Well…another winter season has been and gone and as usual at this time of year, I’m sat at home on the Isle of Wight with way to much time on my hands. While I sit here experiencing the most sun i’ve seen in years I think it’s a good time to go over the past year of my life which have had it’s ups and downs.
The main protagonist is my ongoing ankle problem which kept me off the snow in New Zealand and put this European winter in doubt. It got to mid-December and after doing everything doctors and physio’s had told me, my ankle was gaining little improvement. A chiroprator here at home threw out the suggestion of just ‘giving it a go’ and get on my snowboard….whats the worst that could happen?
It was exactly the positivity I was looking for and I took an opportunity to go back to my second home of Les Arcs. So I bought a car, booked a ferry and left for the Alps after having my first Christmas at home for nearly 9 years.
My life revolves around being in these amazing places and doing incredible things but not only was this injury preventing that, I hadnt realised the effect it was having mentally.
For me, being active has always been an important part of my life, whether that’s playing basketball to de-stress or setting trail in the backcountry and exploring the mountains, its always provided me with a purpose and an escape.
So while I had put in months of hard work with phyisiotherapy, I still couldn’t do the things I loved as well as I wanted too, and that began to affect affect me.
Fast forward to around mid Feburary, i’d been on my board for a month or so and got my first competitions of the season done. My results were bad, but I knew that would happen as although I was now snowboarding, I was only riding at about 60% and jumping off anything was a definite no…kind of a key feature of a freeride competition right?
Although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be competing the way I wanted and making the most of these opportunities, I began down another path in snowboarding where I didn’t put pressure on myself and I just went back to the basics, this proved to be a ‘lightbulb’ moment and I fell in love with snowboarding again.
That simple movement of a toe-side turn in powder on a steep face was all I wanted and I spent the rest of winter searching for that exact feeling. I would go on an hour-long boot-pack for a 10 second ride down just to feel on the edge of being scared, but it was all worth it to get that ‘soul-turn’ away from the prying eyes of resort life.
Usually I feel like I constantly need to improve and keep moving forward in everything I do for my own satisfaction. it can be frustrating at times as i’m never happy with where I’m at but it does makes me determined, standing still just isn’t an option.
This winter I had no choice. I learnt to stop, take a look around and enjoy the ride, after all thats the whole reason for this lifestyle and it’s easy to forget that. The very definition of freeride is to ‘snowboard on un-groomed terrain free from goals and rules’ andsometimese you can get caught up in yourself and lose track of that. I realised it’s easy to let your goals consume you, you need to step back every once in a while.
The riding was the healing process
We had everything you need for a good crew, a mix of personalities and abilities must mostly just people being stoked. Everyone frothed on powder, finding the steepest lines and, lucky for me, never got disheartened with my stupid ideas.
We were blessed with the most snow I have ever seen in Europe and while the temperatures fluctuated in the mid season, they eventually settled down and created some incredible conditions for big mountain riding.
One day sticks out in my mind and defined this winter for me.
Three of the most exposed line in Les Arcs were all on, the stars had alined and we could ride them all on the same day in perfectly dry champagne powder.
First was under the Aguille Rouge gondola, where we scored first tracks in 30cm of new snow on a 40 degree slope, not the most dangerous of slopes but an exposed line over rocky terrain where ‘billy goating’ is a must.
Second was an area that varies in gradient but feels exposed, partly due to the no fall zone above a 50 foot cliff but again, we had perfect snow and were some of the first to ride it. Lastly was a cherry of a line. A steep 45 degree couloir that starts open but funnels into around 3 metres wide. Although not as exposed as the others its a place where you have to manage the snow well otherwise it will take you down.
It was a perfect day, no pressure or battling ego’s. It was just pure adrenaline fuelled snowboarding that truly got our pulses raised and made you feel good to be alive. It was one of those days where you finish with a cold beer, a smile from ear to ear and feeling contentedly exhasuted.
To be honest, there were a lot of days like this where the weather just opened up the mountains for us and made things so accessible, I honestly think that there was no better ski area to be in this winter than Les Arcs. The amount of easy access freeride terrain is incredible and we rode most of it.
Another highlight is that I got to travel to new resorts around Europe and ride with amazing people. There is something freeing about going on a road trip to explore an area that is completely new to you and meeting people that are in the same position.
While freeride competitions are great and I cant wait to get back to them, its a very intense situation and I think you can lose sight of why you really want to be in the mountains by getting caught up in your own head.
By slowing down and enjoying the situation I was in, it allowed me the space to change the way I focus. You need goals that are almost unreachable but the process of achieving them is a balance, its cliché but its the journey that makes the goals worth while.
So I finish the season feeling good, (apart from my car breaking down on the drive home, but thats another story) my injury requires surgery which is in motion now and I hope it will get me back to where I want to be. In the meantime it’s back to the beautiful town of Wanaka in New Zealand where It will be another season of quality days instead of quantity I think. I’ll try not to get too frustrated on the days I miss out on but thats all part of it, it’s not going to stop me now.
If everything goes well then i’ll be back at the FWQ next winter with a new focus and drive and be able to explore more of Europe and hopefully a few trips to somewhere new, something I am very excited about.
Thanks to everyone who I rode with this winter and had the patience to put up with me, the new people I met and old friends who make it all worth while.
Keep on keeping on
Watch My Season Edit