Published in Onboard Magazine Issue 120, February 2011
Words: John Cavan
14 Days Chasing Snow and Filming the European Dream A long Way From Home
I could hear Lucas puking in the bathroom above me. As I lay half on the bed and half out of it, trying with all my might to keep aim with the bowl below me, I began to think there was no possible way anything more could come out. I wanted nothing more than to just go home, or better yet, curl up on the floor and die… but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
AMERICANS IN EU-ROPE
These days, trying to fi lm a snowboard movie is no easy task. In a sport that seems to be changing daily it’s hard to differentiate one’s self from the multitude of video releases each fall. Every kid with a camera now has become a production company and the web is flooded each week with “teasers” for the next “big” video. When Rome decided to make the third installment to our team video series, we decided that we wanted to take our time. We let our riders continue fi lming for whatever video they were working on at the time, but asked every one to devote a couple weeks each to go on one or two trips over the course of last winter to stock some footage for their video parts for Rome’s new fi lm release in 2011: “The Shred Remains”.
Looking for new timeless spots to fi lm high level snowboarding is not easy either, the second anyone catches wind of a new spot you can bet there will be several film crews on their way to check it out. We wanted to get out of North America and film somewhere scenic and new to the crew, so after putting the call out to several friends we decided to hop a plane and head to France to film in the land of legend Nico Droz: Avoriaz.
I flew into Lyon, France almost directly from another fi lm trip to Japan. I wandered through Customs and walked almost directly into Lucas Debari who was asleep on the floor in a pile of North Face bags, having just flown straight from an Absinthe film mission in Canada. Shortly there after we found Bjorn Leines along with marketing director Ryan Runke and fi lmer Leland Macnamara. Bjorn and Leland were missing bags, a very bad thing seeing as we were getting ready to drive a few hours north into the mountains. Thankfully after some frantic calls to the Rome European distributors, our French rep dropped off new gear for the crew. We asked him how to get to Avoriaz and he kind of pointed to our map and said, “You just follow ze highway A-42, then exit and just follow the road to ze Alps and oilla, Avoriaz.” He laughed and then was gone and we were on our own, Americans lost in France.
After some funny late night navigating, backtracking, aggressive swearing, and map orienteering we found ourselves in the narrow roads of Morzine nestled at the bottom of the resort of Avoriaz. When we’d checked into our mountain home we met up with Matt Georges who although stoked to meet us seemed a little stressed. “The mountain is not good right now, there is very little snow,” he said in a troubled way. These are words that fi lmers, photographers, and pro riders on a trip to fi lm and create magazine content dread hearing more than anything else. The next morning we discovered just how “very little snow” there was.
We rose up to the heavens in a colossal tram that headed straight up from the valley floor and poked through the clouds into a mountain top village of restaurants, condos and hotels. There is nothing like this in North America and nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of everything once you step out of the gondola. After getting hooked up with tickets from the park staff, Matt led us on a frightening traverse to look for terrain to shoot on. I am from the east coast of the US and we pride ourselves on being able to ride ice, but that fi rst run we took may have been one of the worst I have ever taken in my life. I was gripped the entire way. It was outrageously loud and no one seemed to be quite in control, when we got to the bottom I was stoked it was over and then heard Bjorn say: “That was one of my top 5 harshest runs I have ever taken.” Not a good sign, but I’m not gonna lie: it made me feel a little better about myself.
THE KEYS TO AVORIAZ
We regrouped that night with Nico and made plans to explore some different zones the next day. After getting off to a rough start I must say we explored some amazing terrain. After taking the lifts as high as we could go we hiked over the top of the peak and then made our way down through the backcountry poking our way through wind lips, quarterpipes, and an impressive booter zone that was just a little to low tide to properly make it work for the fi lm, but all an all we had a great time and made our way back tired to the village on a long bus ride. After Will fi nally arrived on the third day, Nico took us out on the town to explore the fi ne dinning and clubs of Morzine. Nico has the place dialed: at the dinner spot we wanted to eat at, a massive waiting line greeted us. Nico simply spoke to the owner and with in minutes we had our own private table up front by the bar where we enjoyed an epic French feast. Over dinner we were treated to a veritable history lesson in snowboarding as Nico and Bjorn swapped stories of old. It’s pretty insane the power of snowboarding to have brought these two together a couple decades ago shredding as teenagers in some of what would become snowboarding’s most classic movies and contests, and now years later have them riding around together in Nico’s home mountain. Needless to say the night was a long one, but one that no one on the trip will soon forget.
The next day we spent up on the hill slashing around with Matt trying to fi nd some pockets of snow to work. At some point we had a pretty epic lunch out on a big old porch overlooking the entire valley and at that moment it seemed we were all living the European Après dream and things couldn’t get any better… boy how wrong we were because after a fun afternoon shred sesh a mere four hours later Lucas started puking and puking, and puking some more. Somewhere about the second time of hearing him run for the bathroom I started to not feel so well myself and then, bang, I was struck with the worst food poisoning of my life. I’m not sure what caused it but all I’ll say is that Lucas and I spent a solid 24 hours in Morzine doing nothing but vomiting. At some point during the experience the crew decided to head for the Arlberg region of Austria to chase some better snow so now not only were we sick, we were sick and traveling straight across Europe.
PITCHING UP IN ARLBERG
Knowing when to pull the rip chord on a trip or a spot is probably one of the hardest skills to learn as a rider/fi lmer, it’s always a gamble as to just what is going to happen with the weather. Throw in the insane terrain in Avoriaz (and the fact that half the group was ill) and it made leaving really hard, but we had gotten word that it was snowing in Arlberg and in the interest of fi lming we felt it was time to make the trek across Europe and
head to Montafon, where we were lucky enough to link up with O.G. Rome rider and park shaper Sveti to guide us, get us lift tickets and put us up in a great chalet just outside the resort.
Maybe not as well known as St. Anton or Lech, Montafon holds a tremendous amount of terrain. A massive system of lifts brings riders to all sides of a giant mountain range with seemingly skate park-like natural features around every corner. Our crew shredded the rollers, cat tracks and wind lips in-bounds on the fi rst day and hiked a few relatively easy chutes and drops. The second day we worked an area just out of bounds with a slightly longer hike that had a cool boulder fi eld of poppy jumps and trannies that Bjorn, Lucas, and Will popped off with countless methods and tweaked spins. It was great to have the cameras rolling and the mood in the group had instantly changed.
The next day we hiked just out of bounds again and built a pretty good step down. It was cool to see the guys work this jump that was just around the corner from the lift that no doubt crews in North America would sled all day to hit. We got a few decent things and then hiked up a little further where Lucas and Bjorn worked a small spine and a poppy cliff drop. It was around this time that we stumbled upon an amazing sight: there at the bottom of the most remote lift on the mountain was an outrageous Après bar that was literally going off with people of all ages partying their faces off to crazy techno music. How these people made it back up the mountain through the lift system alone was beyond me but then to have to ride all the way back down the mountain again was amazing. We made our way chasing each other through the rolling terrain of highway groomers, open pow fi elds, and even a tunnel that all lead into a crazy maze of switchback cat tracks that weaved in and out of the forest, burning your legs and finally spitting you out right in the middle of another crazy Après ski scene. Europeans get it. They know how to enjoy themselves and they certainly know how to party.
IT’S A WRAP
That night Lucas turned the house into a European version of his family’s famous Italian restaurant, treating the crew to an insane dinner. Onboard’s fearless leader Danny Burrows arrived with Silvia Mittermüller and more new snow. The crew lost their money to photographer Matt Georges playing poker and took turns telling classic shred stories until the wee hours of the morning. It was a great way to close the trip out
Our last day in Montafon was spent with our guide Sveti taking us to some local jib spots as it snowed. We ended up sessioning a fun A-frame tow in roof jib, which ended up working out quite well with Will Lavigne grabbing a sick shot for the new movie. Sveti was one of the fi rst people to get a Rome board back when the company started so it was kind of extra special to have him involved with guiding us around, and even driving the tow in truck for Will. It’s nice to see how much of a family Rome truly is.
And then it was over. Lucas and Bjorn were on their way back to their Absinthe crews in North America, Will headed for a few days in Munich and then jetted back to the states to do the TWS Team Shoot Out and I cruised backed to Lyon with Matt Georges. The drive across Switzerland and into France gave me time to think about just how awesome Europe is – why more Americans don’t travel here to fi lm is beyond me. Although the weather hadn’t worked out entirely for us, we had been exposed to some of the best terrain I’ve seen and most of it within very short hikes from lappable lift runs. It’s no wonder riders like Nicolas and Gigi have such playful styles; the terrain just lends itself to that type of riding. Another striking difference in fi lming as a foreigner in Europe to fi lming in the States is the amount of time you spend on your board lapping around exploring as opposed to snowmobiling straight to spots. Just riding to the fi lm zones in Europe is a blast and after all the bullshit of waiting for light, worrying about landings and weather in Europe THE SHRED REMAINS and that’s the most important part. I can’t wait to go back!