"Life basically divides into two kinds of things," said the writer Caitlin Moran. "Things which are amazing at the time. And things which are awful at the time, which then turn into amazing anecdotes."
She’s right; the smart money says that anything truly memorable that has ever happened to you fits one of those two categories like a glove. Think about the time you bombed that hill on your skateboard/wound up in a jail cell/lost your V-plates/got knocked spark out. Whether the outcome was sublime or ridiculous, you really know how to tell that story. Conversations with fellow snowboarders about our shared passion tend to go the same way: you’ll have your go-to tales about that line, slam, backflip or ‘misunderstanding’ with the gendarmes – and they’ll have theirs.
It would follow that by talking to the right people, we could compile some absolutely classic tales in one place; a miscellany of memorable moments experienced by those in the highest echelons of the sport, heard straight from the horse’s mouth. It would also give us mere mortals a taste of situations we’ll never actually be in ourselves – and in a couple of cases, nor would we ever want to. If nothing else, it’ll spark a debate about what’s more terrifying: being buried in an avalanche, or doing a “bird bath"?
So without further ado, over to our contributors: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO…
GET BUSTED AT A STREET SPOT by Dan Brisse
It depends on the spot really; if you’ve just rolled up it's no big deal, but if you set everything up and it's one you really want, it can be a heartbreaker.
Last year we were at this high school in central Minnesota, at a spot I’d literally been eyeing up for years. It was Sunday morning, which is typically the best time to be on school grounds in the States. We set it up the night before with a bobcat and had it all shaped out, so it was perfect and ready to go the next day. Johnnie Paxson and I are there trying to get a trick at this spot, when all of a sudden a janitor spots us on top of the school. He tells us to get down, but by this point we’re so invested that there is no way we are stopping. So he calls the police, and his boss. We know being on top of a school could get us a ticket, so we are hustling. Finally Paxson rides out and gets a clip, and we’re all stoked. I try a couple more times and get really close but don't ride away clean.
“I am smashing my shovel into the cement over and over again, just screaming “FUCK!" at the top of my lungs"
Finally, the boss man and police show up and I actually lose it with anger. Usually I’m super apologetic and ask for forgiveness, but on this spot that I had been thinking about for years, I was pissed beyond words. Just with myself for not getting it really; I had plenty of tries but just kept blowing it. So as the police talk to our crew, in the not-too-distant background I am smashing my shovel into the cement over and over again, just screaming “FUCK!" at the top of my lungs – I honestly didn't care if I was going to jail. Then something amazing happened; the boss man, who was super pissed and yelling at our crew, turned around and just looked at me. He realised that he had stopped something that meant a lot, and began to feel extremely bad for us. He became super nice and said he was sorry he had to stop us.
Sometimes – and I do mean only sometimes – does losing your shit flip the situation, and in this case it worked perfectly and probably got us out of getting a ticket. Lucky.
HELI-DROP IN ALASKA by Ed Leigh
The peaks of Alaska’s Chugach range are the first line of defence against raging arctic storms that come steaming out of the Bering Sea. Snow is rammed into every crevice of those mountains until it becomes so compacted that it turns to ice. Throughout the winter the snow will eventually begin to stick to that ice, making slopes of up to sixty-five degree gradients rideable. I was 21 years old the first time I went heliboarding there, and prior to that had been riding the steepest terrain I could find in Tignes and Val d’Isère. I thought I was ready for AK. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The photographer was in the guide’s ear from the start: “Let’s go to the big stuff, these guys can handle it, I want real Alaska blah blah blah." I don’t know whether the guide believed him or whether he decided to teach us a lesson, but fifteen minutes later we were hovering over a knife-edge ridge with just the front of the heli runners touching the ground. The guide had already skipped out onto the pile of snow, which looked more like a small cloud than a landing zone. Underneath us were two hundred metres of sheer cliff. The lack of enthusiasm to climb out the door, battle the rotor wash and cling to the side of the helicopter over an icy abyss was written on everyone’s faces.
“It was so steep that I could feel the snow against my face"
I was sat furthest from the door, which meant I would be last out and would have to ferry the boards from the cage to the guide. It seems surreal to me now – I remember just getting on with it at the time – but just the thought of it now gives me the shits. The one thing I do know is that by the time I finally got to the tiny pinhead of snow that everyone was gathered on, I was overloading on adrenaline. We hunkered down as the chopper pulled away and the guide instantly explained how things were going to work.
“One person can ride down from here, the other four will abseil down into the next chute".
My hand immediately shot up; I didn’t want any more surprises and so claimed the line where we sat. The guide said: “Sit tight until you see us traverse under you, then you’re clear to go," before adding, “Pull up hard right when you exit the chute – there’s a big cliff down there." After what felt like an eternity I saw specks traverse below me. I strapped in, and with my board taking the weight I suddenly felt much more comfortable, but the chute still looked like a three-hundred-metre long elevator shaft. With a solid platform under my heel edge, I committed and jumped round to my toes. My heart missed a beat; that stationary jump turn saw me drop eight feet. It was so steep that I could feel the snow against my face, and even if I stretched up I couldn’t touch where my heels had just been. I went slowly at first until the slope began to mellow and I was able to link a turn. Little by little I gained confidence, and by the time I exited the chute I was roaring like a F15 fighter jet under full afterburner. I leant over into the mother of all toe edge carves to pull up on to the shoulder where the crew had stopped, but it was only then that I realised just how steep the face was. I was carrying way too much speed on a forty-degree face and my legs were starting to give way under the compression. I took some weight off my edge and straightened up, but it wasn’t enough. I remember the horror as my weight started to drift into the back seat, and my brain started to reel off light speed calculations to determine whether or not I was going to make it. I could see the end of the face looming less than thirty metres away.
The only thing that saved me that day was the fact that I’d traded in my regular 155cm board for a 168cm; that extra tail did just enough to keep me upright. I pulled up with less than twenty metres to spare and the guide started to shout. Everyone else was pale and staring at me like I was a ghost. I think my own face must have been worse though, because the guide’s bollocking trailed off. He dipped his chin and gave me a look under his brow that said “you know what you did – don’t do it again.’"
AIR 20 FEET OUT OF A HALFPIPE by Iouri ‘iPod’ Podlatchikov
It feels mighty... or maybe even glorious! Getting that far above the coping isn’t just a technical thing – it has everything to do with your attitude, and getting the right combination of aggressiveness and agility.
Obviously it’s not something anyone can just ‘do’ if they go for it. Even when you see people drop in with a hell of a lot of speed, they still might not make it above ten feet. Often they lose their boost in the last couple of moments by using their edge more than they should, and doing that can take away at least a third of your height.
“When you’re in the air, its one of those feelings that you wish could last much longer"
In a way, getting that high also gives pipe riding its credibility. And for some reason, when you go 20 feet out you can hardly ever do it wrong, or badly – it just looks sick every time, even if you don’t make it safely back into the pipe!
When you’re in the air, its one of those feelings that you wish could last much longer; the type of moment where we’d like to slow time down, and capture the experience in 1000 frames per second for us to keep forever. It’s addictive for sure, which is why it sucks that not every pipe on any given day is built well enough to get that feeling. It’s almost like surfing in that respect, where we have to wait for the right 'swell' to go out there and boost those airs above average heights. But hey, all good things take their time to become great.
START YOUR OWN SNOWBOARD COMPANY by Gigi Rüf
There were definitely a few sleepless nights before I eventually launched Slash – you don’t know whether or not you can do something until you’re standing right in front of it.
Once you’ve decided to give it a try, it feels at first like having a blank piece of paper; before long you’ll either have an idea of how the initial vision can be turned into a reality, or maybe you’ll just get scared. For me, it was all about having the power to make my own decisions and to progress the idea that I’d had. I knew exactly what kind of boards I wanted to make.
Before that could happen, though, I had to get to grips with the fundamentals of running my own company; I was reading real ‘Business For Dummies’ stuff! I graduated from business school, though, and that encouraged me to take the plunge; after that, it was more about following my intuition and knowing that this was what I really wanted to do. I was confident about that part, and wrote it all down to define my vision for Slash.
“You’ll either have an idea of how the initial vision can be turned into a reality, or maybe you’ll just get scared"
It all started with the Slash ATV; I wanted to create something lightweight and minimalist. Adding the re-curve at each end saved material and weight, but it also helped our boards to stand out in the market. Nidecker were the ones who were up for producing and distributing it, and it was really exciting to get my hands on all the amazing materials that they use.
As a brand, Slash has always been dedicated to progression and individuality. We hold ourselves to the highest standards, so that we are able to produce a quiver of precisely-constructed boards that can handle any conditions. This year our boards are lighter than ever, but just as strong. Look out for my latest creation, the Aurora, coming soon!
TRY A TRIPLE by Billy Morgan
It’s definitely one of the scariest things you can do – but for me, it’s also the most rewarding. The first triple I ever did was the backside rodeo at Keystone, towards the end of 2011. It was never really that planned; I was riding with Ben Kilner, taking turns doing follow cam laps, and had been doing doubles most of the morning. Ben said to me, “your dubs are so slow you should do a triple". I laughed at the time, but mentioned it to Hamish [McKnight, Team GB freestyle coach]. He said “yeah, but if you do go for it you have to land on your feet." It sounds silly, but he just meant you can’t fuck it up. It dawned on me that I had to try it, so I did one more dub and gave it a rip. It was all over very quickly but I remember feeling sick before, some brain pressures in the air and like I was on crack after. It was an awesome day.
“Ben said to me, ‘your dubs are so slow you should do a triple.’ I laughed at the time"
The backside triple cork 1440 was a bit different; I had been thinking about it for years. The problem I had was that normally I can visualise my way through a trick, but couldn’t picture the end of the second cork or most of the third. One day Hamish made it clear it had to be done, so we went up that morning knowing I was going to try it. I did two dub 10s, two dub 12s, another dub 10 and then hucked the triple. I came up a bit short on the first try, but I sent the second a bit bigger and nailed it. This one was definitely different; less butterflies before, and more relief than stoke after. I guess I was a little more confident, and also felt that I had to do it.
The fear factor is definitely a big thing but as long as you do the prep, have a good think about it and calculate the risk, then you should be fine. Fang a RedBull in ya, get some props from your homies and huck your carcass off that jump!
GET A COVER SHOT by Jenny Jones
After the Olympics, I was forever getting asked about what else I still wanted to achieve. Contest-wise I was happy with what I’d done, but I’d still never had a cover shot. I know not everyone would be as excited about that as me, but I always thought it was this really special thing.
I think it’s because when I first started out, the magazines were the main source of snowboard media output, and there was always a real buzz around who got the front cover. Then my friends started getting them, like Scott McMorris, Garry Greenshields and Will Hughes. It was definitely a big deal; it showed that you had good style. For me, though, it had been elusive; I had started to think I’d never get one…
Because I mostly rode comps I hadn’t had many opportunities to get good photos, but one year I went to Superpark and was sessioning this hip with all these guys. The light and the backdrop were both really nice, I’d managed to go as big as most of the guys, and I came away with a shot that I was so pumped on. I said to the photographer, “please can you submit this shot to Whitelines – this could be my cover shot!" I was absolutely gutted when it wasn’t used!
“I said to the photographer, ‘please can you submit this shot to Whitelines – this could be my cover shot!’"
When Ed skyped me about the last issue, I thought he was calling me about a trip or something. Then he showed me the cover… I really didn’t see that coming! Everyone’s got things they want to achieve, and one I’d been after for a while had finally happened. It was a brilliant feeling.
The first time I properly saw it was at a Q&A; someone had bought a copy and asked me to sign it, which was a bit surreal. Then I put it up on my Instagram and my good mate Johno Verity said, “Only 10 more and you'll have the same number as me. Yes that's right, I had 11. Just remember that the next time you're polishing your little bronze trinket." I was laughing so hard at that. [You’ve not had one on my watch Johno! – Ed]
What it also means is that on any trips I do this year, I can enjoy myself a bit more knowing I don’t need to get that shot. I told photographer Natalie Meyer about it, and she was pleased that we wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. Normally I’d be saying to her, “are you shooting this in portrait or landscape... ?" and she’d know exactly what I was getting at!
PARTY WITH HALLDOR by Christian Stevenson
Two thousand people live in Monaco; Halldor Helgason and his brother Eiki are a couple of them. They gamble, they party, and they rock with the rich and famous. I’m there for a Monster Energy party, DJ’ing next to dancing girls in go-go cages – not a bad gig, except for the fact that I had to play techno.
People are spending €1000 on a bottle of Grey Goose vodka in the VIP areas. I’d met Halldor the previous year, and we get on like a house on fire. In the nightclub I tell him that my nickname at school was ‘Elephant Nuts’.
He says to me, “Dude, I’ve got old man balls! I can stretch them really far and make a bird bath with them." When I ask him what that means, he grabs me by the shirt and says “You’re doing a bird bath Christian!" He pulls me into the bathroom with a bottle of Grey Goose and a can of Monster, and whips out his balls. I’m really hammertron at this point, so I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll do it, whatever" and get on my knees. He makes the ‘bird bath’ out of his ballsack, and pours in the vodka and the Monster. I slurp it right out.
“He grabs me by the shirt and says, ‘You’re doing a bird bath Christian!’"
I wake up the next morning and I’m like, “Fucking hell…" I’m cursing myself, and people are giving me shit about it all day. That night, there’s a queue of people – respectable people! – right in the middle of the nightclub, and Halldor’s making bird bath cocktails for all of them. Normally you get thrown out for doing something like that – but he’s Halldor. Finally, after the fifth person the security guys say to him “Halldor, you’ve got to stop serving drinks out of your balls."
GET BURIED IN AN AVALANCHE by Sascha Hamm
“It was 4th January 2008, and I was hiking with a friend in Chamonix at the very end of the day. He got too tired and turned back, but I was foolish enough to continue to the top. It took about an hour and a half, and normally you’d want to relax for a bit once you make it to the top, but it was getting dark so I dropped in while still knackered from the hike. The run was fine until I got to some hard-packed snow where I lost my heel edge. I landed on my arse, and that’s what triggered the avalanche.
Off I went; at first it was like being on top of a roller coaster, with trees flashing past on either side. Then all of a sudden I was under, tumbling through bushes. It was just white, and really noisy, then quiet all of a sudden – that’s when I was in the air, off a cliff. When I landed my head was down below my board, which was up at my back. I had cramp in both my back and my foot, and the snow was piling on to me from above. I couldn’t move a millimetre, and thought, “fuck, I’m dead."
My mate was the only one who knew where I was, and by the time he realized I’d not come back it would have been too late. I tried hard to relax and control my breathing – most people who die in avalanches do so because they run out of oxygen. Then I started thinking, “What can I do?" I couldn’t move my left side at all, but on my right side there was a massive air pocket and I could move my arm. Luckily my phone was in my right-hand pocket, and I was able to dial my mate. I said “Robert, I’m under an avalanche, get help". At first he was like, “yeah, yeah…" but soon he realised I was serious.
The rescue guys wouldn’t allow him to ride in the heli, so he had to try and point out where I was on the map. He’s not got the best sense of direction, so he ended up showing them completely the wrong mountain! But they called me from the helicopter and asked me what I could see. By this point it was pitch black and I couldn't see a thing, but I told them when I could hear the rotor blades nearby. Ten minutes later my battery went dead, so for the next hour or so all I could do was wait. For me, that was the worst part.
I wasn’t too far from the bottom, so the rescue team skinned up to me after the heli pinpointed where I was. When I heard them start shovelling, they were near my head, but because of my cramps I shouted “fuck the head, go round the legs!" Once I was out, all I wanted to do was stand up, but they all insisted I sat down. Eventually they tied me, the doctor and another rescue guy to a rope and the helicopter took off with us dangling below it. At one point the pilot did a sudden U-turn and we did a massive pendulum swing, which was a huge adrenaline rush. They eventually dropped me off in the valley, and another heli took me to the hospital.
“My battery went dead, so all I could do was wait. For me, that was the worst part."
There were two things I told myself I’d never do again after that day; go riding while tired, and go off-piste alone. I’ve stuck to the first one, but the second went out the window after a while. It’s always best to go riding with friends though, in case something does happen! I got really lucky that day.