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Girls on Film

Words by Cathy Struthers

Photos by Neale Haynes

The best adventures are always touched by a little bit of magic. This adventure, a story of pioneers, freedom and friendship, is no exception.

As I sit here on the Icelandic coast waiting for the cast to arrive, I am surrounded by it. From the sparkling glacier sitting high up on the volcano to the black lava fields which run down to the craggy cliffs, this place oozes pure magic. No wonder the girls chose to end their adventure here.

The location is the Snaefellsness peninsula, Iceland. The cast is a posse of Europe’s finest female snowboarding talent – UK big air champ Jenny Jones, Swiss superstar Tina Birbaum, gutsy Brit chick Vicc Miller, Austrian ripper Lisa Filzmoser and Britain’s best grom, 16-year-old Laura Berry.

After 120 days on the road, miles of film and countless hours of jetlag, they’ll meet up again on this remote piece of paradise in the early hours of tomorrow morning to put the final touches to their second all-girl snowboard movie.

When they arrive, the population will increase six-fold. Just 30 people live in the tiny village of Arnarstapi – 30 people and hundreds and hundreds of birds. Filling the sky and the silence with their swooping and screeching, it is the Atlantic terns who rule this place. Along with the volcanic moonscape, the 24-hour daylight and Hobbit-like, turf-roofed houses, the birds lend this land a distinctly otherworldly feel.

The full on snow park that’s been built by the Iceland Park Project team on the glacier atop the volcano that rises up behind the village, adds to the surrealism. It is the perfect backdrop. The scene is set.

Touched by Magic

I can see it in Tina Birbaum’s eyes the next morning at breakfast (or is it lunch? Time, in the eternal sunshine, is an outdated concept). Iceland cast its spell on her the last time she came to film for the girls’ first movie, Dropstitch. Her blue eyes sparkling, her cheeks glowing and her face filled with excitement and anticipation, this girl knows they’re guaranteed to get magic on the mountain later.

‘The landscape is so magical. The night sessions are amazing – riding in the middle of the night is quite an extraordinary thing.’

‘I’m so excited to be here,’ she grins, between mouthfuls of cereal. ‘ This is my favourite stop on the tour. I love the atmosphere and the landscape – it’s so magical. Even if we don’t ride well, you just know you’re going to get good shots here because everything else is so amazing. I want to do a night session later – riding in the middle of the night is quite an extraordinary thing .’

Later, she confides, ‘There are really are no words for my personal feeling about this place. I met someone very special here two years ago and I love Iceland for that.’
That someone special is boyfriend and fellow pro snowboarder, Johno Verity, who is also behind the camera lens capturing Tina and the rest of the crew on camera.

After breakfast, Johno and the girls show me around the village. With so few inhabitants, there’s not much to it, but what there is is breathtaking.

We brave the dive-bombing terns (they really do rule Arnarstapi and hate it when strangers invade their space) and walk out along the coast to the stunning black cliffs where Johno films the girls getting photographed for Cooler. With most of the footage for the new movie already in the bag, the girls can afford to relax a little and they talk me through the 120 days on the road during the making of Transfer.

‘There is something about the simplicity of snowboarding and filming here. It’s light all day and light all night, so you just ride when you want to.’

‘We’ve had a very tight crew this year,’ says Josie Clyde, who produced Transfer and its prequel DropStitch. ‘ We had a very open door policy, so that any female pro rider who was keen to film was welcome, but they understood they had to be committed and motivated to make it work. Whereas DropStitch was more about showing the girls’ snowboard scene as a whole, we hope Transfer will show each girl in her own right: her personality, strength and character.’

As Tina and Jenny collapse in heaps of giggles after a contest to see who can make the ugliest face (Tina’s gurning ‘Dumb and Dumber look just clinches it), it looks as though their personalities will certainly shine on screen.

‘We love coming to Iceland to film,’ continues Josie. ‘There is something about the simplicity of snowboarding and filming here. It’s light all day and light all night, so you just ride when you want to and there’s no stress of having to get up the hill first. The park is compact with no lifts, so everyone can see what’s going on and I can interact with the riders and filmers, rather than just watching the riders do lap after lap. Off the hill, there is nothing much to do apart from walk on the beach, surf or have a barbecue. It’s all about relaxed summer time things with chilled snowboarding thrown in. It creates just the right vibe for doing what we do.’

Midnight Sun Sessions

As our watches tell us night has fallen (the sky is telling us it’s more like 6pm), we hop into the swish new XC90s provided by Volvo for the Iceland Park Project to whisk us up to the glacier. The road up is a true test of these all terrain tigers – rocky, muddy and filled with potholes, the track up disappears entirely at some points.

From the base of the glacier, it’s a quick two minute snowmobile ride up to the beautifully-sculpted terrain park. As we wait for the snowmobile to shuttle back, I chat to Burton rider, Lisa Filzmoser and Transfer’s youngest star, 16 -year-old Brit Laura Berry.

‘It’s a pretty cool life!’ grins Lisa as she takes in the awesome scenery that surrounds her. ‘Life on tour is definitely fun. It consists of hanging with the girls, riding, cooking, relaxing and partying. You get to travel all over the world, to snowboard in unusual places and to meet so many people and see new cultures. I think all that helps you better understand who you are and what home means.’

And is riding with just girls bitchy or bonding?

‘To start with it felt a bit odd riding with just girls as it’s not really what I’m used to,’ explains Laura. ‘But, after a while you just get stoked on it and it’s funny watching all these girls making the guys go “wow!”, rather than the other way round.’

‘If you ride a lot with someone you become friends,’ adds Lisa. ‘Maybe you won’t see each other again for the whole year, but every time you meet up you know you have a real friend. Iceland is especially great for us all to come to together. I love the silence, the landscape ruled by volcanic stone, the noisy birds and the sea.’

She straps her board on and proceeds to wow the pants of everyone around, getting down some amazing footage of big airs silhouetted against a dusky pink sky.

It’s a Girl Thing

The next day (or is it just later on that endless day?), Cooler hijacks Tina to grab some shots in the photogenic landscape. As she styles up her wardrobe of new season Roxy gear (her background as a window designer comes into its own here – her sense of style is fabulous), she tells me why she signed up for the Transfer adventure.

‘If I go riding and travelling with guys for a guys’ film it can be tough,’ she admits. ‘They build jumps and do things I just struggle with size-wise and I feel out of place when they hang out together doing silly guy things. It’s much nicer to film with girls and travel with them. We can push and motivate each other on the mountain and we always have such a good time together. We are all friends, so when we don’t ride or have to wait for good weather, we go shopping, to a spa, do some yoga, watch a movie or just chat.’

And, on the Transfer tour, there was a lot of waiting. Through rain, through ice storms, through weeks without snow, the girls were very glad they had each other.

‘This season was a difficult one for everyone,’ says Tina. ‘I have never experienced such a bad snow season and it was sometimes hard to keep the motivation up and not lose confidence in the whole project. But the lows are worth it for the highs. Every time I ride out a line after hiking or flying up a mountain, I feel such a rush – it’s the best you can experience and feel ever. I feel everything is possible at times like that.

‘Snowboarding has never been better for me then since I started filming with the girls. I feel free, I meet people, I see the world in the company of my friends, I do what I love the most and I get to inspire other girls.’

As the shutter closes on Tina, I feel pretty sure she, and Iceland, will inspire. I leave the girls jibbing at a pink skied midnight session in the park, stoked on snowboarding, stoked on life, stoked on the moment, but most of all stoked on the magic.

The tour

  • • Mount Hood, Oregon
  • • Laax, Switzerland
  • • Big Bear, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth, California
  • • Vail, Colorado
  • • Stratton,Vermont
  • • St. Moritz, Switzerland
  • • Whistler, Canada
  • • Japan
  • • Arlber, Kaunertal, Dachstein, Austria
  • • Narvik and Trondheim, Norway
  • • Are, Sweden
  • • Bourg St Maurice, France
  • • Iceland Park Project, Iceland

The cast:Lesley McKenna, Tina Birbaum, Laura Berry, Jenny Jones, Vicci Miller, Lisa Filzmoser, Victoria Jalouse, Stine Brun, Cheryl Maas, Molly Milligan, Lisa Wiik, Erin Valverde.

Behind the camera: Johno Verity, Johnny Roderick, Adrian Frearson.

The producer: Josie Clyde

The highs

  • • Getting word by walkie talkie that kiwi rider Julianne Bray had nailed the perfect line down a steep drop into a gully and onto a big and open face on the backside of Les Arcs.
  • • Filming Lisa stick a frontside 540 over a particularly steep, scary kicker in Mammoth.
  • • Tina’s massive train tunnel drop which boosted her confidence for the whole season.
  • • Jenny discovering her maternal side and bottle feeding a lamb in Iceland – ahh!
  • • The parties. Epic nights included partying in Trondheim, Norway, home town of Kjersti Buaas and Lisa Wiik, after three solid on the road and celebrating Stine’s 30th Birthday in Oslo late into the night.
  • • The travel, the parties, the shopping trips, the camaraderie….(jealous, us?)

The lows

  • • Getting grounded by an ice storm for two days just as they were trying to leave Mt Hood. They wouldn’t have minded, but the girls had spent 10 fruitless days in the rain waiting for snow and just wanted out!
  • • A week of non-stop rain in Whistler which threatened to flood their apartment when the nearby river almost burst its banks.
  • • Homesickness. Life on the road may sound like heaven but every girl suffered bouts of boyfriend and family blues.
  • • Laura breaking her wrist while filming in Iceland – ouch!.

The Iceland Park Project

‘No queues, no hassles or no egos’. That’s the pledge of Graham Macvoy, Bjarni Valdimarrson and Rob Wyke who set up Iceland’s only summer snowboard camp back in 2002.

With the 24-hour daylight of an Icelandic summer, no resort opening hours and a chilled, relaxed vibe that gels perfectly with the remote beauty of the Snaefell peninsula, it’s had to disagree with them.

Every year riders from around the world flock to the camp and, although most are pros, the park is open to riders of all abilities. With Volvo now on board as a sponsor (along with main sponsor Nikita), getting up the hill is no hassle and you can choose from a pink skied midnight session in the park, a skate on the mini ramp in the village or a glassy evening surf on the nearby break.

Check out www.icelandparkproject.com for more details.

Transfer is available for £19.95 or 29.95 euro from www.chunkyknit.com.

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