Following an excellent start to the winter season in November and December, I was really looking forward to the freeride contest season. I’m playing with the idea of this being my last season in the Freeride World Qualifiers so I want to really enjoy it!
The first stop for me was in St. Moritz/Silvaplana Switzerland at the Engadinsnow 2018 contest. I took part last year as well as in 2014 and have always been impressed with the organization and venue so was excited to be a part of it again this year. It’s also nice getting to spend a little time with friends from different regions I don’t often get to see.
The qualification runs were on the Alpetta face this year: that makes 3 different faces in the 3 years competing there which has kept it exciting! The Alpetta face looks like a walk in the park on the pictures at least, but it’s likely one of the more difficult faces for orientation that I have competed on so far. It is full of sloping bumps into steep terrain so it all looks the same from the top: there aren’t many markers you can see from a distance so it is extremely difficult to find your route with any amount of speed and certainty.
The start of the first face was also quite far behind the actual face, so that you couldn’t see which direction you had to start to get into the area you wanted to ride… I started off on a trajectory too far right and missed the entrance to my line completely… meaning I never saw any of the orientation markers I had planned on using to find my way down. My whole run was very ranger-scouting-spontaneity-improvisation rather than charging down a line with any amount of confidence… so I played it too safe. The problem really was that the whole face is a steep convex field of giant boulders, trees and dips in terrain and you just couldn’t tell if you were going over a cliff, boulder or just a steep snowfield until you were on top of it. On top of that, I didn’t have much light/contrast/visibility as it was still overcast and a tad dark when I dropped in. I could basically only focus on a meter or two in front of my board putting me into safety mode where it was just a survival run without even thinking about style or difficulty for a good score. I didn’t actually perform as well as I wanted to, but got lucky enough by default to end up 2nd after the qualifier face on day 1… I can only guess the other girls must have had cosmetic mistakes in the landings of their lines resulting in severe deductions. I got lucky really, that’s all there is to it. I found out that I was in 2nd after the first day, qualifying me for the finals the next day. That really came as a shock since I wasn’t impressed with my line. I actually thought my buddies were joking with me.
That whole day (and really the last 2 weeks) I had a literal pain in the neck… I couldn’t even look straight over my right shoulder without tweaking the muscles… looking down and far up were also kind of slow jerky movements with discomfort… luckily for me I ride regular/natural foot (meaning I only really have to look over my left shoulder!). I had a chance for one round in the sauna before the riders meeting that evening which helped loosen everything up a bit so I felt better the day of the finals, enough so that I wasn’t too distracted or limited by it during the finals.
The north face of Corvatsch… this impossible looking imposing rock massive that towers over you when you arrive at the middle station of the gondola… I saw it the first time in 2013 and couldn’t quite figure out how on earth you could drop into the face with 45-60° vertical without going over 5-10m boulder cliffs onto sloping exposed snowy ramps cutting diagonally down the face above sheer 50m+ cliffs… total no-fall zone. I heard that I was qualified around 3:30pm, giving me just enough time to take the last summit gondola to peek into the face to get a better sense of what I was going to be dealing with… Once up in the gondola, I could see that the dimensions of the face were about 10 times more massive than my impression from the midstation… you don’t realize just how far away the actual face is because its essentially towering over you making it feel closer and thus “smaller.” The view from the gondola actually settled me considerably… I could see the diagonal ramp from the start and knew I would be able to ride it even if it was a little icy/crusty. I couldn’t quite see into the entrance of the main gully I intended to take so I couldn’t tell how rocky and wide it really was, or how difficult it might be to recognize the line I wanted. I was confident enough about the steepness once I saw it from the profile… I actually like steep lines once I’m in them, even if I doubt myself at the start. Still, the thought of trying to put a solid, fast, controlled run down this giant was overwhelming.
The morning of the competition was very foggy and cloudy so the start was postponed for an hour in hopes it might clear up. We had to take the summit gondola then a short hike up a steep wall to the edge of the ridge where we rappelled about 50m down into the bowl separating the cable car summit with the contest face summit. There, we had to traverse the bowl as far as possible then hike up the ridge to the start. We were very exposed the whole time in -18°C and winds increasing in strength. Clouds and fog darted in and out while we waited to rappel and hike. Having the penultimate starting number meant waiting in those conditions without much room for movement for just over 3 hours together with the other snowboard and ski women while the men started the competition off. The drop in was tricky as the wind exposed all the boulders and on top of everything it was very flat light: fog and clouds making the whole face just 2 colors… white and gray. You couldn’t see any difference in the take offs of jumps or snowy slopes… that was tricky. The size of the beast is really only evident once you’re at the top looking down or if you can see someone somewhere in the face… the magnitude was emense! I was feeling pretty cold but confident that I would be ok as long as I stayed focused and on my feet.
On my run I was excited to find that the snow was still pretty soft although all of the previous riders had dug it up pretty well. Unfortunately for me, I got snow behind my goggles on the 2nd or 3rd turn of the run and had serious difficulty in seeing the terrain. I tried tapping my helmet to make the snow fall down whilst still trying to ride as fluidly as possible and find my line. I was concerned about hitting rocks in the top and lower sections as the guides had warned us it would be sharky there. Maybe for the first time ever for me, I actually did not hit a rock! I had some trouble seeing the entrance to the main gully I wanted to take and ended up doing a little blind foggy zigzaging around some huge boulders where many tracks basically lead the way. Once I was in the gully, I was able to ride a bit more aggressively compared to the top section, although I still struggled to see properly. Happily I did find the alternative line I wanted in the bottom section. The snow felt quite good there and I managed to even jump over a small rock into this final steep, wide gully… it was next to a huge straight boulder wall which threw enough shadow to give the take off of the rock some contrast for me to find it.
On the way down the mountain and back to the hostel after the flower ceremony, we had some breathtaking views of this gorgeous region. It was all just awesome in the end… a super fat rush. Even though I played it super safe again and came in last of the 3 of us, I was just stoked to have been able to finally ride the legendary Corvatsch North Face. Not only that, but I made some new friends over the days which will make the coming competitions all the much better and make ending my competitive career all the much harder! The end of the day was as nice as the rest, a few hours in the sauna before packing up and going to the after party for another prize giving and music before starting the long trip back home.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the runs from the other riders this time around, but the video clips and pictures are just mental! Check out all the videos and photos directly on the Engadinsnow Facebook page or website!
A huge thank you goes out to the event organization and all the riders for a sick weekend as well as Rehall Outerwear and Julbo Eyewear for the gear! What a start in the comp season!