São Roque – Brazil
Snowboarding in the Tropics
Words & Photos : Eric Bergeri
Brazil is a dream destination : girls, waves, beaches, sun, girls, football, carnival, girls… For surfers it’s up there with places like Tahiti or Costa Rica, but it’s not exactly a snowboarding hotspot. With the exception of a few centimeters of snow which falls every couple of years in the mountains of the south, there is virtually no snow in the country, and 99.99% of the population does not even know what it looks like. Likewise, they’ve never heard of snowboarding, or have only seen it on the back of a cereal box.
Last summer, French riders Rémi Lamazouère and Sylvain Bourbousson (fresh from his breakthrough part in the new Absinthe movie Optimistic?) headed to Chile to enjoy some southern hemisphere snow. On the way, they had the great idea to stop off for a week in Brazil, where they would explore the surf between São Paulo, the fourth biggest city in the world, and Rio de Janeiro, the economical capital of the country. Unfortunately for them, they’d also brought a photographer with them who wanted to get some work done ! Thus, after some good waves in Maresiasn, we all went to São Roque, home of Brazil’s only artificial ski and snowboard slope. It was also an ideal excuse to send their team managers some expenses for surfboard rental !
São Roque is an hour’s drive from São Paulo. It’s a small town set within a landscape of hills. On top of the biggest of these hills, a sort of small theme park has been built which includes a long tobogganing slope, a hellish and deadly mountain bike trail and, of course, an artificial ski slope.
When Sylvain and Rémi arrived, they found they were sharing the slope with a group of school kids from Brasilia, the capital of the country. On the nursery run, teenagers were trying to ski and snowboard for the first time. Dressed for the tropics, many of them scratched their arms and legs on the harsh plastic as they took the inevitable slams. The French riders watched the scene from the local churrascaria (steak house), eating lunch with the boss of the place.
It was the first time Sylvain and Rémi had ridden dryslope, but it didn’t take them long to get the hang of it. As every British person reading this story will know, you can’t carve a turn with your edge – you have to slide. Rémi learned this lesson the hard way when he careered off the edge of the slope and crashed into the dirt. Despite these early hiccups, it was a special atmosphere, with tropical temperatures, palm trees and constant water spray to keep the slope nice and slippery. The Frenchies were special guests for the day, and after an hour’s riding the hosts brought out two rails. The first – a rainbow – was literally impossible to ride, and the other one… almost impossible. Sylvain had to place one of the kickers alongside it just to get onto the thing. He and Rémi began trying a few tricks while a crowd of fascinated workers gathered around. After a while, Sylvain started clearing the rail with some straight airs, followed by some big old Kelly airs – all the time thinking about that hard, flat landing. As is often the case on photo shoots like these, the local super hero wanted to keep up with his famous guests. He joined us on the rail and was soon frightening us with his repeated bails, slamming harder with each turn into the rail or plastic. We later discovered that the guy was an ex-pro motocrosser, and suddenly his numerous scars – not to mention his resistance to pain – made more sense.
We took a few photos to help us remember this extraordinary day. It was a weird and wonderful feeling to ride under that tropical sun, soaked through by the sprinklers. At the end of the afternoon, we packed everything up and drove back to São Paulo as night was falling. The city is quite dangerous so we had to take a few precautions – like not showing any obvious signs of wealth, and not driving with the windows open! I guess it is all too easy to get used to poverty and insecurity, which is why so many people live in this rather ugly and polluted city. That said, São Paulo does have some good sides – it is the main place to work in the country, and as a result it is also a world class spot to go out to restaurants and clubs. Which is how, just a few hours after riding their snowboards, Sylvain and Rémi found themselves sipping Caipirinhas in a samba rock club, surrounded by pretty girls – shortly before heading to the real snow in Chile.