We've cherished freeriding as one of the most purest forms of snowboarding all our lives, but after the O'Neill Freeride Coaching in the Alps last weekend, we discovered yet another layer of dimension to the art of backcountry riding off the beaten track and masses of snow tourists
Words by Anna Langer, photos by Hansi Kudlinski/O'Neill
If you have ever had the pleasure of dropping into a untouched powder field to draw your very first line into the canvas, you know what we're talking about. And would probably agree that it's a different kind of stoke than stomping a trick or having a great session in the park - by no means bigger or smaller, just different in it's essence.
Motivating yourself to go beyond your comfort zone is something that leaves you feeling more empowered and stronger than you could ever imagine.
The peace and calm of the backcountry, its raw nature with stunning landscapes surrounding you and spiced with epic runs, is without doubt among the most beautiful experiences you can have snowboarding. So far, so obvious. The real transformation starts when you use your own power and energy to get there - by hiking. Because motivating yourself to go beyond your comfort zone is something that leaves you feeling more empowered and stronger than you could ever imagine.
That is, of course, if the setting is right and you have all your marbles together. Meaning: you know your territory, your own limits - and your backup plan in case something goes wrong - which can be any second when you're out in the wild and subject to its elements.
Since my marbles had been rolling around a bit out of control lately, I headed to the annual O'Neill Girls Freeride Coaching in South Germany to freshen up our knowledge and routine on avalanche safty, hone our skills in picking a great backcountry line and hopefully adding a nice route or two to our repertoire of freeride territory.
With not much fresh but a solid base on the Fellhorn, one of two resorts in 15 minutes car ride reach from the camp's base in a "nature hotel" in the picturesque town of Oberstdorf in the Allgäu region in Bavaria, it didn't exactly resemble the "untouched" powder fields and first lines depicted in the intro - but had no lesser impact at all. Writing this, trying to move as little as possible to soothe a whole body of sore muscles, I realise that while the beauty of a powder run is indisputable the reason we go through all this, the effort itself is a vital part of this amazing stoke as well.
Writing this, trying to move as little as possible to soothe my sore muscles, I realise that while the beauty of a powder run is indisputable the reason we go through all this, the effort itself is a vital part of this amazing stoke as well.
And it has practical benefits as well, as the mountain guides show us by digging snow profiles, exposing the different layers of snow and their consistency, which can be used as first hints of the stability or lack thereof in the face you're about to tackle. After you have read and understood the official avalanche report of course - with the "understanding" part being emphasized on purpose. Because if you're not absolutely sharp and clear about what each and every word means exactly, you will not be able to transfer your knowledge to the situation in front of you.
Which will always remain more of an idea than rock solid knowledge, as the avalanche reports are always given out for a whole area, not specific mountain ranges in detail, and even if they were every face and even every part of a face would still be absolutely unique and to be assessed over and over as you are out there. Something I experienced my very myself when I tried to make a patch slide on purpose that did not want to go off at all - but the bit 20 cm to side went popping when it was merely touched by the guide's pole…
Pro riders and hosts of the weekend Bibi Pekarek (whom we grilled live on the ground for our Pro Chat this week) and Lisa Veith agree on prevention and preparation being key as well - alas you can never know what is going to happen, as Bibi's experience in Jeremy Jone's Further proved very well. So if it does come to the worst, you will need to be damn sure and routined in using your transceiver and probe to make sure you don't waste a milisecond of precious time in the 15-minute-race of life or death if someone is buried in an avalanche. Obviously such training isn't exactly the crowd-pleaser, especially when the sun is blazing and the powder is calling, and so we got over with it straight on Saturday morning. And I have to say I was quite glad we did when I was battling my fear of heights not much more than half an hour later, as at least the rest of the girls would be able to find me after my fall, I figured.
I was glad we did some avalanche safety training when I was battling my fear of heights - at least the other girls would be able to find me after my fall, I figured.
Such thoughts only managed to occupy my brain for the first couple of minutes though, as it was soon way too busy dealing with itself. Especially sending impulses to my thighs to motivate them to lift my legs for another and another and another step. And limiting the riot of sweat cells trying to drown the heat by simply flooding the whole body. Or controlling the airflow into the lungs to make sure they don't burst out of exhaustion in 2000 meters hight. While this sounds rather nasty and ugly at first read (did smell so too but that's a different story), it was actually an absolutely beautiful and cleansing experience (and not just because of the detoxifying sweat).
Because on these sometimes merciless white steps in the middle of nowhere between heaven on earth, everything else starts fading away. All the usual swirling thoughts that make us go crazy in everyday life, all the petty sorrows and worries that aren't really that grave if you really think about them, are drowned out by the much more pressing issues of 'where do I place the next step' and 'will the powder on the other side of the ridge be worth the effort'. And you are purely back where you belong: right in your heart, connected with your soul, doing what you love the most - or at least about to do so. The success of overcoming your own unrealistic or very real fears of falling, neck breaking or nervous flashes of vertigo will leave you feeling stronger and more empowered than any leadership-coaching or gym routine ever could. And no matter if you were looking for it or not, it will also reconcile you with any issues you have lately had with the industry, the contest scene, the marketing or other parts of snowboarding - it's simply too amazing a feeling to have room for any hard ones.
On these sometimes merciless white steps in the middle of nowhere between heaven on earth, all the usual swirls of thoughts, petty sorrows and worries start fading away and are drowned by much more pressing issues like where to place the next step.
Do you agree with my new found love of hiking? Leave a comment and share your very own experience - good or bad, agreeing or contradicting, we're dying to find out...