After we learnt all about avalanche safety and mountain reading at the O'Neill Freeride Coaching for Girls last weekend, we drained team rider and first ever female to be in a Jeremy Jones movie Bibi Pekarek on her experience in getting over your fears, deciding when to back out and enjoying the mountain
Interview by Anna Langer
Your part in Furtherwas the very first female one in a Jeremy Jones movie. How did that come about?
We’ve known each other from freeride contests for a while now and have been riding together before. Last year we all went to the O’Neill Evolution Contest in Davos where the snow was epic. So Jeremy, Mitch [Tölderer, fellow big mountain rider and husband since last winter] and I got talking and since Mitch had always wanted to do something in the Karwendel mountains he suggested a trip and Jeremy jumped at the opportunity as well.
And that part of the Alps had never been in a movie before!
True, but it’s not easily accessible either, it’s even said to be the largest uninhabited area in Central Europe. So it’s not that easy to get there, you need quite stable conditions to be able to reach far enough into the valleys. And there’s always the danger of slides from the sides but last winter the conditions were really good and we had massive amounts of snow as well.
We picked a hiking line that would not lead over any rocks, so there would be no major fall if something did go loose. Risk management, so to say.
But still quite dangerous as well, as your fall in the movie shows...
The conditions were really stable in the beginning but started changing as wind came up. So we knew that there would be pockets up there that could simply pop, but we assessed the situation again the night before and had a long discussion. In the end we decided we would start going up and just see how it feels. We picked a hiking line that would not lead over any rocks, so there would be no major fall if something did go loose. Risk management, so to say. So we knew what the terrain looked like underneath us and there had already been a slide in the couloir we went up in, so we knew that there couldn’t be coming down that much more. So we wouldn’t have died if something happend - which can be very different in other situations, where you know that nothing must move at all. And it really did feel good and stable, until the point where it broke away right in front of me and Mitch and we did fall quite hard actually.
You opened your airbag right away as well...
Yes, I was focussed on the airbag from the beginning, and if I hadn’t, I would not have been able to pull it - Mitch did manage to get his. He was more concerned about me and even tried to reach out for me, thinking he would stay up there, very utopian really. But even though I had my mind set on it I only managed to pull the trigger as it was already dark around me, which is quite late. Once you’re in there, there’s no chance of pulling left anymore, only in the very beginning. It’s always good to have the trigger in hight of your chest, while mine was a bit higher, and with the ice axe dangling on my wrist it was even harder to reach. There are some real heavy powers going on, throwing you around in all directions...
Have you experienced similar situations on other trips or in different mountains?
Yes, afterwards once again in Alaska, when Mitch and me went on a private trip for ourselves. I tore my cross ligament in the avalanche but was very lucky apart from that, as there were two open crevasses on the foot of the face... I knew that when I fell but somehow managed to just be pulled over the first one and landed half a meter afterwards. But I was already partly buried and could not have gotten out of the snow on my own.
Do still enjoy the mountains as much as you did before or does it feel different now?
In the beginning of the season I was still really careful and easily got images flooding my mind, especially when I was traversing a big face. I also did a trip with Mitch this year where we had to go up a very steep and exposed face and turned around mid way as we weren’t perfectly sure what the face above us was like. That would have been a "No Fall Zone" and since I didn’t feel it at all, I made the call to go back and Mitch was instantly with me. But I’m finding my way back, bit by bit.
Have you been riding in the Karwendel mountains before?
Yes, a couple of times, but what we did with Jeremy was new for me as well. Mitch and I went scouting a bit before he came down here and picked out a couple of things we had already talked about, but never done before. Doing a movie is a bit of a different motivation to throw yourself into something. But it’s a huge logistic and organisational effort to go in there, as you have to take everything you need with you, camping gear as well as food, so it’s not the easiest of tripst.
There was another dicey situation when you didn't find the mountain hut you were supposed to stay in, what happend there?
That was a really weird situation. It got dark as it took us longer to get there than we had expected and we were a bit late too, so after a while you just couldn’t see anything anymore and the head lights only have a reach of about 20 meters maybe. Then it started snowing and we weren’t even sure anymore what the face that we traversed there looked like above us. Our guide did have GPS and everything and was searching, but it was really not that easy and at some point I started wondering what to do if we wouldn’t find it as I didn’t bring my tent or anything... The only chance would have been to follow our own tracks back down but that would have been no fun at all so I was really glad when we did find it in the end! I think everyone was really relieved.
How did you get into freeriding in the beginning?
I skied as a kid and started snowboarding once it came up, I loved it from the beginning. Then you just dare yourself to go further and further. Meeting Mitch probably made me a bit more 'extreme', even though that sounds a bit weird maybe, but I think it’s just a natural progression. And then a lucky coincidence got me into the Verbier Xtreme Contest, when I went there to accompany Mitch who was invited to ride. The waiting period was really long so after a while the contest organisers weren’t that happy anymore paying for my tickets and accommodation, so I agreed to do the pre-run before the contest, making sure conditions are right and giving cameramen a chance to adjust their focus etc. Basically the same run as everyone else in the competition but without the points. That sounded like a fun thing to me, although the Bec Des Rosses is quite a difficult mountain actually, and I did so well that they invited me back the following year.
How did you learn how to handle your avalanche safety gear like transceiver and probe?
I did a couple of avalanche courses where you spend all day searching buried transceivers and after that a lot of learning by doing, I have to say. There are always great offers for such courses that aren’t expensive at all, like the O’Neill camp we’re doing right now, and investing in such a training is really worthwhile.
What advise do you have for girls who have the riding skills but maybe not the experience and crew around them to get into freeriding?
Start by riding the powder on the sides of the slopes or smalls sections through the woods where you know where it comes back to the slope again. From there keep up with it, talk to other people, ask them for their experience in certain areas, collect information and start following the weather and conditions throughout the season in the resort you are at or your home mountain. Just don’t too much at once, go step by step.
Riding the park was always an effort for me, I only did it to get better at jumping.
I always had the feeling girl riders are more drawn to the park, was that never the case for you?
No I was never a park rider, more the other way around… I already went on ski tours with my parents when I was a kid and I’ve loved powder from the beginning. Riding the park was always an effort for me, I only did it to get better at jumping. I even liked pipe riding better than kickers... I would never hit the park if the conditions are good somewhere else, that’s just a last resort if nothing else is left. What’s metal got to do on the mountain anyways?! [Laughs] I don’t know, maybe for someone else freeriding is an effort as it is hard, you have to hike a lot and are out with guys most of the times. So I can imagine fear of not being able to keep up being a big factor as well. So I think for me it was very good that Mitch is a very supportive kinda guy who always believes in me and has confidence in my skills. Where other guys might go “You can’t do this", he’d always reassure me and motivate me to give it a try. And I was never worried myself, of course you have to overcome your fears sometimes, which can be hard as well, but in the end it’s great fun. And hanging in there is also a mental quality that you train over time.
You mentioned the Verbier Extreme, are you going to compete on the Freeride World Tour again at some point?
No, I just don’t enjoy contest riding anymore, it takes up a lot of time, you miss a lot of good day being here and there, checking faces etc and sometimes you even have to fly somewhere where conditions are worse. So especially for a movie project like the one last year you need a big time frame to make it happen. I work as a self employed physio therapist so I only really work two days a week in winter and try to schedule my patients in the evenings so I have time for the mountain during the day. I’ve always been a person who only does what she likes and if I don’t enjoy contest riding anymore I won’t do it. That’s the beauty when you are not forced to make a living off your snowboarding, you are free to decide what to do and what not.
That’s the beauty when you are not forced to make a living off your snowboarding, you are free to decide what to do and what not.
Anything else you'd like to get off your chest?
No, I'm a very direct person, I always say what I want to straight away.
Bibi is sponsored by O'Neill, Jones Snowboards, POC, ABS and goprofitnesstraining.com