FWQ 3* Open Faces Montafon 2016: beware of sharks!

Coming off a 3rd place finish in Morgins, I was stoked for Montafon. I had wanted to take part in the Montafon race in it’s first year but it coincided with the race in Nendaz and I couldn’t make it on time to the riders’ meeting so couldn’t start. This time around was different! I traveled together with Berber Semmelink in her winter camper which was very luxurious. We busted out some great music and set our sights for western Austria. It was slow going towing the camper but we amused ourselves on the way. We almost even created an international incident at the St. Anton toll booth, but that’s a whole different story. Around midnight we rolled into a gondola station parking lot with signs forbidding overnight parking. We drove around the village looking for a possibility to camp but found a small local bar instead. We decided to go for a big radler beer and ponder our situation. That turned out to be a good idea because we met Christian Scheubmayr, the owner of Base Montafon, an excellent hotel across from the gondola. Christian offered to let us park at his hotel and even said he had electricity hook ups and we could use the bathrooms! Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

We had time to face check and ride some trails on Saturday. Montafon is quite a vast resort with lifts accessing various faces and connecting ranges. The weather was pretty nice so we could get a few pictures and a good hard look at the steep, rocky venue. There were so many interesting options to choose from but orientation during the ride looked like it could be a little tricky. The snow conditions had clearly been effected by the wind, but we were lucky to even have the competition since most had already been canceled due to lack of snow. Ber and I enjoyed some sunshine and coffee on the terrace at the viewers area, before returning to the valley. We relaxed and went over some line possibilities on the computer back at the camper before showering up for the riders meeting. The meeting itself was pretty standard talking about the venue and conditions, the schedule, what to do if you crash and insurance related info, for example. We also got our race shirts with starting number. Waiting to find out my starting number is always a little suspenseful for me… during the first season of Open Faces races, I ended up the first to drop in at almost every competition. I’m kind of intimidated by the first starting slots for some reason. I guess it would be a totally different story if we had some seriously fresh deep snow! We had a dinner together with all the staff and riders at the hotel after the meeting which was nice. Half of the fun is the company to be honest; it’s a great diverse group of people getting together to share a passion and have some fun. We had a little time to chat with the other riders before returning to the hotel. A few of the other riders needed a place to park overnight as well, so Christian let them park in the lot as well. We all went into the hotel to chat with him for a while and take a few pictures. We went to bed pretty late considering how early we would have to be on the mountain and ready to ride!

The alarm clock seemed to start chirping as soon as we fell asleep and it was time to get ready. In a bit of a sleepy blur, I got my gear ready and bundled up nice and warm before we headed to the mountain.

There is a hustle and bustle of preparing the spectators area at the comps when we arrive there so early in the morning… it reminds me of the humming of electricity when charging a device. The tension growing and the excitement creeping in… your heart just seems to beat a little faster. It was nice to get another view of the face in the morning since the light hits it at different angles than it does towards the end of the day. Sometimes it feels like you’re looking at a different face. Still lacking commitment just one route down the face, I juggled the various options while taking 2 runs quickly before heading over to hike to the start. Drawing the number 6 wouldn’t give me too much time to dawdle before I had to be ready to race. The conditions didn’t feel particularly soft and the cold air made it more challenging to feel warmed up. Luckily the hike up to the start gate would provide the much needed warm muscles. We had to traverse over to the base of the climb which had a few ropes set up to aid the steepest section right below the starting ridge. There wasn’t a whole lot of room at the top so we were asked to wait at different spots during the hike up to allow those who would be next to get up to the ridge first. The actual hike was a lot less stressful than it looked like it would have been thanks to good boot packing and the fixed rope. I guess the year before was just treacherous from what some of the girls were saying. At the top of the hike, I only had a few minutes to take the view in and try to get my bearings to find my line. The top section was already a bit tracked/scraped/exposed in sections and as always, its not easy to recognize your planned line from the start. Most of the others had raced this mountain before but I was looking down it for the first time. The typical jitters of trying to recognize my line were with me as I started to strap the board on and prepare for my run. I could figure out the top section for the most part but could also see that the 2nd section was going to be nice and tricky if I stuck with the line I talked myself into. The tracks I could discern of the girls before me all seemed to lead in the same general direction and I hoped that it would mean I might find some fresh snow since, once again, I was looking at something entirely different. I readied myself and strapped in as it was my turn to go. I had to wait a few moments for a photographer or rescue worker to traverse a section further down the mountain where he would be out of the riders paths. I focused on not letting my nerves take over my concentration and felt pretty good about this face. The countdown started and so did I… heading for a steeper looking central channel at the top, I realized that the snow had been pretty windblown in spots which made for a few icy patches. Checking my speed before entering into the channel a little too much because of the ice put me into a safety mode on the way down. I wasn’t charging at all and didn’t feel like I was on my game. This was definitely not “the zone”. I passed through the first section over cautiously and tried to pick up some speed where it flattened out, but had to again check that coming into the middle section of the face. It was a bit of a flatter section leading to the next bit with shoots between larger rocks and I struggled with recognizing which of the exact shoots I had chosen. Everything looks pretty much the same from the top and knowing that there was more exposed rock towards my right vs the left resulted in me tending too much to the right hand side too early on. I was already off my line and winging it I realized. Trying to salvage the line, I aimed a little more to the right and ended up in the lower section where many tracks traversed the face. I tried to stay a little steeper than the others tracks to find fresh snow but ended up coming down directly on a tiny little exposed rock very close to the bottom. The nose of my board hit the rock and I flipped over the handlebars so to speak. I tried to quickly get to my feet and continue on, knowing full well that this would likely mean last place and missing out on seeding points which I desperately needed to maintain access to the better ranked comps. The frozen tracks running horizontally to the face were harder to deal with now that I had essentially that rubbery legs feeling you get after you just wiped out but at least I stayed on my feet to the bottom from there on in. It was a disappointment to have lost it at the bottom of the face, but having lost my line in the middle made for a pretty uninspired line anyway. I joined the other girls at the finish line until all of our category was down before heading back over to the viewers area to warm up. At least it was a beautiful day and there was an amazing atmosphere over at the spectators zone with music food and sunshine. They even had a large video screen to provide some more detailed views of the runs since the actual comp face was a good distance off across the valley. I enjoyed the company of the other riders as they finished, some good tunes by our DJ and speaker Kai and soaked in the sun. Only one more competition left to go in the season for me this year (assuming that we have enough snow for it!) and that means I will really have to bring a clean run or risk missing out on starting spots next season! Fingers crossed, see you next time!

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