From Onboard Issue 145.
Last spring, a crew of Smith Eyewear's European All Stars struck out north with the intention of snagging some late-season hammers. Though the weather turned out to be a little on the uncooperative side, they stuck to their guns, kept up their PMA and, with the help of a smuggled set of pong, got business done.
Lets face it: snowboarding isn’t ping-pong. It’s dependent on snow, exists only at the mercy of the weather and is always best enjoyed with friends – perhaps the only common thread linking the two. Therefore it’s essential that all stars to align when embarking on a long-distance trip to hills.
When the Smith crew decamped their respective homes for Voss, on the west coast of Norway, they at least got the ‘enjoying with friends’ part sorted. A big group chalet had been acquired in Myrkdalen, where David Bertschinger Karg, Mario Käppeli, the young Finn Nuutti Niemelä, Johann ‘Balsamic’ Baisamy and Simon Gruber would be bedding down with an army of equally friendly filmers and photographers. And to make things better Nuutti, with the experience of a seasoned veteran, had packed a ping-pong kit just in-case bad weather stopped play…
The crew were in for an 11-day excursion where they'd planned on sessioning the park and peaks of Voss, but poor visibility and soggy snow drove them out on a short trek to Folgafonna and for a few heli rides in the hope of bagging bangers.
BOSSING IN VOSS
Voss isn’t the biggest of resorts compared with those of Europe but it has a top class park, where the Norwegian Olympic Team were training for Sochi, and plenty of backcountry lines, even though the highest peak doesn’t top 1000m.
But upon arrival it was clear that Mother Nature wasn’t reading from the same hymn sheet as incessant rain and cloud meant that the crew were only able to nail a couple of tree runs off the lift, a kicker, and a snake line that they constructed outside their chalet. “This was my favourite memory of the trip," Johann said of their mini fun run. “It was pure snowboarding and reminded me how cool and how important it is to ride fun stuff with a good crew!"
CABIN FEVER, WIND TUNNELS AND SAUSAGE PING-PONG
Out of the eleven days spent in Norway, there were only two days of bluebird. But, as with every trip that suffers inclement weather, the doldrums of cabin fever must be suppressed with a raft of extracurricular activity. In Voss this included endless rounds of ping-pong; bouts of flying wing suits in a wind tunnel (after which all involved agreed that they would pack in riding and take up wind tunnel flying as a profession), and the inevitable trips to the bar.
On one such outing with the owner of the resort (who it must be said was sailing three sheets to the wind), a massive man circle formed with the intoxicated boss of Voss shouting at the top of his lungs “If you’re having a fun say YEAHHH". The crew took it in turn to screech back an acknowledging “YEAH" until the wave of voices reached Mario and the Boss shouted “and you are gay"; Mario being the brunt of many jokes on trips took it in his stride and the drinking continued unabated. Sadly for the crew though they didn’t drink away the clouds.
The one activity that all present agreed was the most entertaining relief from the cabin fever was ping-pong, or at least a derivative of. “One night we ended up playing on the dining table with everything we could find, including glasses, a bin and shoes," remembered Johann; but for Mario a sausage was perhaps the most random choice of racket.
In a moment of full-on cabin fever madness it was decided the best plan of attack to get things moving was to hunt down some sunnier backcountry gnar by heli. Mario and DBK drew the long straw and would be choppered out, Apocalypse Now-style, to find freshies but even out in the wilds the conditions weren’t what you might call A+.
Mario didn’t care though, it was his first trip in a bird and he was just stoked, in his own words, “on seeing the fjords and mountains from above." “The clouds were moving in and out," recalls Mario, “and the snow was windblown but with some nice pockets to be found." There was a risk of avalanches but this didn’t dissuade our pair of troopers from getting amongst it and snagging some shots. “We just rode pow and did some natural drop downs and lines," said Mario; “I think if your working with the heli, you’re trying to keep the budget low, so there’s no time to waste on building jumps."
The price of kerosene wasn't the only thing pushing the boys to get stuff done sharpish. As is the way of things in a zone where the weather is so influenced by the sea, clouds mushroomed out of nowhere and socked in the peaks without warning.
When the visibility got particularly bad after one drop, the heli had to return to base leaving Mario and DBK in the unenviable position of having to walk out. One of the crew who witnessed their returned described them as being, in layman's terms, “totally fucked". It was a three-hour hike from the hill back to base.
PUTTING IN GLACIER TURNS
With Mother Nature still throwing spanners in the works in the vicinity of basecamp in Voss, a short excursion was also arranged to hit up the infamous glacier of Folgafonna, but even there the conditions vacillated between banging and bogged down with cloud.
In Folgafonna in April the weather changes in a blink of the eye and snow turns to rain within minutes. The positive thing was that Norwegian legend Andreas Wiig, who was in the resort filming his part for the X Games Real Snow, was on hand to show the boys around.
Wiig knows the place well, so his local knowledge was to prove invaluable. With the lifts closed they had the whole mountain to themselves, and helpfully the resort had put on a fleet of skidoos to ferry the guys around, allowing them to search out zones where they could get stuff done. In no time they'd found a spot for a decent step down kicker, built and shaped it, and were firing off tricks in no time to take advantage of the moments of clear skies when they briefly appeared.
FINN IN POWDER
For Flo from Smith the best moment of the 11 days was when Nuutti nailed his two hits on the only backcountry kicker that got built. This was only the second backcountry trip for Nuuti had been on and after standing at the top of the inrun and telling all those present that he had never landed a backcountry trick before he proceeded to stick a back 5 followed by a back 9. In the words of Flo, “he killed it".
“I really liked Voss," was how Nuutti summed up their trip in a nutshell. “I liked how everything was arranged and how there was also something different than snowboarding planned if the weather sucked." So the moral of this story is if you ever find yourself striking out in the direction of Norway one spring remember to pack a couple of paddles and a ping-pong ball or two. If nothing else you can at least trade them for snus…