Nothing trumps experience, but new technology offers certain advantages that never existed in the early days of big mountain riding. Now, every rider uses some sort of digital camera to get a last minute glimpse of their line before dropping in. Even then, though, you still have to flip everything in your head. Most riders don’t have the benefit of a photographic memory like Jeremy Jones, so the mental game of choosing the right line can be pretty terrifying.
On the day of Stephan’s AK accident he chose a line that his guide failed to mention would actually be a first descent. He’d been such a natural so far that everyone’s confidence in him was solid, perhaps to a fault. Shortly after he dropped in, he came to a section that was much steeper than he expected and he had to slow down. Just a moment’s hesitation was enough for the sluff behind him to catch up, sending him tomahawking over rocks and cliffs down the entire face of the mountain. Luckily Stephan had been wearing both a helmet and an airbag, which undoubtedly saved his life.
He was helicoptered to Juneau and waited for nearly a week while tests were run to assess whether he had any serious internal injuries. Miraculously he turned out to be fine and, rather than souring him to the experience, his AK ordeal had left him hungry for more lines. The rider who showed up to push himself in Italy was smarter and more calculated than the one that tumbled down the mountain the previous year in Alaska. Rather than traversing across the steep faces in search of jumps, Stephan took a page out Xavier De Le Rue’s book, riding as fast as possible and leaving the sluff far behind.
You can get dropped into an endless powder field that I would feel comfortable taking my father down or, if you want to push it, there’s terrain that’s as technical as anywhere in the world.
It’s important to have a healthy amount of fear and respect for the lines you want to ride, so Stephan’s experience was a real asset to DBK, who had never ridden that sort of terrain before. Both of these riders are part of a new generation of pros who came up through the freestyle scene, winning competitions and filming well rounded video parts, before following the predictable path to powder addiction. At 23 DBK is one of the few riders around who can hold his own in a slopestyle contest, get creative in the streets and a point it down a 45 degree couloir.
Though the landscape in the Aosta Valley can be a bit rockier than AK, there’s a huge variety of terrain for non-pros of every level to enjoy. You can get dropped into an endless powder field that I would feel comfortable taking my father down or, if you want to push it, there’s terrain that’s as technical as anywhere in the world. And the true beauty of the heli-drop is that you pretty much have the mountain all to yourself without having to exert any physical effort. That means that you get to save all of your energy for sending it on the long ride down….