When: Feb 24th till March 1st
Where: European Alps
Day 4 – February 27th
It may have been a travel day, searching for what is becoming ever more illusive snow, but there was no shortage of action on the fourth day of The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro.
With the announcement that event would be heading to Sestriere in Italy, the local bar in St. Bernhard quickly filled up with riders and the rest of the crew, keen to make the most of a bit of a lie in.
It was unsurprising then that the 10am departure of the bus saw a few dark circles under the eyes, and a several heavy heads.
Two buses traveling from Switzerland to Italy should have been without too much action… not on The Big Mountain Pro of course.
Just a few hundred meters down the road was where it all started when French rider Thomas Diet was stopped at the border for not having his passport with him.
As everyone on the buses waved him goodbye (with Thomas soon to be reunited with the crew in Sestriere), they headed into the Italian Alps with a promise of snow ahead.
The snow had been forecast, but as the day drew on, the sun pushed its way through the fog to reveal grassy fields and snowless fields.
But the guides on The Big Mountain Pro had spent the day working hard to ensure that there will be a face with enough lines and decent snow on which to hold a competition on day five.
Anthony Lamiche is one of the guides who spent the day scoping the local area. He said: “We started by getting a helicopter and looking around the area of Sestriere. We checked a 1000 m face, skiing down it. Although it was perfect for us, the snow was not good enough for a competition.”
“After that the bad weather came in, but we had something to check in Maurienne, in France. It was a dangerous flight there, trying to find a hole through the clouds with the heli, but we got up and managed to see a bit of the face. We have been looking at the pictures since then and have decided to go there tomorrow morning. The snow is best there. It is a little more compact than everywhere else we looked. We will do an early morning run down the face and hope that the snow is good enough. If not, we will not hold the competition. It will also be up to the riders. But hopefully the enthusiasm is high tomorrow.”
Day 5 – February 28th
Standing looking onto the icy face of Maurienne in France after a 5am start from Sestriere, there was a tough decision to be made.
Armed with binoculars, the riders were dissecting the couloirs and snow conditions, to determine their levels of enthusiasm to compete on the face.
“Snow should be white,” according to American skier, Drew Tabke. “That is blue and brown – blue from the ice patches and brown from the dirt blown onto it from the cliffs,” he said. “That face is the kind of thing that you could fall on and tumble for a while.”
Fellow American, Cody Townsend was also pondering the potential of the face: “It looks hard,” he said. “Landing airs on hard snow on a steep face with rocks around, is potentially not good.”
If there was some wavering, it wasn’t helped when the guides skied down to test the quality of the snow.
Relaying their descent through walkie talkies, the riders standing opposite watching their lines were treated to the sounds of skis grinding against the hard snow.
Whilst the previous decision making process was in the format of a well established democracy, this one was the call of The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro event organizer, Nicolas Hale-Woods. Consulting all the riders and guides, he took the agonizing decision to call off the event for the day.
“The decision is not to hold the contest,” he told the riders. “The snow is too hard and at the top half of the face there are safety issues.”
There was little in the way of sulking over the lack of competition. Within minutes the guys were hiking towards a friendlier looking face for a morning of fun.
O’Neill rider Mitch Toelderer was with Jeremy Jones, Xavier de le Rue and O’Neill’s global event manager, Bernhard Ritzer as they hiked two hours to a more appealing northeast facing face for a bit of fun.
“When I saw the competition face I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Mitch said. “I wasn’t disappointed though. You just take it.”
“I just said lets go ride something else. We got some pretty nice snow in the end.”
With a rest day ahead and an afternoon of activities, it looks like tonight will also be a pretty nice night.