Words & Photos: Matt Georges
“Here we are, ready to go. We have been training four long years (or so), and we are more than ready to prove we’re a bunch of Olympic champions, especially ‘them’…”
Our whole journey has been organized by Victor De Le Rue. Snow is falling when we arrive in the small Italian resort and the Prali tourist office welcomes us and hands us our accreditation. The pressure increases. There is no one to be seen. No other national teams. No media. This is strange, somehow… The Olympic rings are in place. Huge. They overlay each other like a giant IOC orgy! Pulling donuts in the car, we try to reproduce them on the freshly snow-covered ground. But this logo is much too intricate when there’s a nearby cliff.
Each step further into this ghost town enhances a feeling of loneliness. No fans, no media, no banners, no messages of love and unity… nothing! Nothing to welcome the future Olympic champions that we are! A bar has lights on… We order a ristretto and start chatting with the owner. He’s as old and dusty as the awards set on the counter. The TV makes a crackling noise in the background. We hear our national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’, and realise that we’re missing the opening ceremony! It is so obvious – the streets are empty because everybody’s there! Damn jetlag! We are late. We drink our coffee drop straight down and leave to the Sochi Stadium, as was stated on TV.
“Come on kids, the Olympics was here 8 years ago… in 2006!” says a granny trying to explain there is no Sochi Stadium here and that we’re probably mistaking her land for Russia. We finally get it… We should have paid better attention, although Sochi does sound kinda like spaghetti, Prali and Italy. We’ve been set up!
We take our disappointment to bed. Fortunately, food is good. And since we’re here, we decide to try and have a blast regardless. Snow is falling. We’ll have our non-Olympics Games! No rules, no schedules, no technical staff, no bad judging, no rankings, no ignorant journalists… real goodtimes! When getting our passes the next morning, we are informed that the resort is actually closed. The lifts aren’t working during the week. The employees of the tourism office are so efficient that they forgot to warn us of this minor detail.
PIEMONTE & NATIONAL PARK OF GRAND PARADIS
Such a name fills us with hope for the following days. Still, we have a hard time coping with our double failure: no Olympics and no use for our passes. We see the biathlon and cross-country skiing runs and decide to follow them on our quest for spots. After a couple of kilometers and a lot of sweating, we arrive before some beautiful pillow lines.
Giant snowflakes are still falling and we are moving with difficulty. The pow is so deep that we’re sometimes shoulder deep. I fall in a tree well and land two meters down! With Victor De Le Rue and Victor Daviet, we shoot for Absinthe Films’ ‘Heavy Mental’, while Thomas Delfino has joined us with a filmer from ALMO Productions – a double crew and a great group of French destroyers! We don’t get to meet a lot of people that day; apparently, Italians don’t have many holidays. We actually kind of like it. Days of bad weather are followed by good ‘pasta al dente’ every evening, which softens our mood. The snow is light, so we think about trying to take pictures in a cloud of pow like surfers do in the tube.
The snow keeps falling for a couple more days, but when Saturday comes, so does the sun… and an invasion of skiers battling on the slopes. We’re not too worried about seeing them in the backcountry as alpine skiing is too serious here and there are but a few who venture off the beaten tracks. After all, we are in Italy: backcountry riding follows strict rules, when it’s not forbidden. If you don’t want to meet the carabinieris, you’d better move fast and not be seen by the technical staff as the fines can be quite steep! On the other hand, contrary to France, Italy allows heli-skiing on most of its mountains. But we’ll come to that later.
On the resort’s map, there is an area dotted with dozens of lakes. A local shredder advises us to go see it. It should only take a couple of hours walking through a well-exposed valley. We hear it is worth it, especially because no one goes that far in a resort only equipped with two chairlifts. Actually, the second lift is still not open at 10am on Saturday… We are stuck drinking coffee and doing powder runs until it’s on. What a life! It’s almost midday when we arrive on top, although we were the first ones to show up in the morning. Everything takes its time here; we have to get used to it. We can see the lakes area from the other side of the valley, but a lot of fresh snow dampens our motivation us to cross. It looks a little sketchy, especially since it’s already been in the sun for a couple of hours now, but maybe with a good dose of will and straight line full speed? It looks fun out there.
Hiking to the top will be another story. Those who’d forgotten their snowshoes will get there an hour later. The area is immense. There is enough to do. Our only enemy is the sunshine, and it is strong. We have to make the right decisions and take them quickly if we want to enjoy fresh snow. It is melting fast. We should rather avoid open fields, which are too exposed and too risky, so we will shoot in the shadows where we find some nice domes perfect for kickers. But we decide to keep them for the next days, when we’re done with those cooking in the sun. Going back at night will be an adventure… not in a good sense. It is often in these moments, after a long day playing in the backcountry, that we easily get hurt. We are all exhausted. We walk thirty more minutes to reach the parking lot. It is almost 8pm. No one has gone missing on the never-ending snake run from the top.
You occasionally hear on the news about whole families dying overnight from carbon monoxide poisoning because of a stove in bad shape. But you don’t hear much about snowboard crews agonizing from the smell of a dozen wet boots lying on the apartment floor after a long day in the snow… Today there is a big kicker waiting for us! We get to the area fully motivated and shape for hours before the wind starts blowing so strongly that we’re forced to change our plans. We decide to visit another place with WWII ruins. It is very dark there and with the wind, it somehow feels like Mordor in Lord of the Rings.
On our way back at night, a filmer takes a wrong turn and falls into a river. This is the same one who didn’t have snowshoes the day before. Poor guy, he’s exhausted and his bag weights a ton. We come back the next day. There are some windslabs all over the place so we have to be very careful. Our tracks have been covered and we have a hard time finding them again, but finally everybody’s ready and well placed. As Victor De Le Rue lost playing Shifumi, he has to go first. We’ve been hiking at least two hours to find this quiet place. But as we are ready to start the session, a heli comes from behind our dome.
This is not Travis Rice, rather eight tourists gagging to draw some ‘S’ turns on our landing. They’re all over the mountain; there is no way to stop this furious invasion. The heli departs and comes back to drop eight more above us. Because the zone is already a little exposed, we all start stressing and hoping the mountain won’t avalanche under the poles of those 16 skiers… Sad comfort for this trouble, their French guide comes and apologizes for bringing so much people in our zone. Finally, they leave in the opposite direction. Victor can launch his first try: a fat front 360 sent to the moon. The session is on!
The next day, we shape another kicker. Bigger. For this special occasion, Victor De Le Rue dons a splendid Piglet outfit, which influences him to spend the day jumping around in a rad tribute to JP Solberg in the infamous Absinthe movie, ‘Transcendence. Daviet pulls some tricks before a big stone shows up on the landing. No one gets hurt, but the session takes a beating. VDLR wants to try a new move, even though the landing looks like a battlefield with the new obstacle. Stupid Victor, he’s a true Pyrenean: He always forgets to strap his back foot and yells from the sky on a 30-meter-long One Foot… all this in a pig suit! Haha!
Our non-Olympic Games come to an end. No medal has been won. No anti-doping control has been processed. No mass-media interview has been given. No standing ovation has been received. Just some days of sick riding in the Piemonte powder, far away from the crowds and the glory. With Victor De Le Rue, we decide to stay a couple of days longer. We would like to explore the Olympic ruins from eight years ago. Our closing ceremony takes place surrounded by beer and grappa in the bar of our arrival day… Two weeks later, the dust is still there and the owner doesn’t seem to have moved. In this small Italian village, deep in the Piemonte mountains, time is stuck as are the abandoned Olympic facilities of the Torino Games. The ones of Sochi are already suffering the same fate… Yes, the truth might well be somewhere else, my friends!
Wanna full screen the shots in this feature? Go nuts in this gallery…