What Does a Snowboard Trip Mean to You?
For some, it's about getting away from the rat race for that precious one or two weeks a year, where the chalet fire roars and the wine never stops flowing. But for others it's an exercise in endurance; a borderline-masochistic undertaking where, in the name of cost-cutting or 'adventure', more headaches and less sleep are endure than ever thought possible.
The Route One Snowboard Shop team certainly falls into the latter category. After hopping on and off Russian trains last year in search of Putin's best handrails (WL110), this year they piled into a campervan and headed for some of the continent's least-pronounceable resorts. The search was underway for Europe's best under-rated park - would they find it?
Somehow Will Radula-Scott managed to persuade Route One and Whitelines to let us go on another trip with the lads. They were probably just licking their lips with anticipation at seeing some more savage slams – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the Rails Across Russia webisodes).
Anyway, we decided that this year we would make things a bit simpler and stay a little closer to home. Our rough plan for the trip was to find and ride parks in Europe that were perhaps not as well known to the majority of people, and to show that you don’t always need to go to Mayrhofen or Morzine to find a legit setup for all your snow-based skids and wheelies. If we rented a campervan we would be able to cruise around the continent and basically do whatever we wanted – hitting as many different resorts in as many different countries as possible. A good plan, then – especially because it would be about a thousand times easier than organising a visa to go to Russia. Seriously: So… Much… Hassle.
We set about making the camper a little bit more homely, craftily converting the shower into a snowboard storage unit. Who needs to wash?
We picked up the camper and set about making it a little bit more homely, craftily converting the shower into a snowboard storage unit (who needs to wash?) and ramming our strictly-rationed clothes into every available cubby hole. When we eventually hit the road our final crew consisted of Si Belson, Will Rad, Cody Heirons, filmer Ben Marshall, photographer Will Bremridge and myself. A right bunch of idiots! Within seconds of setting off, Will B had already done way too many Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions, and after what seems like an eternity we make it to the ferry. This was going to be a long trip…
After a few hours we hade a brief encounter with some classic British chavs-on-tour and their souped up Micras, sporting what can only be described as a Halfords’ worth of speaker systems crammed into one car. Si got in on the action, of course, claiming to “really like" grime music, while probably perforating his eardrums in the process.
Once our adventure was finally underway, we soon realised that travelling in the campervan isn’t actually all that bad. However, a lot of people reading this will probably know the standard pitfalls encountered when driving to the Alps from the UK: the tolls, the getting lost, the service stations serving a thousand variations of the classic cheese-and-ham baguette… Luckily for us we had an expert navigator (Will Rad) who guided us swiftly to our first destination in Gstaad. Sleeping arrangements for the first night in the van were tricky to say the least, and we soon realised that perhaps a campervan designed for summertime wasn’t the smartest thing to bring to the freezing cold conditions of the Swiss Alps. Lesson learned.
The picturesque town of Gstaad can be found in the south west of Switzerland. Apparently it has one of the largest ski areas in the Alps, and is frequently cited as being ‘the place to go’ for high society and international jet-setters.
So why the hell did our motley crew of shred rats end up there? Well, it also turns out that they have a 420m long snow park built by the fine chaps from Qparks, with almost thirty different features.
The setup itself was fairly creative, if a little on the small side. Despite the weather being pretty bad we all got back into the swing of riding, and ended up having a great session. Cody and Si were sending it off one of the hips while Will and I sessioned the sketchy down-flat-down rail. I think it’s fair to say, though, that the most enjoyable part of the place was the powder lines we got before and after the park. Just thrashing about off and over little trees and the like with your mates is always going to be a good laugh.
Despite being located in Italy, Schoeneben is actually part of the infamous Tirol area; a huge network of mountains and resorts primarily covering the south-west Austria. We make it there after a pretty scary incident involving the campervan getting stuck halfway up a mountain road… Basically we had tried to take a shortcut (that’s how all the best disaster stories start…) and accidentally started driving up the side of a mountain.
We knew immediately that we needed to turn around, but there wasn’t anywhere to stop, forcing us to keep going until we found somewhere safe to do so. Within minutes the snow started hammering down, forcing us to take action and perform an Austin Powers-esque ten point turn in the middle of the road. Our nice, smooth summer tyres instantly started to slip on the thin layer of slush that was building up, pulling the van closer and closer to the edge of the mountain even when in gear. Will Rad, who was driving at the time, understandably freaked out and decided that one of us should take over. Will Bremridge assumed the role of captain, and with the help of a friendly passer-by – and a lot of pushing and shoving – we got the van out and back on our way. It’s times like these that you realise just how sketchy mountain roads can be, and being underprepared is really not a good idea. Another one to chalk up to experience.
The really wide-and-open format of the park meant that we could practice our synchronised snowboarding routine.
After all that, and another terrible night’s sleep, we got suited and booted and head up the hill. The resort had a pretty fun park; it was really wide and open. Unfortunately most of the non-jump based features were pretty tame – ride-on boxes, low ride-on gaspipes or low, long rails. Coming here after our trip to Russia last year, everything seemed literally tiny, and it’s hardly the best set-up to nurture aspiring young Italian shredders into the next generation of hardcore rail riders. Saying that, it was a pretty good laugh for zooming around with your mates, with a crazy boardercross-type zone with loads of tunnels and spirally twisty things. The really wide-and-open format of the park also meant that we could practice our synchronized snowboarding routine – getting four people on a rail or jump at one time isn’t as easy as you might think!
The Austrian resort of Planai has a fairly short, steep park with a few interesting features, but most were pretty obvious and boring. This was the first park with some decent sized kickers, not that we spent much time on them.
Overall we had an ‘alright’ time here, but on the whole it didn’t really blow us away. It did have one of the biggest gaspipes we’d ever seen though, which sent you off pretty deep to the landing. It was a fun feature but Cody took a bad slam that dislocated his shoulder. He rode down to the bottom of the lift where we were waiting and showed us his dodgy shoulder. Dr. Ben did the kind duties of popping it back in for him. After we set the camera up to record it, of course...
If we rented a campervan we would be able to cruise around the continent and basically do whatever we wanted
In fairness to the park, I think our view of it was clouded slightly by the fact that we were all pretty beat up by this point in the trip. We ended our first day there in the bar at the top of the park and met Nicola, an Austrian girl that clearly rode the park a lot – and also liked to hit the beers! She guided us down the mountain once all the lifts had closed, and absolutely annihilated herself into some snow cookies at the side of the piste. Gave herself a black eye, the nutter! Shortly afterwards we all just sort of ’knew’ it was time to start an Anchorman-style snowball fight with each other while we were riding down to the bottom of Planai. I’ve never experienced so much chaos, and would thoroughly recommend giving it a go. [Hmm. Girl. Snowball fight. Black eye. Are you sure this wasn’t more of a Dumb & Dumber situation? – Ed]
The town was actually really nice, and probably the most new and developed of all the places we went. Nicola kindly agreed to show us to the local skatepark where I managed to get a cheeky skate in with a random Austrian kid. He was actually ridiculously good, stomping triple backside flips on command! I think he even got a 360 flip late double flip, if your brain can even comprehend that… Since we got a couple of video clips of him we asked where we could send the files, but he said he didn’t have any sort of digital life; no Facebook, E-mail, Bebo, Myspace or whatever. Completely off the grid! Fair play to the lad, I think we could all do with a bit of time off from always being connected.
Now, This place was definitely the diamond in the rough. I don’t even know if it had a town? It seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, so if you’re looking for après ski and seasonnaires this probably isn’t the place for you…
I can happily say that Hochkonig had one of the best I've ever ridden - dare I say it even better than a certain Penken Park
It was the last day of the trip, and our knackered crew was completely over it by this point, but we begrudgingly made it up the mountain. After Si had successfully left his sunglasses on the chairlift on the way up, we got on the gondola at the bottom of the park. The first thing that happened was one of the crew yelling “HOLY CRAP, THE LIFT’S GOT WIFI!" After we had all updated Facebook and Instagram about the best lift in the world, we got to the top expecting the place to be compensating for a shit park, but what we got was the complete opposite…
I can happily say that Hochkonig had one of the best I’ve ever ridden – dare I say it even better than a certain Penken Park (sorry) and maybe even Laax. It’s built in two sections, is really long and packed with fun and interesting features. Big and small, tech and gnarly, it had everything covered. We had perfect weather, gorgeous blue skies and just the perfect amount of springtime slushiness. The crew really came into their own; all of the injuries and pains from the rest of the week disappeared as we boosted around the park like we owned the place. From following each other in on the different rails and features to airing over each other, we all had an awesome shred and were gutted when the gondola finally stopped turning.
[related_articles]Even though we had pretty shitty weather almost the whole time, all things considered the trip was loads of fun. Driving around in a massive mobile house is pretty funny regardless of why you’re doing it, and I would definitely recommend giving it a go at least once. The sense of freedom you get from being able to literally park up anywhere and bed down for the night is quite refreshing. Just don’t forget a heavy-duty sleeping bag!
I'd like to thank...
Matt Burt - Ride Snowboards
Pat Meurier - K2 Snowboarding
Duncan Craig - Spacecraft Collective
Sam Nelson - Dragon & CLWR
Monika Oberreiter & Joe Cavanagh - QParks