This comes from the Whitelines archives - issue 91 from October 2010 to be precise - and is still one of my personal favourites out of all the articles the mag has ever produced. One image that will never look dated is that look when someone gets to the bottom of that run.
Over the past few seasons, during trips to some of the most awe-inspiring mountains on the planet, WL staff photographer Matt Georges has been working on a pet project: taking portraits of riders in the heat (or rather the cold) of battle. Pairing their dripping wet faces with pictures of them deep in the white stuff, his portfolio is a celebration of our love for powder. Chris Moran takes up the verbal salute.
“Put your trust in God: but be sure to keep your powder dry." Oliver Cromwell.
[part title="Victor Daviet"]
It's strange to think, but some people don't get their kicks from messing around. "The prospect of a long day at the beach makes me panic," the New York art critic Phillip Lopate once wrote, "There is no harder work I can think of than taking myself off to somewhere pleasant, where I am forced to stay for hours and have fun." Others - and I like to think I'm speaking on behalf of the entire board riding populace here - take a different view, and the idea of zipping around sideways drives some of us to exceedingly delightful (if a touch eccentric) living habits. As the infamous Malibu surfer Miki Dora once said in an interview, “If you’re willing to accept that surfing is a colossal waste of time, then I’m willing to concede I've wasted my life."
[part title="Brynild Vulin"]
Snowboarding is naturally younger than its parent sport, but it seems that we've definitely inherited some of that relaxed DNA. Because let's face it: sliding down a mountain is a great way of whiling away hours that could otherwise have been spent learning Spanish, cleaning the bathroom, or writing about art for a New York newspaper. And in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world, a little wintry sojourn offers a welcome and admirable distraction; the metaphorical diamond sitting on the cowpat of daily existence. We are of course, completely aware of this, which is why it’s good fun to send a snow report back to the office when you are on holiday, rubbing it in a little. It’s a short text message that - for a few hours at least - makes us feel like Barbara Cartland flicking a fag in a Cartier ashtray while our minions scrub the guttering. And escapism doesn’t come much better than that.
In many ways, we snowboarders actually have it just as good - if not better - than surfers. We get to cut, slash and layback like our boardshort-wearing relatives, we go faster and catch bigger airs, we sit on a padded chairlift without ever having to paddle, and though Craig Kelly, the father of freeriding, once said of good snow that “[these days] you've got to go further to get it," there’s hardly a fight for resources going on. Ever heard of localism at a ski resort? It's kind of an oxymoron: pretty much everyone is a tourist.
[part title="Dimitri Biau and Elias Elhardt"]
If we could distill snowboarding down to just one word it would undoubtedly be: ‘fun’. But that alone doesn’t really do the sport justice. There is so much space to explore, so much speed (a snowboard is a pretty fast vehicle, keeping the mind constantly active); there's your balance, poise and riding style to consider, and when everything is working in harmony - when you can actually ride on autopilot and not worry too much about catching an edge - then the mountain becomes the ultimate theme park. At this point, the skill comes from tuning your eye into the bumps, rollers and dips - from knowing what to jump off, and what to land on. Sure it's ‘fun’, but it is so much more than that. It’s freedom. Snowboarding also requires motor-neuron skills, quick thinking, physical exertion and the ability to use one's mind’s eye: things we're not accustomed to using if we sit at a desk for much of our regular life.
[part title="Rene Schnoller"]
In previous WL articles, we’ve offered up the theory that Albert Einstein would have loved snowboarding, and we stand by it. “Imagination is more important than knowledge," he once wrote to a friend. And to a playful mind, riding a snowboard offers a wealth of possibilities. For the duration of your stay on the mountain, you’re back in the wilds - forced to act on impulse, instinct and, often, fear. With the cold, sharp air stinging our nostrils, we feel like Jack London's dog Buck in The Call of the Wild, slowly feeling our way back to an earlier age. It feels good, it feels primal, and it's no wonder that people will go to extraordinary lengths to get their wintry kicks, even if it means risking a relationship – or more often than not, bankruptcy.
[part title="Anne Flore Maxer"]
And then there’s powder, the king of snow. Without powder, snowboarding would still be an Owen Paul-style Favourite Waste Of Time™ (youtube him) but with this wonderful addition, it transcends mortal pleasures. Powder is to snowboarding what sugar and milk are to tea: a magical bonus on top of an already wonderful thing. Most people won't ever experience it - in the same way that most people won't feel what it's like to surf through a barrelling wave. As such, riding cold, fresh powder is one of life’s rare delicacies: a sporting Beaujolais nouveau, a mountain rider’s lobster thermidor. It is also, however, one of the most difficult experiences to explain.
[part title="Josh Wolf"]
Canadian rider Shin Campos once said that powder was “hard to express in words, but it’s by far the most enjoyable and orgasmic feeling. The purity and soul-like feeling is addictive, and when you get that addiction and [then] hit chopped snow or hard pack, it’s a slap in the face of reality."
Not a bad effort, but Shin was chatting about the feelings it invokes. Describing the actual mechanics of gliding through powder is equally troublesome. And in truth, many learner riders find their first attempts at off-piste riding to be very frustrating. Once up to speed and gently gliding on what seems like a cushion of air, it’s a wonderful feeling, but it isn’t an easy skill to master. One American instructor advised: “The faster you go, the better. The less you struggle, the better." He had a point: in deep snow your edges are virtually useless, so it’s all about the lean - and for beginners who’ve just mastered the rudimentaries of riding hardpack, this is a new, counterintuitive skill to grapple with. And no matter how naturally sporty you are, or how quickly you pick things up, there’s no getting around the fact that at some point you’re going to dip your nose, catch the front edge of your board and transform yourself into a human catherine wheel. If you’ve ever wondered why seasoned pro riders sometimes carry two pairs of goggles with them, here’s your answer.
[part title="JP Solberg"]
If the eyewear does manage to stay on, getting stuck in powder is still the stuff of nightmares. Who doesn’t remember the frustrations of pushing against the ground in an effort to stand up, only for the snow to give way? Not that it gets much easier over time. Even now, pro snowboarders regularly get themselves lodged in tree wells and unexplained holes in the ground. It takes experience to know when to roll over and lever yourself up, and when to unstrap and hike your way out of a tricky situation. All too often, you see powder debutantes wrestling with the stuff, like an ex-cage fighter taking on some particularly nasty and invisible demons. Ever seen someone punch the ground? Properly attack the floor like it’s an assailant? If the answer is ‘no’ then you’ve never taken someone out into the deep stuff for their first time.
[part title="Romain De Marchi"]
But when one overcomes the trials and tribulations of getting up, and you can right your powder wrongs, a world of opportunity opens up. Ski guide Kitt Redhead says it’s “like swimming in a lake your whole life – and then someone [takes] you to the ocean." Others think of it as a weightless experience – Canadian heliskiing owner Mike Welch describes the sensation as like “[riding with] someone holding you up by the hat."
It’s a wonderfully poetic description, and with this gravity-defying aid, there’s no end to the fun to be had. Push in a turn, hit a lip, drop cliffs, take on pillow lines, hit hips… everything is covered in a magical landing juice. And then there’s the beauty. Anyone who has looked at an untouched cornice on their way to slash it to pieces has seen a natural sculpture that beats anything man has ever conjoured up. “What we believe is beautiful, we will not wantonly destroy," offered the Reverend Sean Parker Dennison to his Salt Lake City congregation - but the good lord’s agent had obviously never seen snowboarders attacking an untouched powder field. And as for that virgin cornice lying there waiting to be pillaged? We’d stand up in court and verify that it was asking for it. Your honour.
[part title="Scott McMorris"]
It’s impossible to say why this strange behaviour is so much fun, but it’s a feeling that seems to be shared by all riders, from the average holidaymaker through to the world’s best. “I need to feed my addiction and get the good powder," said Terje Haakonsen recently. “I’m always looking for lines with natural stuff: windlips, gaps etc." Often, it’s the simplest things that are insanely good, and just jamming a fast, hard turn into the bottomless stuff can be orgasmic - an explosion of snow that invokes the feeling of skidding your bike as a kid and kicking up dust, with the yippee-ki-yay hoot of Han Solo shooting his way through a recently-exploded Tie Fighter. The cold blast as you ride through a curtain of snow feels incredible, sticking to your hair, beanie and goggles like a medal of honour.
[part title="Colum Mytonn"]
Not that it’s all fun and games, especially when you go out to test your mettle on the steeps. The more powder you ride, the more danger you’re in. I’ve personally seen the lightening cracks of an avalanche shoot out from my edge, and a more heart-stopping sight it is hard to imagine. But after successfully negotiating a tricky chute or cliff, there’s a feeling of euphoria that can’t be replicated. The so-called ‘natural high’, it reduces grown men to whooping and hollering - just read this month’s interview with Jeremy Jones for a classic example.
In the poker game of powder riding, then, every facet of human emotion can be found, from the sublimely ecstatic through to the horrific. Yet the best feeling of all – the very essence of its being - can be found in one move above all others. It is the Royal Flush of the mountain, and it’s something we’re never taught, we just instinctively know how to do.
I’m talking, of course, about spray.
[part title="Remi Lamazouere"]
Picture the scene: it’s a perfect, bluebird day. You’re out with friends, pushing each other, jumping off cliffs, spotting landings and cranking some beautiful turns on virgin faces. You spot a mate who’s stopped to get a picture and realise he’s just below a particularly deep bank of snow. You shout down to say you’re going to straightline and spray a nearby windlip, and ask him to get a picture. As you pick up speed, you’re audibly giggling into your coat’s snug collar. By the time he realises that your trajectory isn’t as expected, and that you’re actually aiming for him, it’s too late to do anything about. He tries to turn his face away just as you drop a shoulder, lean back, and unleash a hundredweight of snow over his hunched outline, shouting “Tuuuube!" He’s now Kelly Slater, deep in the barrel, with no hope of making it out unscathed. You’re laughing your tits off.
[part title="Janne Lipsanen"]
Worth a dead arm? Oh yes. It’s moments like this that make a holiday, or a season, or a life. Because in the end, what more is there to life than the simple search for a few laughs? The humourist Mark Twain - another of Whitelines' favourite quotees - once asked: “What is human life?" After a while he came to the conclusion that “the first third is a good time; the rest is remembering about it."
So there we have it: one day you’ll be sat in a chair, decrepit and old, unable to drop cliffs and hike through waist deep powder. So get out there, hit the cliffs, make some turns, drop in, float like a butterfly and above all else - spray your friends.