Words by Jeff Schmuck
Photos by Jeff Schmuck, Piotr Pinkas & lucekphoto.com
One of the best parts about going to any foreign country is the food. I'm normally the pickiest eater in the world as anyone in my family will gladly tell you, but when I'm in a foreign country all bets are off. I've eaten everything from raw horse in Japan to scorpions in China to meat that was probably camel in Egypt. And although Poland was lacking in the eating of strange animals department, we definitely dove right in, particularly just prior to our road trip to Zakopane...
Steve vs. gravy-covered potato pancakes
Cody vs. a whip-cream covered sauage wrap
...and of course, pierogi
The grey skies of Katowice had turned even more grey during our day off, bringing rain and wind and prompting us to head to Zakopane a day earlier than planned. Zakopane is the biggest ski resort in Poland and was the proud host of the fabled Polish Freeskiing Open, which we sadly missed as it took place just a few days prior to our arrival in Poland.
The drive to Zakopane was different to say the least, as the omnipresent industrial dreariness of Katowice was exchanged for the trademark rolling green hills that pepper virtually of all Europe's landscape. On the side of the roads elderly women rode on wooden carts being pulled by horses that looked more juiced up than A-Rod, while businessmen blew by them in their fresh off the lot BMW's. Most interesting though were the gas stations, not because it was over twice the price to fill up than in Canada...but because of the $6 bottles of Vodka that Steve and I happily loaded up on. We were going to a ski town after all.
We arrived in Zakopane and piled into a condo that Marek had hooked up for us through a friend, and quickly started pre-drinking before going out to the bars. We were in a ski town after all. And much like urban rails are no joke in Poland...neither is drinking Vodka. So with a handful of bottles of Zoladkowa warming our livers we stumbled on down the road (taking pictures of street signs along the way so we could find our way back when and if we got lost), first to Roosters, the Polish version of Hooters (seriously)...
...and then to a local bar, where between inhaling more shots of straight Vodka, teaching the locals how to sing Oh Canada and being mean to promo girls (which is one of my favorite pastimes), we discovered via Marek and Wojtek that the bar didn't seem to give two scoops of shit about us breaking glasses. I'll leave what happened next up to your imagination.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, which was a nice change from not seeing the sun at all, but almost too nice, as the thermometer in the Saab read 6 degrees Celsius. We headed to yet another down rail which we initially grumbled about, until we arrived at its location and saw our guides' reasoning.
The rail was short and mellow but descended towards a man made but beautiful frozen lake with the Tatra Mountain range in the background, making for one of the most breathtaking backdrops you could ask for while doing urban.
We commenced the setup and the cameramen got in position before yet another thing went terribly wrong. Walking towards us in an unmistakably aggressive manner were two security guards, one of whom looked and turned out to be rather pleasant (and later apologetic) and another who looked like he had come straight out of a Russian bear wrestling match. Boris, who we later nicknamed him, began screaming at Aram and Lucek in Polish before making his way over to where I was sitting.
"Wychodza!" he screamed, with a crazed and violent look in his eye.
"Sorry, don't speak Polish," I replied.
"Sorry, I don't understand anything you're saying."
Since it was too late to head up the hill for some jump building action and too warm to head out into the undoubtedly sketchy backcountry, we then embarked on what would turn out to be on an epic scouting mission all over Zakopane in search of more urban. We went to four-kink ledge. Too big of a drop-off on one side. Then to the biathlon center to look at some rails around the perimeter of the track. Not enough snow. Then to an ultra creepy abandoned hotel to look for something to play on. No dice. Hereby let it be known that it's not all helicopters, deep snow and perfectly manicured jumps on Salomon Freeski TV shoots.
The Shining much?
The frustration began to set in on Marek's face, as he wanted us to have the best and most productive time possible in his homeland, but Cody had scored very few shots, namely of Kaya, who we could tell was equally frustrated herself, although you wouldn't know it by looking at this photo...
Kaya = always stoked
It was then decided that we would go and session a super cool wall ride that Wojtek knew about later that night, then head up to the hill the next day to hit the leftover jump from the Polish Freeskiing Open so Kaya could score some shots, as Charles was unsure about jumping due to the tremendous amount of pain he was in after possibly breaking a rib. Hereby let it be known that Charles is one of the toughest and hardest working skiers in the business.
We convoyed over to the wall ride and breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival, as it was epic. It would need a lot of work as in order for the boys to hit it they would have to ski over a set of train tracks that would need to be constantly filled in due to the frequent amount of passing trains, but the cool graffiti on the wall more than made up for the extra work ahead of us.
Charles and Pinki got suited up, along with Marek, who not being much of an urban skier had yet to strap on his skis. As a result, Marek started attacking the wall like a caged animal who had just been released, going faster, higher and more technical with each hit.
Charles bit the bullet on the injury to his rib, and also his knee, which he tweaked at X Games and had been acting up again, and started sessioning his big, French-Canadian heart out...
Pinki on the other hand was having some trouble initially, but as always, quickly adapted and continued to hit it long after Marek and Charles were done, and even after a few of us had left.
"You having fun Pinki?" I asked as we were packing up.
"This is the second wall ride I've ever hit. I love it," he modestly replied with a smile.
We then headed back to the condo for more Vodka and another night of partying before waking up a little later than planned the next day.
We approached what we thought would be the base of the ski hill on our way to hit the PFO jump when we realized that we were actually driving right to the top. The thermometer read 10 degrees Celsius. We clicked into our skis and skied down to the park amidst a couple of kids on twin-tips who seemed really, really surprised (and stoked) to see us.
A little mini-shred park was set up with a handful of rails that Charles and Kaya began sessioning while Marek speed checked the medium-sized kicker from PFO that the recent warm weather had taken its toll on.
"I feel like I'm at Momentum," Kaya said, referencing the warm temperature and glue stick-like snow.
Marek walked up to us, shaking his head in disgust before announcing that there just wasn't enough speed to hit the jump. Our time in Zakopane had come to an end.
Before drowning our sorrows in a river of Red Bull and Vodka later that night at a Red Bull party, Charles informed us during a game of 'never have I ever,' an entertaining and bonding drinking game, that he would like to head back to Katowice to try the 16-kink one more time.
We spent the first part of the next day touristing it up around Zakopane, buying presents for our families and friends, and checking out some sights before detouring though Slovakia back to Katowice.
The night after arriving in Katowice we were up and at em early and Charles and Pinki spent over four grueling hours challenging the 16-kink, but after over what seemed like 200 tries Pinki was over it and Charles was in too much pain to continue. A valiant effort to say the least. We were done.
We then headed to Krakow to chill for two nights before heading home as Marek and Wojtek needed to get things ready for their trip to Japan and Charles had to fly down to Austria for Playstreets. We begrudginly said good-bye to our newfound lifelong friends and wished them well on their travels while thanking them for everything they had done for us for while we were visitors in their beautiful country.
We then spent out first night in Krakow doing some more sightseeing and shopping before taking our last day in Poland to go to quite possibly the saddest place on earth...Auschwitz, the biggest of all Nazi concentration camps.
It what could be easily described as the most terrible and disturbing day of our lives, Steve, Cody, Kaya and I walked through the gates of hell and were given a disgusting glimpse at one of the greatest atrocities and instances of horrific mass murder in history.
We saw barracks fenced in behind rows and rows of barb wire that an uncountable number of people were crammed into and forced to 'live' in...
...two tones of human hair and mountains of children's shoes that was found when the camp was liberated, various torture rooms where thousands upon thousands died, and the infamous death wall, where men, women and children were lined up and shot...
...along with ovens where bodies were burnt, and worst of all, the gas chambers.
In all the places we had collectively been in the world, we had never seen something so awful, overwhelming, upsetting, and thought-provoking. It made us truly thankful for the time we live in, and indescribably upset for those who weren't so fortunate. Needless to say, it was a day that none of us will ever forget.
This concludes our adventure to Poland. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times, as although the ski side of things wasn't what he hoped, we had both a very interesting and extremely amazing time. In the end though, sometimes you just gotta roll the dice. You won't always get a seven...but you'll always have fun playing.
Be sure to stay tuned for all of this action and more in both Poor Boyz Productions' upcoming film, Everyday is a Saturday, and an episode of of Salomon Freeski TV on the trip, which will also be dropping next fall.
On behalf of Charles Gagnier, Kaya Turski, Steve Horton from Salomon Freeeski TV, Cody Carter from Poor Boyz and myself, we would like to take the time to give a massive thank-you to Marek Doniec, who along with being one of the most naturally talented skiers in the freeski world is one of the coolest and most wonderful guys any of us have ever met...
to follow Marek's adventures, check out his site: www.doniec.net
Without these two guys, this trip simply would not have been possible, and we would not have had nearly as great of a time. Thanks for everything guys. We'll never forget it.
We'd also like to thank Aram from Roadkill Productions, Lucek from lucekphoto.com, and Piotr 'Pinki' Pinkas, for all his help during our time in Poland and for being an extremely humble, hard-working and amazing skier who you're all going to want to watch out for. Just check out the video below to see what I mean.
also be sure to check out Pinki's blog: www.hardkorniedisko.wordpress.com
Marek would also like to thank Pawel Wojtylka and Ryszard Broniewisz from Salomon Poland, Wojtek Panczyk from Red Bull Poland, Agencja Fantomas, who helped us with our accommodations, and the City of Katowice for letting us slide rails and not go to Polish jail for it.
And last but certainly not least, big ups to Mike Douglas for putting the trip together and making it all happen for us. You will forever and always be the man Douglas.
Marek is also in the process of finishing up his videoblog from the trip that we'll be dropping in this story tomorrow, so stay tuned!