Take the high road (I already took the low road)

The current good conditions in Scotland are rare indeed and I like Winter Highland's advice: 'It's midweek, it's quiet, the snow is good, throw a sickie.....'

Sadly, its not always like that as witnessed by this piece I wrote last year for The Aspect Journal. I now offer it here too for posterity: my account of a typically wet day riding in Scotland.

We wanted to start the next thousand years as we wished them to continue. So when we slipped out of the village at seven in the morning on New Year's Day 2001, we felt rather smug. We envisaged the rest of our friends slumped by the fire at the end of the day, suffering from holiday bloat, when we would return as rugged, mountain-conquering heroes with tales to tell.

Fifteen of us had gathered in the west of Scotland to celebrate the "real" start of the millennium. An hour in, after a lavish Hogmanay dinner and ceilidh, two of the party had discreetly staggered off for an early night. So the fact that we were on the road so early felt like an achievement in itself.

The entire United Kingdom was in the grip of a vicious cold snap with most of the country covered in snow and we were certain that a trip to Scotland would offer some snowboarding opportunities. Unfortunately, Presbyterian Glencoe, the nearest ski area to our holiday village, chose not to open for religious reasons, despite rare good conditions. Further north, Nevis Range was reporting far less snow and had not yet opened for the season. For several days, however, the resort's Web site had promised that it would open on New Year's Day.

After two hours on the road we arrived at an empty car park. We quickly learned that there was too little snow to open properly but that the resort manager would make a decision within the next hour as to whether they could open anything. We settled down in the café with a few other hopefuls to rest our weary heads and wait.

Finally the manager announced that, as promised, Nevis Range would open. The shivering snow addicts cheered. However we would have to be patient, he explained, because to get us to the limited snow his staff would need to reconfigure a drag lift to start higher up the mountain.

By lunch time the lift was ready and twenty or so hardcore skiers and riders jostled enthusiastically to the chair lift that would give us access to the hill. From there it would be a short hike to the tow lift that now served the upper half of a narrow snow gully flanked by brown heather.

We savoured the first few runs as though they were the reward for climbing Everest. We revelled in the camaraderie that had developed between the resort staff and their most committed customers.

Then, perhaps inevitably for Scotland, the rain started. A slight drizzle at first, we barely noticed it. A few timid souls trudged toward the chair lift but we kept going, donning goggles and hoods, relishing the rain as an additional hardship to be overcome.

Water seeped through our clothes, running down our limbs while we cowered on the tow. Soon there were only a handful of people left on the hill and what little snow was left was fast dissolving. We made a final run, dodging the newly exposed patches of heather, and unstrapped our snowboards, smiling.

Two hours later around the fire, still wet, we recounted the day to our mocking and deriding friends. We had no doubt, though, that we had made the right decision to go snowboarding that morning. We only hoped that our perseverance would be rewarded with better conditions for the next thousand years.

"Girl Powder"

This travel piece from the Guardian reviews a girls only learn to ride holiday with instruction from Becci Malthouse (a senior BASI person IIRC).

If you really are after powder it might be a bit tame but if you want to learn in a supportive environment with high quality instruction its worth a look.

28 February 2005 "Girl Powder"

A little history

There seem to be lots of web sites that offer to relate the history of snowboarding and most are dire. I just came across this potted history though that actually reads quite well.

I was interested that it mentions the first "National Snowsurfing Championships" held at Suicide Six in Vermont as I was there last year. Its a tiny ski hill with two small lifts in stark contrast to the mega resorts where current day comps are held which helps to give a feel for the scale of the sport in 1982.

I was also reminded of my own first cognizance of snowboarding as a teenager in 1985. It was the fabulous title sequence to A View to a Kill in which 007 is being chased on skis. After a bit of Bode Miller-esque single ski skiing he looses his final ski and picks up the front skid of a blown up snowmobile, the music changes to California Girls and he 'surfs' down the mountain into the arms of some babe in a submarine. IMDB lists one Thomas Sims as the uncredited stunt double!

23 February 2005 A little history

My first time

First day on a board Bormio 1996 (click to enlarge)Its ten years since I first set foot on a snowboard!

It was on a ski holiday with some pals to Bormio in Italy. Most of the others had been skiing a few times and persuaded me that I should ski with them rather than spend my time falling over on the bunny slopes. As the end of the holiday approached I was desperate to try a snowboard and cajoled the most adventurous member of the group into joining me for the last day.

We strapped in and headed up the nearest short drag lift (getting the hang of that was half the battle) then we just went for it. We had no instruction but tried to copy the riders we had seen. I was hooked from the first turn.

I spent the rest of the afternoon falling on my head and laughing with delight, meanwhile my friend was struggling with the drag lift and gave up out of caution when he saw me perform a particularly acrobatic head plant (happily he tried again a few years later and has long since given up skiing).

Amazingly, a photo from that very first day survives. Note the ski boots and plate bindings and the 1980s hand-me-down C&A "ski wear"!

17 February 2005 My first time


Hafjell lower slopes (click to enlarge)With a base height of only 200m and a top lift at about 1000m Hafjell did not sound too promising but I was pleasantly surprised. The latitude, two hours drive north from Oslo's Gardermoen airport, means that there is normally plenty of snow despite the low altitude. A recent snowfall and persistent cold temperatures meant that conditions were very good last weekend when I was there.

Norway is expensive. Everything: accommodation, travel, lift passes and, especially, beer is pricey but I was adding a couple of days on to the end of a business trip so it seemed like a good opportunity and at least the travel was taken care of.

The resort is a 15 minute (read £25) taxi ride from Lillehammer which is well served by train directly from Oslo airport. The town is very proud of its Olympic heritage having hosted the Winter Games in 1994. Hafjell itself was the site of the Slalom events (snowboarding, you will recall, did not make the schedule until the 1998 games in Nagano). It was also due to host the womens' downhill event but the competitors complained that the slope was not steep enough and the event was moved to nearby Kvitfjell and run on the same course as the mens' downhill.

The ski area does not look that promising when you arrive with only the lower half of a couple of runs visible but higher up there is a decent amount of terrain served by three quad chair lifts and four main T-bars. The runs coming off the chairs get quite busy at the weekends but by enduring the drag lifts you can access some lovely tree lined runs with virtually no one else to get in your way.

Few of the runs could be described as challenging and there appeared to be limited off piste opportunities (plenty of cross country trails of course). Most of the terrain comprises well groomed wide gentle slopes which are perfect for high speed carving.

The "resort" has very few restaurants, bars or shops but it does have scope for lots of other winter activities, the main one being cross country skiing (we also took in a bob sleigh ride at the Olympic track on the other side of the valley).

Its not a place you would go for a ski holiday although it certainly is worthwhile for a weekend if you are in Oslo or nearby.

16 February 2005 Hafjell


I had heard of Teleboards before but never actually seen one in action until last weekend at Hafjell in Norway. I saw a guy whiz past me and, thinking he was riding a Skwal, I took off in pursuit to have a chat (being a bit of a Skwal fan myself).

As I followed I could see that his heels were lifting and I realised he was riding a Teleboard! I was immediately enthused like a bird spotter (some might say trainspotter) catching a glimpse of a rare and exotic species and quickly caught up with him.

He introduced himself as Bjørn Oskar Venås Røbergrider, a demo rider for the Norwegian distributor, telebord.no. We had quite a chat and he told me he felt it was more like skiing than riding but admitted that he was from a skiing background. To me it looked like a superb carving tool that I would love to try. Unfortunately, demos seem to be few and far between.

16 February 2005 Teleboard

A day in the Alps - £99

I noticed the Eurostar offer of a day in the Alps for £99 a couple of weeks ago and was tempted.

Traveling overnight on Friday, riding all day Saturday and returning overnight to recover on Sunday is hardcore, so credit to bullet on the snowHeads board for doing it.

1 February 2005 A day in the Alps - £99

Sheffield "Snow Mountain" plans

SCUK has the latest on the ambitious plans to extend the Sheffield Ski Village.

Double 1080°s!

The Finn, Antti Autti, kicked off his final run in the Winter X games Superpipe competition last night with a pair of back to back 1080°s. Wow. No wonder he took gold.

Antti Autti at the finals of the Winter X Games Superpipe Comp in Aspen, 31-Jan-05

1 February 2005 Double 1080°s!

Music to ride to

Gadling ran a top ten tunes to ride to feature yesterday. It reminded me of how, when I was learning, I used to hum Sheryl Crow's "Every day is winding road" as it forced me to remember to keep turning.

So I was wondering, what songs best embody the rhythm of riding?

1 February 2005 Music to ride to | Comments (1)
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