Rip Curl Mountain Challenge
All about the spirit, no contest
What do you get when you invite 12 of the top freeskiers from around the world, mix three parts heli, one refuge high in the Swiss Alps, one artistic film director, five filmers, one video guy, three photographers, two guides, and a partridge in a pear tree?
Answer: you end up with a bunch of wasted heli time, a few powder turns, several big lines and a crew full of smiling faces and tall tales to be told in a candlelit, chilly environment.
This was very different from the US ski film production crews to which I was accustomed, with two or three athletes, one cinematographer and one still photographer. We usually go out with a plan and then adapt as needed to proverbially, "kill it." But the scene at the Rip Curl Mountain Challenge was much more, how do you say... French. It's called a challenge, but it was meant to not be a contest at all truly bizarre. It was all about going with the flow and saying, "Let's put everyone up there and see what happens. Let's check out the spirit of freeride."
It was based out of Chamonix, but since you can't heli ski in France, we skied in Switzerland. I skied about three runs a day for the three days we flew a few steep lines with variable snow, but mostly moderate-angle powder runs. By far the best run of the Challenge for me was a run I did with Johan Eriksson, a Swedish snowboarder.
Johan is one of the fastest snowboarders I know, so when I suggested we ski the run together, he looked me up and down and said with his Swedish accent, "I ride wery fast." I replied, "Yeah, I know, I think I can keep up. Do you want to go first or see if you can keep up with me?" He laughed and said, "Alright man, I'll ride with you."
We dropped in on a 3000+ vertical-foot mountain just over the French border, by the Col Forclaz, in Switzerland. I led as planned and slowed at the entrance to the couloir to be sure it was all good before dropping in. The line was clean free from rocks or avalanches from the previous two people who had skied it so I pointed it. I had no idea if Johan was on me or not, and I was hauling down the face. I figured he was getting blasted by my spray but staying with me.
The Challenge allowed us the opportunity to hang with some of the best pro-riders from around the world to ski/ride together in a low stress, high-energy environment. We stayed for two nights in a refuge, then Kent Kreitler and I spent one night waiting out bad weather at Gary Bigham's place in Chamonix. Overall, the event was all about the stoke of riding and hanging out together high in the Alps much different from the American approach to skiing where you have to get as many runs as possible and it is a sin to stop for lunch.
Therein lies the real joy of skiing in Europe: leaving your own cultural biases at home and rolling with the local vibe. The footage we shot will end up in a film titled "Nuit de la Glisse" (night of sliding), much like Warren Miller, but bigger in Europe.
Dave Swanwick, MountainZone.com Correspondent