Earlier this year I made a trip to the Pyrenees to take part in my first Freeride World Qualifier contest, meeting some of the faces of freeride along the way, gaining new insights into our sport and discovering a new culture at the same time. What awaited me was a week of defining experiences, incredible hospitality and some new found motivation. Hereís a closer look at my journey.
Mountain villages decorate the roadsides
Out of the corner of my eye I saw something flash by. I wondered whether it had been a reflection of sunlight, or if it had been one of the other skiers I was so eagerly trying to follow.
To be honest I had no idea where I was going or how I would get back, but that didnít matter because the terrain and conditions were impressive Ė I found myself completely in the moment. I had met some riders who knew their way around the resort and were willing to show me their secret powder stashes, and as I blasted through the trees trying to avoid branches and cliffs which seemed to appear from nowhere, I felt recklessly free. By the end of the day I was ready to press rewind and do the whole thing again, but bigger plans lay ahead.
Cloudy weather doesn't stop the locals from showing me their stomping grounds
Swiss rider Loïc catching some air
It was mid February and I had set out to spend a week in this gem of a country, Andorra, which lies in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. These mountains would be my stomping grounds for the next week, as I had come to compete in the FWQ 3-star event at Grandvalira.
The judges set up their tent, while riders perform a face check in the background
My journey started in southern Austria, and via Munich and Barcelona I made my way to Arinsal, a small town in the northwestern corner of this petite country. I had been offered a place to stay with fellow Newschoolers member inthewoods, who lived near the base of the gondola at Arinsal. She kindly came to fetch me around midnight at the bus stop, and from the moment I arrived I felt warmly welcomed. The people I came across were so incredibly hospitable, it seemed that everyone was happy to help me out or show me around.
What I find incredible about the freeskiing community is that this kind of openness and hospitality is so widespread. Itís one positive thing that thrives throughout freeskiing which I believe will never change and, despite all the recent discussion, this is something the Olympics or other regulatory bodies can never take away from our sport.
Happiness and smiles all day
The atmosphere throughout whole competition weekend was similar. For the most part, nobody really cared about much except for skiing, having fun and being with friends. There was an unmistakable air of freedom and camaraderie, which was reflected in every rider.
Saturday morning came around and I stood silently at the base, watching the first riders climbing up. I wondered what they were feeling as the harsh wind blasted over the ridge, slowing their ascent.
The first rider came down but she got caught up in some rocks, breaking her pelvis, several vertebrae and her ankle. Things started to feel a little sketchy, and after the heli lingered in the air for what seemed like hours, she was evacuated. The event was postponed until Monday, riders left hanging on to their doubts.
Ski patrol helps the heli come in for rescue
Riders storm the contest face in a convoy, due to the event being postponed
It wasnít long until Monday rolled around and a sunny contest morning greeted us. I no longer had any bad feelings in my stomach about what had happened on the Saturday.
Starting from the moment I began to hike the ridge, my head was filled with thoughts and I felt like time was somehow distorted. As I saw the contest face from different angles I wondered how exactly I would pass the couloir on skierís right, or if I could really make the gap over the rocks in the middle section. When I reached the top I was rewarded with a panorama view of the mountains which make up Grandvalira resort, but this quickly moved to the back of my head as I started to focus on what I was about to do. Soon enough I was down at the finish line, and after a few high fives and a minute or two getting my breath back, things seemed to calm down a bit.
I think a day like that Ė a day which constantly challenges you Ė is the best type of day. You get home and feel absolutely satisfied, and these kind of days are an incredible source of motivation.
Not only did I spend a lot of time thinking that day, I also learned a lot. Most importantly, I was taught that good preparation is a very useful tool if you want to perform on a high level. The event in Andorra was my first FWQ, and although I was satisfied with my run, things still pointed towards the fact that I had a long way to go.
My experience is still limited but skiing in a contest of this level has really widened my view of the sport, the athletes, the possibilities and risks of such events.
I strongly believe that freeriding, in its essence, isnít a competition sport. Nonetheless, the fact is that when you bring international riders together for a high standard event, you will see some extremely good performances. The uncertainty of travelling and skiing in foreign areas, meeting other riders who belong to the core of freeriding, and putting pressure on myself by competing - these are things which seem to leave a big impression on me, and these are the reasons I will continue to compete.
My Pyrenees trip is not something I will forget quickly, and I have no doubt this is down to the continuous friendliness I experienced throughout my stay.
See you next season, Andorra!