Words: Tom Copsey
The Stubai Glacier played host to our third annual season-ending Send Off Session, crafting some features of epic proportions for our invited riders to throw down on. Then the weather moved in. The best word to describe the week? Emotional.
Have you ever prepared a delicious meal, only to have a rectally incontinent avian squirt its guts on it from a great height? Had it not been for five hours of bluebird on the last day, this analogy would have concisely summed up our third annual Send Off Session in its new home on Stubai’s awesome glacier. Though the meal doused in white splatter would be unsalvageable, the Session – thanks to the backbreaking diligence of Stubai’s shaping crew, the relentlessly positive attitude of our crew of riders, and the hard work of the photographers, filmers and staff – was miraculously saved despite the guy in the sky’s best efforts to scupper it.
After two successful sessions on Kitzsteinhorn, for 2014 we decided it was time for a change of scenery. Stubai had caught our attention by having kicked off their winter with the revered Prime Sessions, and were keen to bookend the season with another storming gathering in a finely sculpted Schneestern setup. Plans were drafted, riders invited, hotels booked and everything looked set for another stellar season ender… until we checked the weather forecast shortly before leaving Munich.
In Stubai, with our setup in a much more compact zone, we knew we needed even less time to make the magic happen. but the forecast was brutal.
As everyone knows, weather in the mountains – on glaciers in particular – can be notoriously unreliable. With the crew we invite, however, we know that to get everything done we need a maximum two or three days of favourable conditions to make it work out. At previous Send Off Sessions we’ve always had at least three days of bad weather but managed to come through the week unscathed and with relatively little stress. In Stubai, with our setup in a much more compact zone, we knew we even needed less time to make the magic happen. But the forecast was brutal: bad weather for the first couple of days, developing into super dumpatron hurricane crap for three days… it was impossible not to have that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Features of Magnitude
“Maybe we’ll get lucky?” That was the thinking when we headed up the first day. After all, the forecast was bleak but cruising the gondola up skies were blue and to all intents and purposes it appeared as if we had the whole of the Stubai Glacier to ourselves – there was scarcely another human being to be seen. However, unloading from the chair at the peak of the resort a pattern that would become familiar over the next two days set in. A bubble of cloud rolled over, temperatures dropped, the wind kicked up and snow began to fall.
The build had near broken the shaping crew – they’d been pulling day and night shifts for the best part of two weeks.
Nevertheless, arriving at the park the weather had cleared again allowing us to hang our jaws at what the Schneestern shapers had sculpted for us: a 27m wedge of destiny followed up by a gargantuan hip – the takeoff of which tapered into a daunting, stiletto-like apex – with a stairset to one side, a pole jam and a high rail. Like lumbering Leviathans of ancient maritime tales, these would pass in and out of view as a squall would hit and then disperse. Riders bolted to take some warm-up laps and familiarise themselves with the features so we took the time to get the lowdown on the park with head shaper, Bernie Koffler. The build, it became apparent, had near broken him and his crew – they’d been pulling day- and night shifts for the best part of two weeks, working through storms, hacking into ice, banjaxing machinery and sleeping up at 3200m to get things ready. After four days of constant glacier living, Bernie himself had got a case of altitude sickness. They’d gone all in.
With features of such magnitude comes serious consequences, and the riders were hesitant to test the kicker or hip with the conditions so variable. One minute it was clear and calm, only for the park to be engulfed in a gusting snowstorm the next, and no one seemed keen to be the lab rat. Simon Gruber looked most likely – and from experience you know that as soon as one rider has safely made it over the knuckle then others will quickly get on it – but the wind increased as it looked like he was about to test it, the clouds rolled back in and the kicker remained frustratingly unjumped.
SOUTH OF HEAVEN
If anything, the weather windows on the second day were fewer and farther between, so the call was made to focus on the Send Off Session park’s smaller jib features. When clouds hugged the Schaufelspitze we concentrated on the stairset, and when the pockets of sunshine appeared it was go time on the high rail. Len Jørgensen even started feeling out the hip with a couple of lofty airs. Again, conditions worsened in the afternoon, so with some shots snagged on the jibs we dispersed to hit anything we could lower down – out of the park but also out of the clouds. Working it was key. Progress had been made but we were still a long way from bagging the volume of shots we needed as a bare minimum.
Wednesday was even worse. A full-on blizzard had engulfed the mountain overnight and continued to deposit significant precipitation throughout the day. The shapers had to dig their creations out of the waist-deep pow that had fallen, while riders tried their best to session the only feature you could even barely see – the stairset – only to have their heads spun by the whiteout conditions. The irony of having an epic hand-crafted park built for us only to be sessioning a stairset was not lost on us, and nor was it amusing. Mercifully, the Jochdohle restaurant at the top of the park had free WiFi, so riders were cajoled into staying up in the blizzard “in case things improved” by being able to update their Instagrams and work on matching with their Tinder soulmates. This thankfully kept them from checking the latest 3-day weather forecast, which was lucky because shit was about to get Biblical.
The next couple of days were totally unworkable. Calling the park shapers first thing only to have them inform us that visibility was so bad that they couldn’t safely find the park meant that calling a couple of down days was a no-brainer. Spirits were low, but soothed by trips to Innsbruck’s skatehall, a spot of motorised malarkey go-karting in Kartbahn Innsbruck, ping pong, rounds of schnapps with the lovely ladies of the Hotel Hoferwirt, and chance to tap into one’s inner Dude at the bowling alley. All the while the Onboard staff were constantly checking no fewer than four different weather forecast sites, hoping against hope that the wind and snow would ease off. Sunday was looking workable, then it was Saturday morning that seemed to offer us the best shot, then Saturday was no good, then good again… and so it continued.
Sunday was looking workable, then it was Saturday morning that seemed to offer us the best shot, then Saturday was no good, then good again… and so it continued.
Before lights out, Saturday was when the weather looked set to start breaking. When? We didn’t know, but we duly told the riders it had the potential to be awesome. It wasn’t quite. Once again we found our features suffocated in a blanket of dense fog, but by now Peetu Piiroinen and Roope Tonteri had joined the party and the Finnish contingent were amped to make the best of a bad situation. Within minutes they’d setup a picnic bench minishred by the restaurant and began one-footing, switch backflipping and back rodeoing the thing. Ethan Morgan got involved and, again, we milked some shots all the while conscious of the ridiculousness of the situation: a hundred metres away probably the best kicker in Europe was lurking, still unridden, and some of Europe’s most badass jumpers were hucking off a picnic bench.
The clouds started breaking late into the afternoon, but it was still in and out and the lift was about to shut down. Again we had to retreat, tails between legs, but arriving in the valley there were the first rays of optimism from the locals. “10 hours of sunshine tomorrow,” smiled the girl in the ticket office. I didn’t believe her. “Forecast says 7 hours sunshine tomorrow,” beamed Howzee. I didn’t believe him either. Then I had a call from an unknown Austrian number. “Hey, it’s Werni. Looks good tomorrow! You still have a pass for me?” Werni Stock had got back from the US midweek but, after seeing the forecast, had opted to stay home in Zillertal for some R&R. Now if Werni was coming, maybe we had a chance after all?
By the time we got to the park it was bluebird, the kicker had been groomed to perfection, the hip landing filled in and everything looked good to go.
So, Sunday, our last day in Stubai, dawned and… the weather had cleared. A bit. There were still clouds clinging to some peaks when we drove the winding road to the lift, but it was the best weather we’d had all week. By the time we got to the park it was bluebird, the kicker had been groomed to perfection, the hip landing filled in and everything looked good to go. Apart from no one seemed keen to drop first. “I’ll hit it if you hit it,” “I’ve learned the hard way not to test jumps,” “I’ll definitely go second…” Then Werni rolled up, checked the speed a couple of times and BOOM. He cleared the knuckle easily, gave the thumbs up and the session was finally ON. Next dropped Ville, and then Roope knocked out the perfect, slow motion backside 7 first hit. Everyone erupted and things got moving quickly. Before we knew it it was time for a well-deserved lunch break and memory cards were finally loaded with bangers.
Stomach grumbles soothed by käsespetzle, the crew quickly split into groups: one tackling the pole jam while others bossed the high rail. Again, in record time footy was stacked until before we knew it we had 40 minutes until the last lift. Stubai arranged for a few of us to stay up late, but with attention now turned to the hip it was all about one man: Werni Stock. It has to be noted that Werni had only started riding again a few weeks earlier having endured another season beset by injury, but he showed no fear as he slowly but surely started figuring out the hip’s transition, each time starting his drop-in a little further up and launching higher and higher. By the end of the session he was dropping in a couple of metres from the top of the kicker’s in-run, hauling ass across the deck, soaking up the knuckle and then firing himself into outer space, his body contorted into the picture perfect Method.
Meeting up in the parking lot when everyone had come down was the polar opposite to the previous days. The filmers and photographers were grinning, the riders high fiving, and the consensus was that we had somehow pulled it out the bag. We’d had a grand total of six hours sunshine in seven days, and by all accounts had no rights to be as productive as we were that last day. That we pulled it off is a testament to the positive attitude and hard work of all the riders, photographers, filmers, shapers, and resort staff who busted their asses.
Thanks to everyone involved for keeping the faith and making it happen.