Travel Stories

After Hours: Snowboarding At Night

After Hours

The Joys of Night Riding

Words: Chris Moran

“They say it changes when the Sun goes down”
– The Arctic Monkeys

Sadly, there are no figures available for how often the average snowboarder thinks about going on holiday, but from personal experience, I can say it’s certainly more brain-power than I give to my work. Could it match that often quoted fact about thinking of sex every thirty seconds? Frankly I have no idea, but I do know that at this time of year – when the leaves turn crunchy and scarves appear that aren’t just there to hide lovebites – the amount of time spent thinking about riding powder increases enormously.

I’m not the only one who does this of course. I’ve noticed my friends sometimes dropping into conversations about cornicing and straightlining. True, some of them are probably talking about their attempts at DIY, but I’ve got my doubts. I think it’s more likely to be a kind of wintry Freudian slip, where inner thoughts accidentally spill out into conversations. How else can they explain their constant chatter about perfectly smooth bowls, pipes or bottom turns? Or maybe that it isn’t them, and is actually all in my mind? It’s hard to tell. I’ve toyed with the idea of seeing a shrink, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that anyone who pays good money to a psychiatrist really does need their head testing.

Of course before one does actually spiral into madness, there’s always the ‘ski show’ to attend – a kind of mass group-therapy for people who are starting to overload on imaginary holidays of snowy perfection, knitted woollen jumpers and mulled wine. How brilliant that the only cure for such an ailment also happens to be one of the most intense annual drinking binges in West London? According to lore, the Hand and Flower pub – just opposite the Olympia Exhibition Centre – sees its turnover magnified by the power of ten during the last days of October. Add in the fact that the brochure industry employs an untold number of extra hands, and the way business cards are exchanged in the same swift manner as a Panini sticker season at a Manchester comprehensive, and you’re looking at an enormous spike in British industrial productivity based entirely on cold, cold turkey. In short, for those of us who crave that feeling of gliding over snow, Autumn is the slap on the arse and wink from the oncoming winter. We both know what’s coming and it’s pretty frisky stuff.

But back to the story in hand. A few days ago I was lucky enough to glimpse a sneak preview of Terje Haakonsen’s new TV series entitled “Terje’s Season Pass.” During one episode, Terje and Nicolas Müller are seen riding backcountry lines all day, interspersed with interview quotes from the film crew postulating as to how professional the two riders are. The main thread seems to be that given one week to shoot with such hard-working legends of the snowboard world, it’s virtually guaranteed that some good footage will be bagged. One interviewee states that after a long day’s shooting, Terje and Nico were so keen to ride that they carried on long into the night with the help of a 4×4 jeep and a length of rope, which served to catapult them at various jumps.

It got me thinking. I’m a huge fan of night riding anyway, but here was a solid argument as to why we should think twice about where we’re gonna ride over the coming winter. I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first of all – for those who haven’t actually ridden their boards at night – I want to boil down why snowboarding in general is so good, and then explain why doing it at night is sometimes even better.

Firstly, I want to confess that one of the most appealing aspects of going riding is that it satisfies a very strange side to my character, a side that loves the odd moment of feeling, in some way, cool. I’m well aware of course of the whole ‘you can’t be cool if you think you’re cool’ debate, so let’s just suspend judgement and indulge ourselves in a bit of amateur psycho-analysis. What I’m getting at is the very personal feeling one gets after having landed a good trick. Riding powder, slashing cornices, hitting jumps, spinning, grabbing our boards, boning a leg out for extra style – it’s all little more than pulling an enormous skid on a Raleigh Grifter in front of your 13-year old peers, and getting a nod of respect from them in return. There’s a massive ‘show-off’ element to riding, and it’s one that works both ways. I love seeing friends of mine land beautiful airs as much as I love them watching me. I’m not in any way saying that this is a bad thing, I’m simply stating that to understand my theory you’ve at least got to admit that to yourself. Because if that’s true, then it follows that our snowboarding trips are in many ways a total release from our everyday lives. At home the majority of us probably commute to work. We sit at our desks, we get our lunch from sandwich shops and we lounge in front of the TV at night trying to relax. Personally speaking, my day-to-day existence is about as exciting as a fishing trip to a disused canal with a bunch of grumpy octogenarians. But for a couple of weeks a year I get to head out to the mountains, wear the most ridiculous shades and goggles known to man, three-quarter length coats that would make Kaftan-era Robert Plant jealous, and the kind of bling that Snoop Dog would think excessive. I get to jump high in the air, spin like a kung-fu expert, and tear around the mountains to my hearts content. Suddenly I’m being directed by John Woo, and life is full of the same high-octane intensity as an action movie. I’ve never actually seen any slow mo footage of myself riding (with explosions going off in the background) but that’s not to say I haven’t imagined it. I make tyre-screeching sounds when I turn in powder, I pull wheelies when I’m going as fast as I can (accompanied by the shout “wheeelllieeee!”) and I’m not above shouting “yippee-ki-ay motherfucker” if the situation deserves it.

Don’t judge, we would all give ourselves a high five if it was socially acceptable.

So here’s my argument: do all of the above at night and it takes on a whole new meaning. I can distinctly remember riding in Japan a few years ago. With a clear set of goggles on, and cruising through some fresh powder lit up by the resort floodlights far below, I was transported to possibly the coolest place on Earth. Dressed in black (what else at night?) and hitting every bump, kicker and cat-track in sight, I felt like Wesley Snipes hunting vampires. Sad I know, but that session still lives on in my mind, and when I’m putting something away in the filing cabinet, or queueing up to use a cash machine on a Tuesday afternoon, it’s the kind of thought that creeps back in and makes me realise I’m actually pretty lucky to be able to go snowboarding.

These are all intense, personal feelings, and obviously no one in their right mind wants to see footage (or even listen to me prattle on about) my riding in Japan. I know this because an idle question thrown to some friends – as to whether they’d want to see some of my holiday snaps – recently received the brilliant Paul Calf-inspired put down of “I’d rather see Dave Lee Travis playing McBeth.” Still, the point here is that we ride for our own reasons, and sometimes mine happen to be a fulfilment of intense, Hollywood-style film re-enactments.

My last point should – I hope – have some relevance to all of you. And it is this: the other amazing upside to going riding at night is that it doubles your holiday time. In Japan I rode from around 9am to 4pm, had some noodles and a rest, and then went back out from around half 5 until the resort closed four hours later. Over the course of a week that’s an extra 21 hours of riding, all of which can be spent fulfilling any Matrix/Lord of the Rings/Blade fantasies. Of course it’s not all plain sailing. The obvious problem with going riding at night is the visibility, and if you’re flying at warp-factor ten through a reasonably dense forest, well, you’re just asking for trouble. We’ve all seen Return of the Jedi after all. That said, hitting a tree can have un-expected upsides too, as Sonny Bono’s tragic death proved in 1999 (his skiing accident being single-handedly responsible for the physics joke “it’s not speed that kills, but deceleration” – although one has to say, it was an unexpected quip by the minister at the funeral). So be careful out there.

Right, here’s the deal: choose your next holiday carefully, make sure the resort you head to has some night riding, take a clear set of goggles, load up on action adventure flicks, and get lost in a new world of your own making. Just don’t sit through the director’s cut of The Blair Witch Project before you head out. I’m shuddering at the memory of it all right now. But that’s a different story altogether…

The Best Places to Ride at Night

Niseko, Japan.
Pretend to be Nico Muller from Pop (or Wesley Snipe in Blade!) in Japan’s premier powder resort. The resort is open from half 8 in the morning all the way through to 9.30pm, a solid thirteen hours of fantastic forest plundering. When you factor in that it dumps almost every night, you’re dealing with a mind-blowing – not to mention leg wrecking – experience.

Brighton, USA.
Utah’s best night time stash has an impressive floodlight system, four chairs open until 9pm, and a mix of terrain ranging from twisting cat tracks (with scary dark patches) to open bowls and of course, a kick-arse park. Hit the resort after a storm and you’ll get the kind of face shots that freeze smiles. Take an extra scarf though, you’re basically in the desert so the thermometer dips wildly as soon as the sun goes down.

Whistler, Canada.
The only thing that could have improved Canada’s favourite resort was if they were to install thousands of halogen lights to access all that incredible day-time terrain. So they did.

Halifax, Yorkshire.
What better way of blowing off the daytime cobwebs from working down t’pit by heading off to Halifax for a damned good night-time session? Expect one of the best snowflex kickers in the business, as well as one of the busiest and friendliest snowboard scenes in the country. It’s featured in David Benedek’s new film ‘In Short’ dontchooknow?

Hemsedal, Norway.
Hit this Norwegian resort in the dead of winter and you’re looking at a scant few hours of daylight to play in. Hence they’ve put some damned good lights in so you can see where you’re riding (you wouldn’t want to accidentally boot if off Mads Johnson’s behemoth 30 metre kicker now eh?). The upshot of course is that the night-time riding is superb, if positively sub-arctic. Expect icicles on the nose.

Photo Credits

Image One: Creager; Image Two: Marcel Lammerhirt; Image Three: Jeff Patterson

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