been jumping already. I was super motivated to start after seeing how nice the snow looked. Around start# 60, I started getting nervous. I opted for a smaller rock to drop first which had less tracks in the landing. I chose to do to test the snow on the small one before risking hitting a shark or tomahawk 1,5 seconds after dropping in. I strapped in. Ready to go: butterflies in my stomach but feeling good. Enjoying that. I cant see anything but maybe a meter of snow in front of me as the face starts off slightly convex so I hoped I found the entry to the first little bump I wanted. I’m especially anxious when I don’t see at least the first few turns or especially the entry to the route I’m looking for. It may not seem like it from below, but standing in the starting gate, you usually don’t see anything at all in the face… you don’t see the cliffs, you don’t see how big it is until your on top of it essentially… that can be crazy intimidating in faces you have only seen for the first time a few hours earlier!
63 was finished and I was up. Countdown: dropping in 3…2…1… I started off tentatively taking a few turns to navigate into the first jump which went really smoothly. It wasn’t particularly high and the snow was fantastic in the landing which gave me some confidence to go for some bigger drops after all. I honestly don’t remember much about my run, I hit a few meter high jumps while working my way to the riders right. It felt so good and so smooth in that snow that I kept looking for more little drops on the right hand side. The terrain started getting a little flat so pointed it straighter to not slow down too much, I got going pretty fast and realized I had missed a turn. I was aiming for a final left to the steeper exit on the far right. I had seen a few boarders getting stuck in the untracked snow on the flat traverse back to the finish line needed when the line was on the riders right. But it was too late:  I had a lucid moment pretty much right at the entrance to the final tight chute where only a few tracks lead me to thinking: wait a second, am I already all the way down here?! I thought I was still up on the 2nd third of the face. I just went for it hoping dearly there were no rocks exposed by the earlier riders. The snow was great luckily, I spotted a bit of a wind lip on the left side of the gully and rode up the wall to try to slash the top of the lip. As I cut back into the gully, I hit a hole or track or something and essentially bounced past the heel edge with the back foot and lost my balance a little, butt checking on the back wall of the wind lip to push back up onto by board. Oh maaaan I thought! That could have easily been avoided if I hadn’t been enjoying the slash just a little too much or mentally celebrating the clean run seeing the end of the chute and the traverse to the finish… I love it how the mountain always motivates you to keep concentrated. I traversed in a track to the finish line pretty charged and satisfied with my run although I did want to try to run back up there and just go a little bigger to see how that would work out. That always happens after a run though, you think, “Aaaah OK! NOW I understand where to go and how fast I could still safely hit it.” This seems to be a common emotion among the riders that I have hung out with at past finish lines 🙂 . I watched the rest of the riders who had some crazy runs and impressive displays of skill. Taking the trail to the valley at sunset was just beautiful. We returned to the Maloja palace to get ready for the riders party and prize giving: the results were online before we left so we pre-celebrated with those of the group who got podium spots. In the end, my run was only worth 6th place. That might sound bad actually but this season I have started competing in harder contests, the higher the star count, the better (harder!) the competition normally. I want to focus on just sticking my runs this season… not wimping out all the time but throwing down (for my level at least 😉 ). Let’s see how the other contests go! Engadinsnow was a pretty cool serious start to the season though: I will have a long road ahead of me until I start holding my own really at this level and we will need some snow in Salzburg. I have my fingers crossed and promise to do my snow dance every night 🙂

Thanks to Roger Gruetter Photography for letting me use his pictures!

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