When: Feb 24th till March 1st
Where: European Alps
”Ok, you can do this!”
It was touch and go on day three of The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro in the Val de Bagnes. An early departure from Chamonix meant that all the riders were helied up to check out the north face of Le Rogneux (3000m), just over the border in Switzerland at 7am. At 400m long, it wasn’t as long as yesterday’s face, but at the top the steepness was up to 50%, mellowing out to 30% further down.
The sun was once again out, but there was a slight murmur of concern from the riders. Last year’s winner, Xavier de le Rue was amongst those not convinced that the quality of snow could produce a face that they could compete on.
“We had such a great day yesterday, it spoilt us,” he said. “I worry that these conditions will not give a good image of what we do.” Skier Phil Meier was also in agreement: “We have a week here on The Big Mountain Pro. This face in these conditions won’t show a display of great skiing.” But not everyone was in agreement. Among those keen to go up to the top was American Cody Townsend; “The sun is out and I like skiing,” was his motivation to ski down the face. In true diplomatic style, the matter was taken to the riders to vote, and the result: up to the peak they were taken. Event organizer Nicolas Hale-Woods was happy to let the riders make the call. “The snow is not as good as yesterday and the lines are not as clear as yesterday. So we let the riders decide if they wanted to compete on the face. I think they made a good decision.”
The order of riders was reversed from yesterday, with the snowboarders heading down the face first. As at the start of the event, after completing their rides, reactions to the run varied, as did the lines the riders took.A standout run came from Cody Townsend, who flew down the top of the run at an incredible speed and was buzzing as he reached the bottom. “I was going about 60km per hour up there,” he said. “I used to ski downhill. I love to go fast. When I got up there, the original line I had chosen didn’t look so good to me, so I just went straight down another I saw. I am glad we had the run today.”
There were plenty other riders who finished the run with a smile on their face. Among them was Flo Orley who said: “I am just here because I love snowboarding. I didn’t care if there was 2 foot of powder, the sun was shining and I was riding with my friends.” Xavier de le Rue has his premonition of the snow quality proven right; “it was like I thought,” but enjoyed the run nonetheless. “I had fun going down pretty much in a straight line, but I didn’t do anything technical.” Then skiing out of the valley and straight to the restaurant for lunch, the riders were greeted with the news that the voyage to Andermatt was off the agenda, and instead they will be staying locally in St Bernhard. Tomorrow sees a new weather system hopefully fill the mountains with some snow, as The Big Mountain Pro makes its next move into the Italian alpine region of Sestriere for more from the best freeriders in the world.