Even if you lived in the perfect resort – and most of us don’t – you need a classic road trip once in a while. We need new impressions to progress, both as snowboarders and human beings. Imagine if you were the only snowboarder in the world: how good would you be and how much fun would you have?
The answer is, of course, that you’d suck and you’d be as sour as a kraut. You’d be bailing all the time because you’d only have skiers to learn from. Sure, after a few years of practice you may be able to copy their ‘helicopter jumps’, but there wouldn’t be any McTwists or switch indy-grabs in your portfolio. So get out there: hooking up with snowboarders in other areas, listening to new tracks on the car audio system, getting those new impressions. Here’s a collection of ‘ultimate road trips’ – use them to feed you thoughts, even if you just end up going to the hill on the other side of city the next time you ride. It’s difficult to come up with the equivalent of the classic big surf trips – like ‘All-around-Australia’ or ‘Island-hopping-the-Indo-archipelago’ – but we did our best to summon up 3 of our favourite road trips. And remember: road trips involve cars, not airplanes. Flights are boring exercises of trying to make time pass in a closed space. Cars, on the other hand, are made for driving and for getting exactly where you want, when you want. And keeping a good feel for how far you travel will also make you understand why you travel.
The-French-Italian-Menu-de-Powder: Pack your longest board and gather your mates somewhere in the surroundings of Geneva. Work your way southward along the multiple private toll-roads towards Chamonix. Do this at night to get the right science fiction-feel as you near the landing strip lights at each toll-gate. Sleep a few hours in the car park in the morning hours by the lifts at Le Brevent. Do some hiking there and you’ll get the runs of the day, something you would be unlikely to do among the huge crowds turning the more popular area of Grand Montes into a mogul field. Don’t expect to hook up with some locals. They are as shy as mountains goats and about as talkative too. After emptying your last Kronenbourg stubby (a small and cheap bottle of decent beer), resist the temptation to head in to civilized Switzerland and instead drop into the infamous Mont Blanc tunnel and exit it in Italy. Stop right at the exit for a full day of splendid riding a Courmayeur, a lesser-known resort but often with untouched powder fields within easy hiking distance. Re-load the car and point it towards any of the 3 lift-connected valleys of Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna. Alagna is the most eastern one, so the drive will be the longest, but is worth the extra effort if it’s dumping. In the morning, pick up a copy of Polvere Rosa, a core off-piste guide to the area written by a serious local. Unless you are already religious, it may turn into your Bible. If it’s bluebird, use it to understand how to access the steep and wide chutes from the top of Punta Indre. If the weather is just decent, try Val d’Otro, a hidden gem with 1700m of vertical in varied terrain. The lifts above Alagna pretty much offer heli-boarding without the heli, but there are helicopters to be hired as well. Try flying to the refuge Capanna Margherita if you want to see how far out you can get while staying in central Europe. And don’t forget to have a Peroni (the oldest Italian beer) to refill your liquids after full day of snowboarding the Italian way. - Ideal time: End of January, early February. - Best conditions: Heaps of fresh snow. - Dangers: Getting robbed while sleeping at truck stops along the highways.
Iron-Curtain-Käse-Cross-Over: The south of Poland may not be your obvious choice for a road trip, but with close to 1000m of lift-accessed vertical above the ancient city of Zakopane, you may want to try it a least once. It gets dumped on heavily from time to time – and if you happen to be there at one of those times you’ll be a one lucky rider. The competition for fresh tracks is almost non-existent, with the majority of people falling all over the green slopes at the bottom. However, the locals you meet will be amongst the most friendly you’ll find anywhere, really. Buy a Warka Strong for any of the girls you are likely to hook up with. A short drive away you’ll find Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech Republic. It has a similar feel to it, but with a higher ratio of bars and discos. These and the fact that the pipe and park are usually well groomed have allowed it to host some TTR events over the last years. There’s a growing population of good riders in the area. Here beer is a most serious affair, so try out a few – most notably Urquell and the original Budweiser – but don’t make any jokes about the American namesake. The Germans may take their beer seriously too – and it’s the shortest drive on your way to the Austrian Alps – but don’t stop there. Even if there are some decent sized mountains and riders too, they are usually hidden in a thick fog. Instead keep going to Innsbruck where a stop at the Burton flagship store is worth the time for anyone with roots in snowboarding. While there, take the time to talk up some locals regarding where to head next. The reason for this is that there are probably close to fifty resorts within a 2-hour drive from Innsbruck, or “IBK" as the locals prefers to spell it. If it’s dumping they are probably all good, but if it’s been a while since the last snowfall you are likely to find out where the sickest park is currently located. But let’s pretend it’s dumping when you are there: then point the steering wheel to the ritzy Lech and Zürs, passing the more known and crowded St Anton on the way. You may want to stop for a day at Stüben in between the two, for a day of cold north face riding on the biggest powder fields of this trip. With the concentration of resorts being so high, Austria is likely to be the ultimate area if you want to ride as many new slopes as you can on the same tank of gas. An unfiltered Weissbier makes sure you understand how Stefan Gimpl and the rest of the locals grew up to become what they are today, - Ideal time: February/March. - Best conditions: Good any time after New Year on an ordinary winter. - Dangers: Avalanches in the Arlberg area has claimed many victims. Don’t be the next one.
The-Viking-Snow-Park-Drive-by: Ever wondered why there are so many wonder-Finns in the top ten of every international snowboard competition? Even though the riding is most likely to on a smaller hill than you’ve ever ridden, going to Finland to find the answer to this question is worth it. The answer is at Talma, the home of more good park hitters per square metre than any other resort in the world. Spend few days getting schooled by the locals and double your own park skills by taking 78 five-minute runs each day, including the lift ride. There’s no need to see any other resort than Talma really, and it is close to the capital of Helsinki, so your entry and exit is easy. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to drive around the Baltic Sea to Sweden – even if the resort of Levi is a good one too, it’s a 24-hour non-stop drive to it. Have your Lapin Kulta (a mellow brew made of spring water) on the ferry to Sweden instead. Since you probably ended up having more than one beer on the never-ending party which these boats are, you are likely to drive off it hungover. Luckily, the drive to Sälen is only 5 hours, which is a short one in Scandinavian terms. Sälen is a mellow family affair, so don’t expect to throw moves on any dance floor; save them for the Swedish equivalent of Talma. This actually a minor resort 30 minutes drive short of Sälen called Kläppen. It has had the sickest park in Sweden for the past decade and spawns a couple of new pros each season. The regional beer experience is having a Mellanöl (a watery beer with just alcohol to give you a buzz but still keeping you legal to drive). You should now be ready for hopping the boarder to the Norwegian hitters at Trysil. Here you’ll find a different kind of park: it’s a 2km long run with a pipe, rails and super-sized booters, all in a one long row – a brilliant concept, especially if you’ve got the legs to do them all in one go (something only possible if you also have the snaking skills of pro skater). Norway is darn expensive so make sure to get out of Trysil before you are stuck there doing dishes for the rest of the season. - Ideal time: March/April. - Best conditions: Warm and sunny. - Dangers: None apart from being beaten by the locals in a drinking game.
Teased enough by now? So start saving tomorrow. Start gathering a good crew coming Monday. Start dreaming now.
Anders Hagman is a former Swedish pro rider who could have moved on to a second career as a truck driver, that’s how many times he’s crossed Europe behind the wheel.