O’Neill Big Mountain Pro 08 - Onboard Magazine

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O’Neill Big Mountain Pro 08

The site of today’s shredding, with Mont Blanc in the background.

In what must rate as one of the most ambitious contest formats to date, the Big Mountain Pro event organisers have kicked off their snow-hounding freeride bonanza with a serious bang in Chamonix.

The plan, for those unfamiliar with the event from last year’s incarnation, is to be completely mobile for the duration and rely on a crack unit of guides, weather forecasters, local knowledge, heavyweight logistical juggling and perhaps a smidgen of good fortune, to take the crew of riders and the huge ensemble cast of media and organisers to the best spots in the Alps for drawing lines and dropping cliffs. As for how the event us judged, from what I can gather everyone rides as many spots as we visit and then each rider selects what they feel to be their best run to be submitted to the judges who’ll review the footage and decide a winner.

Following a thigh-burning excursion down the Valley Blanche yesterday, we all met up at the Montenvers restaurant to learn the score for the first day’s action. With the majority of Europe feeling distinctly spring-like of late, and Chamonix itself roasting, it was going to be interesting to see what they’d come up with. Today’s weather forecast was decent, and organiser Nicholas Hale-Woods took to the stage and cranked up the projector to give the riders the first look at what they’d be clipping into a mere 12 hours or so later.

Checking the rad.

The face, he explained, was located just on the French/Swiss border, had an average inclination of 45 degrees and was a maze of rocks and snow for 350-400m before mellowing out for some straightlining or pow turns. Due to French law, we’d have to shuttle up in the heli from the Swiss side with the riders hiking back over to the drop in spot in France, which would take an hour or thereabouts. The snow, Hale-Woods continued, looked to be good and stable, but the riders would only have a short amount of time to examine the spot up close as they hiked over, before they dropped in for their run. Immediate requests for the hi res images rang out around the restaurant.

Then it was thee bib draw to see who would drop when. The rider list is impressive – a mixed bag of renowned freeride specialists like Flo Orley, Mitch Todeler, Jeremy Jones and last year’s winner Xavier De La Rue peppered with guys you’d more associate with freestyle snowboarding such as Fredi Kalbermatten, Jonas Emery and Stefan Gimpl. Knowing that these cats are also familiar with this kind of big mountain riding, it will be interesting to see how they fair.

Jeremy Jones is in there. Somewhere…

So to today’s action. As we were dropped off in the remote solitude of the vantage point from where we would witness the spectacle, the sheer enormity of the terrain became apparent. We could see a trail of riders snaking like ants up to the drop in point looming ahead and when it came time for the runs to go down it became even more clear how they ain’t kidding when the call it big mountain riding. Even with binoculars it was crazy hard to keep your eyes trained on the guys as they slashed and dropped their way down – if you blinked you could lose them – but even so you could appreciate fully the experience and terrain awareness that these riders possess.

The two standouts from today were De Le Rue and Jones, both attacking the face with shit-your-pants speed and dropping sketchy rock bands, yet being in full control the whole time. De Le Rue even pulled off the gnarl dropper of the day, a solid cliff into a tight pocket of snow hemmed in between even more rocks.

You’ve just gotta love helicopters.

With one run each in the bag, we shuttled back down in the heli as the riders shredded down to Vallorcine and now we’re down in Chamonix chilling. Come 7pm it’s off to the Chambre Neuf for dinner and a briefing on where we’ll head tomorrow. There was word on the street that Saas Fee would be the go, but we’ll see tonight. Like I said, it could be anywhere the conditions and terrain are deemed favourable, so should be rad.


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