Ben Kilner and Dom Harington have just as much fun getting to the snow.
The Olympics was one of the best experiences of my life. All the years of following FIS world cup regulations, the years of training, travelling and the countless injuries along the way was worth the satisfaction of making the GB team and being able to call myself an Olympian. But there is another side to snowboarding that I have been neglecting, and it is what made me fall in love with snowboarding in the first place -. the idea of a snowboard trip where you don’t care about judges or results, only that you know you will have a good time no matter what happens.
When I heard about the Jeep Wrangler trip to Norway I knew that this trip would help satisfy my appetite for a true snowboarding mission, even better my good friend and team GB buddy Ben Kilner was coming too. Even though it meant we would miss competing at the British Halfpipe Championships, we knew we owed it to ourselves to break the mould and go on a unique snowboarding adventure.
Slartibartfast:"Did you ever go to a place - I think it was called Norway"
Arthur Dent: "No, No I didn't"
Slartibartfast: "Pity. That was one of mine. Won an award, you know. Lovely crinkly edges"
Having never previously been to Norway, my expectations were limited to expensive beer and hot blonde girls (and guys as well I suppose). Nothing had prepared me for the beauty of the land that we flew over when coming in to land at Bergan. It's no wonder that Slartibartfast won an award for designing Norway's lovely crinkly edges in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, those being the magnificent fjords and islands that make up so much of western Norway. Norway has the highest concentration of fjords in the world, formed when the glaciers retreated and sea water flooded the U-shaped valleys. Even better, as the second least densely populated country in Europe it is largely unspoilt.
On arriving into Bergen we met our driver, Colin, an ex rally driver who now drives cars for shows, demos and commercial shoots. He had taken the Jeep on the ferry from Harwich to Denmark, then driven across to the north of Denmark before taking another ferry up to Norway. Colin seemed stoked on the journey he had taken to get here and even more stoked to be driving this particular Jeep. It was a Wrangler 4 door Overland with a 2.8 CRD diesel engine and automatic 5 speed transmission.
The Wrangler is the icon of the Jeep brand and with 197 horsepower and 460 newton meters of torque it was exactly the tool we needed for our adventure around the mountains of Norway.
The rest of the crew consisted of cameraman and rail shredder Rowan Biddescombe and camera man Ben Pilchard, all headed up by the boss man and all-round legend of the UK snowboard scene Phil Young. Once we had all been introduced, Colin handed us the keys and for the rest of the trip it was Ben and I who would drive. Heading north west out of Bergen we hopped from island to island, through fjord to fjord past the old fishing towns of Oygarden, Sandrasvegen and Blomvag. Travelling in comfort and style, enjoying the bucolic skylines, rustic barns and colourful houses, it was no wonder to hear that many of these old fishing villages are now tourist destinations for the city dwellers of Bergen to come and fish, sail and just enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
The Boss of Voss
Eventually we wound back south toward our destination of Voss and met up with our guide Einar. As Phil knows from doing years of road trips, everywhere you go there is always "the guy". The local legend that knows all the back routes around the mountain and shreds the hardest no matter the conditions or what he is doing.
For us, Einar was that guy - for 30 years he has snowboarded, snow shoed, skied, kayaked, kite surfed, climbed and river surfed around the town of Voss. The surrounding mountains, lakes and rivers cater perfectly for the extreme outdoor enthusiast, and with more Olympic medals won per capita than any other town in the world, the region is littered with winter sport legends.
Einar was keen to show us all his favourite spots, "when the snow melts and the river swells we can surf that standing wave, further up that river are the waterfalls that the kayakers like to launch themselves off." He encouraged us to try the local water, meaning pulling up by the river to take some gulps. "Best water I have ever tasted" said Ben. Further down the road Einar pointed out a quiet looking farm that had a windsock outside. "Oh yeah, that farmer likes to basejump. He likes to know what the wind is doing." Not far from the base jumping farmers house we saw a recently built wind tunnel for skydiving practice, the final proof that we really were at an extreme sporting destination.
Heading up the mountains
The next morning we awoke to find that the cold and stillness of the night had frozen the lake outside our hostel. Disturbing the peace with a roar, we fired up the jeep and headed to the mountains to see what terrain we could find that would put the Wrangler to the test. Leaving the tarmac behind we climbed through forest, mud, rock and rivers in search of the snowline. Colin was keen to help Ben and I on our off road driving skills and it was amazing what steep terrain we could get through once four wheel drive was engaged. At the top of one forest we saw a huge tractor with snow chains on all four wheels heading up a steep snow path. Einer told us that these paths are just used for the farmers' tractors but that you could contribute a few Krone to the cost of the tracks, and if we were brave enough, it would be ok to take the Wrangler up there.
The Jeep confidently climbed through the snow and it wasn't long before Ben decided he fancied getting his board on so I could tow him up through the hills! It was good fun to watch Ben carving through the snow in my rear view mirror as I drove up the steep tracks, though at the top he would get to ride down by himself. One of the things I usually find most sketchy about driving in snow is going down steep and icy hills, but with the descent control you can take your feet off the pedals and let the jeep safely control you down the slopes. This enables the wheels to maintain traction and eliminates the risk of causing the vehicle to skid by touching the breaks too quickly.
Voss first built ski lifts in 1947 and was a reserve arena for the 1952 winter Olympics in Oslo. With a top lift at 964 meters it is not exactly a very high mountain, but being situated so far north means the temperature is cold and the snow is normally plentiful. Although it is the biggest resort in western Norway we found that the pistes were extremely quiet - we didn’t really have to queue for a lift at all. However with lots of money being pumped into the area there are big plans for expansion so I expect the place will be changing over the next couple of years. I hope that not too many people discover Einar's tree run so that he can still keep that powder for himself!
Despite this year’s lack of snow, Voss had still built an awesome park - it would be rude not to at least have one kicker session! After a season of spinning in icy halfpipes all I wanted to do was methods! Never before has a Norwegian park jump seen so many straight airs and 180's - no double corks or 1080's - although Ben did throw down a hammer 7, the kind where the first 360 is almost flat but then in the second 3 he rolls right upside down, rad.
With the mountains around Voss fully explored on both boards and wheels we felt that it had been a mission well accomplished and that we could return home satisfied by our adventure. Most of the team were to fly home, but I must say I was slightly envious of the extended journey Colin had in his route back to England via Denmark and then taking the Jeep back across the sea. Every corner we turned on the way back to the airport presented us with another spectacular view that meant we had to stop and take yet another picture. Everyone agreed that Norway was a place we all would make an effort to come back to one day, and for me, I don’t think that day will be too far away at all.
Jeep® heritage was born out of World War II when the US military called upon vehicle manufacturers to bid on the production of a ‘light reconnaissance vehicle’. The Willys-Overland Quad triumphed and this rugged quad, which soon became known as a ‘Jeep®’, rapidly became an iconic vehicle of the 2nd World War. The origin of the name itself is debated. Some claim it to be a slurring of GP, the military abbreviation of General Purpose, while others say it was named after ‘Eugene the Jeep®’ from the popular Popeye cartoon.
Following the war, Willys trademarked the Jeep® name and diversification of the military quad began, starting with a humble off-roader for famers. Jeep® has since passed through the hands of Henry J Kaiser and American Motors Company (AMC) before finally residing with Chrysler’s Jeep/Eagle Division in 1987. These years have seen Jeep® continue to strive to set the benchmark for authentic sport-utility vehicles (SUV), reacting to the growing market for compact everyday practicality coupled with a consumer’s desire for the creature comforts of passenger cars. Jeep® have built upon seven decades of legendary heritage, developing their brand to deliver a blend of on-road refinement and off-road capability, all the while paying homage to the history of Jeep® and an icon of the 2nd World War.
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