FWQ 3* Jasna Adrenalin 2014 – foggy Chopok

Not having a job has enabled me to enroll in more exotic contest venues this season. The next on that list was Jasna, Slovakia. I had visited the Czech Republic during my hockey career but Slovakia would be novel. 9:00 am marked the start of the long road trip for the next 3* contest in the FWQ series. One rider picked me up and we gathered another 2 girls on route. After 9 or 10 hours we arrived at a hotel we were staying at for the night, before continuing on to the venue. I had booked hut for 8 riders with only one bathroom; that would be the real adventure! The hotel was quite spacious, Sophia booked a junior suite for us costing only 15€ per person. We had dinner next to the hotel and hung out a little before going to bed. We drove to the Chopok mountain, a short trip from the hotel, the next morning. They were hosting a FIS junior skiing event as well as our freeride comp. The resort was bustling with activity. There were tents with various demo gear and live music and games going on. It was an exciting atmosphere and much more of a full on event than our races ever are. We found the shop for accreditation, got some lift tickets and took a few runs. A heavy fog blanketed the mountain leaving only a few, flat, short baby slope runs with visibility. I gently tugged my boot laces to re-tighten them while on the chairlift; I ripped the quick draw lace right in half. At the top of the lift, I had to knot it back together in order to ride. We tried a few runs with the gondola to the top, trying to face check but found only a dizzying, thick, pea soup fog. Riding down even slowly was a challenge; trying to stay on trail and avoid the openly exposed rocks spread out along the pretty bare trails. It looked like Slovakia was having the same, sad kind of winter we had in Salzburg. I was more focused on slaloming around the rocks, straining to see ANYTHING, than having any fun. At some point we gave up and went to the top of the gondola to the “Rotunda” restaurant where a bunch of other riders were hanging out in hopes of the fog lifting, enabling a face check. There would be none of that, decided the weather gods. The contest organization postponed the face check hoping for a weather window the next day.
Going for a few more runs down low, we ran into Stefan, Mattia, Stefano and Liisa who were just arriving. They were staying with us in the hut as well. The girls and I left to try to find the hut and get the key before it got too dark. According to the online booking tool map, the hut should have been within walking distance of the lifts. In reality it was quite a bit further away. We couldn’t find it to save our lives; we even asked locals but no one had ever heard of it. After an hour or so, I finally convinced a woman at a hotel reception call the owner to ask for directions. He said to wait there and he would get us. That was a blessing in disguise, as this hut was so secluded and hidden that we never would have figured it out. Our landlord arrived to guide us there about 20 minutes later. It was actually up a forest path without signs or marking. The path wound up and down and around through the thick woods and was pretty well covered in snow and ice. The Ford Mondeo wagon we were in, fully loaded with gear and riders, stood no chance of making it up that trail to the hut. The girls tried and tried, but the heavy front wheel drive Mondeo wasn’t having it. The car ended up kind of jacking sideways after the gas pedal was floored and the tires spun ineffectively on that insanely slick ice. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The landlord grabbed his portable chainsaw and had to cut a small sapling down so the girls could back reverse back to a small parking area near the main road. We packed all of our gear into our landlord’s 4×4 and he shuttled us up to our hut. The hut itself was a little piece of paradise. There were no other signs of civilization to be seen in there, it was so peaceful. German speakers would describe it as ‘where the rabbit and the fox say good-night.’ It had essentially everything you could need or want, excepting more bathrooms and internet. We had to leave straight back to the resort after “checking in” as the problems getting in there took so long. It had started snowing nicely by the time we met up with the rest of the riders at the bottom of the chairlift. The organization had arranged for a late chair run to get back up to the Rotunda restaurant for the riders’ meeting and welcome dinner. The thought or idea of it was really cool but we didn’t know the plan and had changed into “normal” clothes; making the very slow chairlift in the snow, a cold and wet experience. I didn’t sit on the chair but kind of squatted on my feet the whole ride. My shins and knees were soaking wet by the time we got to the next leg of the lift called the lady bug. I was very happy to have a dry butt though! The slow moving train only connected the short distance to the gondola middle station. We had to wait there for the entire group before they sent us up the gondola. Considering that we were all soaking wet and it was really cold, we joked that it was a ploy to make the international riders too sick to compete. Safely at the top, we started off with the riders’ meeting, followed by dinner and a get-together. We had some pivo (beer) and enjoyed the company. Sophia and I sat at a table with some French riders, Leo, Dylan and Leo. They were great company had us laughing the whole time. I also got to hang out with a few Italian racers I hadn’t seen since competing in the I-FREE circuit years ago. It was a cool atmosphere, but faster than we could dry from the ride up, it was time to head back down to the valley. I bumped into Stefanie, a cool and sweet skier I met racing Hochkönig, and we shared the snowy chairlift back down. We had fun taking silly pictures and enjoying the winter wonderland. We arrived soaking wet again. I rode with Stefan to guide him to our hut which turned out smart as we made it all the way to the hut in his car. We all turned in pretty soon, worn out from the excitement and massive amounts of food.
Face check was initially scheduled for 10:30 the next day, but the mountain remained veiled by the thick, stubborn storm front. We tried again at 12:30 but it was a futile attempt. We joined one of the Leos for a few runs which was a lot of fun. His super carefree attitude and pure enjoyment of skiing, even in those rough conditions, was totally contagious. He didn’t care that we were much slower and weaker which was cool. At the event village, we had a few laughs trying a slalom course wearing special safety goggles. We watched as some kids tried it; they could hardly walk… all you had to do was weave through 4 cones and back. Leo gave it a go then I tried it too and instantly understood what the problem was… those were no ordinary safety goggles! They skewed and distorted everything so heavily that taking normal steps forward was nearly impossible. It was a good laugh and we continued on. Leo wanted to change skis so we returned to the other side of the lift area. The group decided to head up into the fog again and I went to the Lib Tech/Gnu demo stand looking for a mini-edge tool to sharpen the magnatraction edge on my board. The guys were really friendly and offered to sharpen the edges for me, which was nice. I saw some Gnu bindings and spontaneously asked if it was possible to test them, as I would need some new ones soon. They only had the B-Free in a women’s sizes which I was a skeptical about. I didn’t like rear entry bindings such as those from Flow. But I took a run on the flat trail and had a good hold. I asked to use them in the contest because my boots were so packed out and loose, now especially with the broken lacing system, that I had no stability. The B-Frees held my feet tight against the board, giving me some control back which was a good feeling. The guys at the tent were amazing and said no problem. It had been taxing trying to milk totally ruined gear this season as nothing was going my way. I had waited 4 months for my new snowboard boots just to find a competitor of mine wearing them in my local shop one day. The new bindings I had ordered over Xmas arrived missing a screw in the baseplate, which refused to stay even with lock-tite. 3 different shops in 3 different countries had unsuccessfully tried to fix it, meaning I was back on my old 2008 bindings which broke 3 times last season directly before contests… it stunk. That’s all it boiled down to.
We finally had our first glimpse of the contest face on day 3 which turned into the day of the contest. Riding up the gondola was a whole new experience with blue skies and sunshine. The view was fantastic and the face was impressive. The riders met together on the side of the venue before continuing to the finish area to have a look. Picking a line wasn’t that easy because so many different ones looked like they would be boatloads of fun to ride. I would have loved to try each of them! I tried to mark a few lines in my mind, hoping to find some fresh snow by the time the womens category was up. We were scheduled to be the last racers of the day. I didn’t mind not being first as I’m not really physically functional early in the day. This way we would be able to warm up and see a few people drop in to get an idea of the snow conditions. Most of the girls were waiting out in the Rotunda restaurant for the start as the day went on. I wanted to make a little sign for my parents and sisters children since it was supposed to be a live-streamed event and my Dad was going to try to watch it. The day continued on and on with several delays. Each time we thought we would be up soon, something came up, not least of all included a helicopter rescue of a skier who went too big and managed to knock herself out, bloody her face and sent to the hospital in a nasty crash. All in all, I ended up standing in the starting block some time just before 4pm. The lighting of the day had dimmed and clouds were covering the sky: visibility had turned terrible. I watched a few of the girls falling on the first section leading to the main face because it was so icy. The wind had done a real number on the conditions. I was pretty sure no one had taken the line that I was looking at; starting off with a tight chute at the top, leading to riders right into a more open gully. I dropped in expecting decent snow but met hard, wind-affected conditions. I found the entrance to the chute I wanted but there was a foot or two wide ditch running straight down it. It wasn’t possible to actually carve down it with the ditch and I was forced to jump turn/drift swing down it keeping the nose of the board away from the deep ditch. I couldn’t make any features out thanks to the flat light. I knew my line would go to the right at the end of the gully so I steered that direction but ended up a little too early, missing some jump possibilities. I couldn’t recognize any features in the flat light and basically continued along more or less fall line down the face. I saw, what I thought would be a small step-up jump where I tried a cab 180°, but it turned out pretty small. The bottom arrived much sooner than I expected it to, estimating the massive face to take longer than it did. I actually didn’t realize how far down I was until I caught a glimpse of the finish line far over on the left side which I had to quickly turn to traverse over to. It was not the most satisfying run I have ever had, but I was quite happy to have made it down clean with out incident. A few more girls followed and the contest was over. We took a nice group picture at the finish line where all the girls waited and watched each other before continuing on through the forest to try to make it back to a chairlift in time to return to the resort. It was already pretty late and as we arrived at a lift far down the valley, it was already closed. We had to wait for a bus to come and collect us to return back to the parking lot. I scurried as fast as I could to return the bindings at the test stand, worried I might have missed them already. The guys had packed everything up and were waiting on me, but very cool about coming so late. We all returned to the hut to shower up and get ready for dinner and the prize-giving ceremony later that evening. Arriving back at the resort pretty late at night, we took a nice walk up to a freeriders’ hostel for dinner. The sky was full of stars and the relatively low amount of light allowed for a great view. We followed dinner up with a few beers before returning to the base of the resort where a large stage was set up for the prize-giving. After the top 3 of each category were celebrated, we headed to the riders party which was a wild affair. There was a crazy violin player killing it to rock music and some very colorful, drunken guys hanging out. There weren’t that many people at the party unfortunately, but we all made the best of it before returning home to the hut and crashing into a very deep sleep. The drive home was more painful that the trip to the contest had been, but isn’t that always the case?! My run was only worth 7th place in the end but the feedback from one of the judges was very positive and the competition was stiff. I was pleased about following through with the line I chose regardless of the visibility and conditions, as well as staying on my feet for a change!

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