Words and pictures by Tristan
Snowbombing, now in its 12th year, is a big event. It’s big in terms of numbers, selling around 8,000 tickets every year. It’s also big in terms of artists – this year’s headliners included Dizzee Rascal and Fat Boy Slim. And it has a big reputation – the combination of shredding and club-based carnage on an unprecedented scale has earned it a place alongside Reading and Glastonbury as one of those gatherings that no longer needs the word ‘festival’ in its title.
Certainly, Snowbombing is bigger than most of the events that take place in small postcard-pretty alpine villages, and the fact that it’s achieved a certain notoriety means it attracts a different crowd to the kind who usually frequent snowboard events.
Thankfully Mayrhofen, although choc-a-bloc with chocolate box chalets, is not your typical Tyrolean town. This is a place where oompah trance fills the air come apres time, and 60-year-olds are regularly found dancing on tables in their ski-boots. It’s a place well used to letting its collective hair down and having a party, which is partly why it’s so popular with British pros and seasonaires.
The other reason of course, is that expansive terrain and one of the best parks in Austria make for sick riding, and it’s this combination of factors that brings Snowbombing back here every year – kicking and screaming and raving its face off.
This year was no exception. By the time Whitelines arrived on the Wednesday afternoon, the ‘Snowbombers’ as the festival organisers like to call them, had already been at it for four days straight. Not that you’d have noticed. Strolling down the main strip of the village, the bars and restaurants were packed with people hitting it as hard as if it was their first evening out. People wearing wizard costumes, or dressed up as Geishas, or sporting the ‘classic’ combination of afro-wig and Elvis shades that always seems to show up whenever someone mentions fancy-dress.
Up the hill it was a similar story. Our friends at Onboard were running a crazy Boardercross event as part of the Hotzone.TV Ride & Seek comp, which saw riders (and skiers) careening down the mini pipe and through the baby park to land in a heap near the Grillhoff alm bar at the bottom.
Unusually for this time of year (Snowbombing nearly always seems to be blessed with perfect weather) it was snowing hard. But despite the cold, FBBB’s DJ Chico had a dedicated crew of ravers bouncing away to his tunes oblivious, while the Ugly Kids Club graffed up the wall of the bar behind him. In the queue for the Penken Bahn lift back to the village we were passed by four dudes in lycra cycling shorts and Tour de France-style jerseys. Nothing it seemed, not the wind, not the snow, not the previous four-days’ hangovers combined, was gonna stop people partying here.
More madness was in evidence once we descended through the cloud shrouding the mountain. Gassers, the sandwich shop at the bottom of the lift, (re-named ‘Hans the Butcher’ for the week) was serving a line that snaked halfway up the street. The Ice Bar, never sedate at the best of times, was overflowing with enthusiastically gyrating dancers, and stream of people dressed as athletes (the night’s fancy dress theme was the Olympics) was strolling home from the supermarket clutching crates of beer on their way to pre-game.
There was nothing for it but to get stuck in ourselves, and so, already two pints to the good, we made the ultimately unwise decision to purchase beer, champagne, and a bottle of the cough-syrupy gold that is Austria’s finest export – Jaegermeister.
Thanks to an ingenious cocktail dubbed “the Jaeger-pain” by the esteemed editor of Onboard (sack off the energy drink in Jaeger-bombs and replace it with champagne) we managed to miss the whole of Fat Boy Slim’s street party set. (In fact, this potent combination meant our advertising manager missed the whole night altogether, but that’s another story.)
From what we could hear and see standing in our flat, the rain that had started to soak Mayrhofen had done little to dampen people’s spirits, and judging by the number of ‘Olympians’ we saw out later that night (mostly indulging in very un-Olympic behaviour) a lot of people had been raving whatever the weather.
The next day dawned bright and breezy, with blazing sunshine making for perfect riding weather – and antagonising the bastard headache behind our eyes. Somewhere up on the hill, Mr Motivator was helping people shake loose their hangovers again.
And after they’d made themselves feel healthy by lapping the park a few times (or more likely watching the likes of Seb Kern, Sparrow Knox, Chris Kroll and Herby Thaler rip it up in the pro comp – not many snowbombers are particularly accomplished riders) everyone was ready for more of the same. Once again, the line-up was stellar. If anything, watching the wonkstep of Doctor P followed by Skream & Benga’s genre-busting double-act was even better than Groove Armada and Booka Shade from the night before.
Once again the massive hall of the Racket Club (so-called because it’s an indoor tennis hall for 51 weeks a year) was absolutely rammed, and costumes were everywhere. After watching Sub Focus in Arena and sticking around DJ Friction’s drum n’ bass masterclass, we followed a bunch of feathered birds up through the village to the Buck n’ Stadl. Crookers and then Fake Blood played through the wee hours while a group of about 15 Baywatch lifeguards danced their pop-socks off.
The weather didn’t hold the following day unfortunately. Not that it mattered, as the parkside Grillhoff alm saw the maddest party yet. Innsbruck’s WaxWreckaz and FBBB’s Chico provided a mash-up soundtrack, while Henry Jackson (of Jackson’s Hole fame) presided over possibly the craziest party ever seen on the hill.
The ‘riding’ element for the day was provided by the water-slide contest (and yes, someone did get naked and attempt it. Several people in fact) before Henry dragged everyone towards the decks.
Accompanied by his silent sidekick Niel Campbell (who’d all-but lost his voice) Henry called out commands. “Longest conga line ever, come on! Neil, over there, get it started.” or “Right, nipples, we want to see nipples. A beer for each one” (at which point an over-enthusiastic punter, not so much getting the wrong on of the stick as grabbing it with both hands, started dancing around with his cock out). An “Eristoff limbo contest” involved litre-bottles of the sponsors’ booze being poured into contestant’s open mouths (and all over their faces) as they passed under the bar.
You might think that getting hundreds of people (many of whom can’t ride that well) absolutely shit-faced on a white-out day halfway up an Austrian mountain is recipe for disaster. But once again (not least thanks to the efforts of Henry and the other staff who brought up the rear on the ride down) the mountain aspect of the festival passed off without serious incident.
There’s something seriously impressive about getting 8,000 ravers out to the Austrian alps each year, but it’s even more impressive that (a few inevitable breakages aside) everyone returns home again safe and sound afterwards.
Once again, the final night’s line-up was stellar – Dizzee Rascal kicked things off with an unashamedly feel-good party set at the Eristoff Forest party to an uproarious reception. Not only did he play an inevitable encore (c’mon, he was never really gonna go off stage without busting out two of his number one singles, was he) he played the final song, a riotous version of bonkers, twice!
Onboard’s party in the Arena club saw the Dub Pistols and then Russia’s sexiest DJ Ladywaks tearing up the decks. By the time Chase & Status took to the stage for their set at the Racket Club, Whitelines was safely tucked up in bed, but we have absolutely no doubt that thousands of other Snowbombers were there, going hard, with no intention of stopping.
In fact, even though we’d been out three nights in a row, the sheer number of acts at Snowbombing 2012 meant we’d missed more than we’d seen – and that’s not even counting the likes of DJ Shadow, The Vaccines, or High Contrast who’d played earlier in the week. There’s no doubt that this festival has one of (if not the) best dance festival line-ups you’ll see almost anywhere.
There’s also no faulting them either for hospitality (incompetent press liaison dudes notwithstanding) – Mayrhofen is a great place to hold it, and we were interested to see how many artists hung around for the whole week. Skream stuck around til the end, High Contrast was hanging out in the crowd and Dizzee was out several days before his set, watching Example from the side of the stage.
It has to be said that if you want to actually do any snowboarding, the sheer number of parties and other distractions means this is probably not the best week to do it. But if you’re one of the many who want to get a Global Gathering style mash-up going to the mountains, this is the perfect way to do it.