Snowboarding is a Gambler’s Game


Illustration: Nicola Murdoch

Taken From Whitelines Issue 107

Every year, the Burton European Open chooses a theme and covers the whole mountain in appropriate fancy dress. In 2009 they lined the slopes with giant casino paraphernalia – including oversized playing cards, enormous 20-foot-high craps tables and red, see-through dice as big as the mountain cafe. If you’d just checked out of The Priory for a gambling addiction and booked a ski holiday to get away from it all, it would have been about the most disturbing experience imaginable.

Not that the riders minded. We snowboarders are pretty accustomed to chancing our arms (so to speak) because when you think about it, a snow trip always relies heavily on placating the gods of luck.

Take the simple task of deciding where to go. Last year, if you’d booked an early mission to the Alps, then by December 10th you’d probably have had no fingernails left as you read newspaper headlines proclaiming the ‘Worst Winter EVER!’ Two days later, you’d have been arse-deep in the white stuff. And for every rained-out heli trip to Canada, there are the people who just happened to be near Aviemore in Scotland and scored a rare bluebird powder day. Lord knows what kind of unholy sacrifices these guys were making, but the snow gods can bestow their favours on the most unlikely of peoples. After all, if there’s anyone less deserving of powder days than the French, I’ll eat someone’s beret.

Of course if you’re flexible, and can wait for the best conditions before pouncing, then you’ve got a great chance of nabbing some epic conditions. But even then, arriving in resort at the same time as a snowstorm means facing the dreaded ‘cabin fever’ – a week of staying in playing drinking games while avalanche explosions rumble across the valley and you cross fingers, toes and shoelaces in the hope it’ll clear. It will clear of course, it always does. On the drive back to the airport.

If there’s anyone less deserving of powder days than the French, I’ll eat someone’s beret.

That’s if you have the luxury of time, and who amongst us can admit to that? Generally speaking, those who can afford to go shredding are hamstrung by the dates set by our bosses, partners or school holidays. This can be a double-edged sword of course: for every family getting royally fleeced by easyJet’s monopoly on half-term transport, there are those who plan trips around the Swedish and French university holidays like crocodiles lying in wait for the wildebeest migration to cross their river. I’m surprised there isn’t a Channel 4 documentary series in the wings – I’m a Predatory Sexual Deviant, Get Me Outta Val d’Isère!

And then there’s the fact that we gamble with our own bones too – flinging ourselves off the park jumps and cornices of the Alps like Pepsi-Max-fuelled lemmings high on watching Point Break. Or that’s what the world thinks of us anyway. The truth is probably a touch lower-octane, but if the charge is that we risk life and limb when snowboarding then it’s an undeniable one. From avalanches to sprained ankles, those who ride are usually blinkered against the meatwagons, ambulances and heli-rescues that buzz around us on our holidays. Maybe this is why we’re so superstitious, putting the same boot on the same foot in the same way, checking our pockets and zips before hitting big kickers, and never saying “last run” – like a bunch of goggle-wearing obsessive compulsives, ever-ready to launch our fragile bodies into oblivion for a cheap thrill.

And why the hell not? Because as the 21st century philosopher and bon-viveur Timothy Warward once said (at the Red Bull Empire of Dirt contest in fact): “If you’re not living on the edge, ladies and gentlemen, you’re taking up too much room.” And that was just after he’d just described a BMXer as having “arms like legs,” so he was clearly on a roll.

The point is of course: life is for living, and a little risk every now and again makes it more fun. So the next time you’re on the mountain, don’t worry too much about the consequences – just tap the table, look to the heavens and take another card in the great blackjack game of life. You know you want to.


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