We were well chuffed when The Snowboard Asylum asked us to join them on their inaugural snowboard test out in Hintertux, Austria. Who could refuse an extra week of spring snowboarding and a chance to try out next season’s gear? The premise of the test was simple: to give TSA shop staff a focused opportunity to ride the boards that they will be stocking in 2012/2013 so that they can recommend and sell from personal experiences rather than relying solely on the marketing spiel provided to them by brands. Makes sense no?
After touching down in Munich and squeezing into our rented Polo with the two Chris' (Shannon and Orchard) from TSA, we wasted no time getting on the road and set off to the sounds of 80’s German rock on the car radio and wiener schnitzel and snowboarding on the brain. On the way up the Tuxertal valley we had enough time to stop and stretch our legs and tried to grab a spot of lunch in that now most famous of British seasonaire haunts, Mayrhofen. A far cry from the bustling scenes of a few weeks prior, (see you next year Snowbombing!) the otherwise quaint Austrian town was pretty friggin’ quiet. It was a Sunday after all. We were gutted though when we couldn’t find a single open restaurant (why Gasser why!), with a menu stodgy enough for our travel-hungry stomachs.
So it was onwards and upwards to our final destination of Hintertux. Located deep in the Tuxertal valley, the Hintertux glacier is one of Europe’s largest year-round ski areas and has an extensive network of pistes and a summer park that’s up there with some of the best in Europe.
Once settled into our hotel rooms we proceeded to launch an onslaught on the free afternoon buffet for hotel guests, which was later coined Cake and Steak (go figure) and acted as a sort of warm up meal before an equally hearty hotel dinner. Once all of the remaining staff, who had been on the long haul from the UK and missed out on dinner (poor buggers) had arrived, we all retired to our rooms for an early night.
In the morning we unloaded all of the test boards from the vans and shuttled them up the two ‘Gletscherbusse’ to the upper mid station, where we got straight to testing. The overall format of the test days was simple: grab a board, chuck a pair of bindings on it and put it through its paces before filling out a review card (look out for the tester quotes in our forthcoming Buyers Guide).
Conditions for the first two days of testing represented the epitome of spring snowboarding: blue skies with firm conditions early on, softening up throughout the day – absolutely spot on for pointing it on some stiff all mountain boards in the morning, switching up to some softer boards for jibbing around on in the afternoon. As a rider who usually spends most of the time on short, soft flexing boards, straight-lining a run at Mach ten on a board with an extra 10cm in length and not having to re-accustom my legs to chatter was a welcome change. Once off the hill, we lounged in the sun with ice creams and a few beers until the sun went down, reminding us of the fact that we were infact still in the Alps and it was still pretty damn cold, and at that point we all moved inside for dinner.
Tuesday was a similar affair with bright blue skies and hoody riding temperatures and by the evening there were more than a handful of sun-scorched faces and necks – and we weren’t the only ones. We spotted a Hannibal Lecter lookalike in one of the young Norwegian ski racer groups that we were sharing our hotel with. We weren’t able to get a photo so you’ll have to take our word on it that it was one of the most amazing and horrific looking goggle tans we have ever witnessed…
On Wednesday we awoke to the somewhat unexpected sight of snow piled up on our balcony railings. Temperatures had dropped a good ten degrees overnight and it was if the lush green spring conditions of the previous days had been temporarily lured into a false sense of winter. Over breakfast, Tamworth TSA store manager and sponsored rider, Matt Higson was excitedly reporting that the webcams were showing over a foot of snow on the restaurant tables up the hill. This turned out to be a slight overestimation but it wasn’t far off, and one thing was for sure: for the middle of May, the snow conditions were quite simply phenomenal. The entire Jones line-up and most of the longer boards were obviously in high demand all day and for good reason.
As a side note, if you haven’t ridden a Jones Hovercraft in powder you haven’t really lived yet. Super long, blunted early rise rockered nose? Check. Short, stiff fish tail? Check. Powerful camber underfoot? Check. The board also handled really well on the piste and on crud but really came into its own in the powder. The 156 rides more like a 165+ board with the added bonus of extra manoeuvrability thanks to its short length. Let’s just say that it’s easy tell why it’s one of Jeremy Jones’ favourites in his own line.
One of the more sobering stats doing the rounds was that of the 50 odd people who apparently remain unaccounted for on the Hintertux glacier and we constantly had this in the back of our minds when tentatively venturing off the pisted runs. Of course, the steadily deteriorating visibility didn’t ease our nerves or help matters much either. Needless to say, there were more than enough windblown stashes on the periphery of the runs to slash up and our tracks were continually being covered up as the snow continued to tumble down throughout the day. At 3.00pm we joined Matt Higson, Jon Russel and Duncan Craig for a final two top to bottom runs to finish up the day. They were so long and so epic that after trudging back to the hotel all high-fived out and with huge grins on our faces, we went straight to Cake and Steak, where Matt proceeded to demolish 10+ fish fingers, followed by cake, followed by a meaty buffet dinner… followed by more cake. We don’t even want to know how many plates of food Mr Russell got through. That dude eats a LOT.
The final day of the test was an absolute corker. As we had hoped, the whiteout conditions of the previous day had blown through overnight, leaving us with the conditions that we all live for: a powerfully blue, cloudless sky and a foot of fresh powder ready for the taking. We spent the morning zooming around the mountain like sugar-buzzed kids in a sweet shop, pow slashes and face shots aplenty, and also found a few cat tracks to send it off. Epic epic epic.
This shot of Matt Higson, taken on one of the first few runs of the day on a humble iPhone was one of the standout shots of the week and sums up the morning conditions perfectly. It’s been said before and we’ll say it again: the best camera is the one you always have on you and Tom Clinton's shot of Matt proves it!
In the afternoon, once the best of the snow had been tracked out, we gave one of our favourite boards of the test, the Bataleon G.W (Global warmer) a good ol’ sessioning. The G.W. has been getting a lot of love from the Bataleon team riders and was a big hit with all of the TSA testers. It’s a brand new model in the line and has a nice soft flex but a snappy, high end construction making it great for park and jibbing, yet still solid enough to take all over the mountain. It also held up surprisingly well in the powder and overall was a super fun ride - definitely one to look out for next season.
At 2.30pm we set out to get a few shots of some the TSA riders ripping. The question was where to go. The park had been buried by the previous day’s snow and by this time, many of the more accessible faces had been tracked out. Thankfully it certainly didn’t stop us hunting for and finding a whole load more freshies. Jon Russell was slashing up even the smallest of patches:
We spent the remainder of the afternoon sessioning a gap over a rope onto a steep powder face before calling it a week and returning to base (check out our brand spanking new gallery below to see more of the shots from the week):
Massive thanks are due to Jeremy, Shannon, Orchard, Hintertux resort as well as all of The Snowboard Asylum staff for putting us up on what was a fantastic week of riding, testing, eating and a little drinking ;)
Keep an eye out on Whitelines for the snowboard video reviews that we shot out on location in Hintertux to start surfacing.