This page documents my rather brief snowboarding career which ended after severely breaking my arm. I have sworn not to board again as I believe my Ankylosing Spondylitis may have weakened my bones to the point they are brittle. However I still regularly dream of boarding and miss the complete and utter joy I experience when riding, or falling! As they say “never say never”.
As you shall see below, Klepster plays a big role in most of the trips. I am greatful to him for starting me off on this part of my life and for joining me on the trips.
I flew to Salzburg on my first snowboarding adventure with a number of “brits” (I use the term loosely as there were two kiwis, two South Africans, one Aussie all based in the UK). Well when I say flew, we didn't actually fly all the way there despite our British Airways tickets saying we did, we actually flew to Munich and then caught a transfer bus to Salzburg. I spent the entire 4 hour transfer playing spot the bar, and trying to persuade the driver to stop for drinks. For the first night we stayed at the Backpackers Hostel in Salzburg, the place was full of Aussies, Yanks and a couple of Canadians. Fortunately they weren't playing the house drinking game, yes you guessed it 'Sound of Music, The Game' (drink while there is singing). We did play a few other drinking games though and by the end of the evening were very drunk. The next morning we were afflicted with the Sound of Music blaring through the entire place, apparently this is a daily occurrence, I feel sorry for the poor staff who have to listen to it daily. Hundreds of years of history and music and the worst movie ever made gets all of the attention!
We then caught a bus to Lofer and after our first gondola trip arrived at our Chalet which was half way up the mountain on a red piste. It was about 1 mile from the nearest pub at the half way station. I think of all the chalets we (Klepster and I) have stayed at this one was probably the best, since it had a jacuzzi and more importantly (as we were to find out) a sauna to heal those sore bodies at the end of the day. The beer supply was also restocked every day by the owners of the chalet. We were joined by a polish friend, Canman whom I hadn't seen since university days and a number of Polish university students amoung which were two beautiful, out going girls. Unfortunately I was bunked with Wolfman (since he looked like Wolfman off X-Men) which says a lot for my luck.
Our beautiful Chalet, Lofer. I could live there!
We organized three snowboarding lessons of two hours each, on the first morning we learned how to do the bindings up, stand up and just barely break facing down the 'hill' (actually a nursery slope). After two hours we were told that's it for today, so Klepster and I looked at each other and he suggested that since we had the rest of the day left we may as well go all the way to the top and ride the red all the way to the chalet. We were soon to realize that red really means steep, ice, fast skiers and for beginners a lot of pain. It took us the rest of the day to make it back to the chalet and we really needed the sauna at the end of the day. Canman soon deflated our claims that the equipment was bad by saying 'these modern boards are so flexible and easy to ride'.
At least I look the part, Lofer
The next day's lessons were more of the same really, Klepster and I were frustrated that the tutor spent most of his time with the least able riders and we felt we didn't really get our money's worth. After the week however we were able to ride fairly well, well at least get down a hill without killing ourselves. We sort of taught ourselves mostly by watching an copying the bad habits of others. Riding powder was still a bit of a mystery, since we had not learned to lean back and tended to nose dive and pitch poll and we were still in the habit of blaming a skier whenever we made a mistake and fell. We did realise one thing though, we were well and truly hooked.
Our new polish friends decided to make a traditional polish Christmas dinner which is traditionally served on Christmas Eve, is very formal, has a large number of courses and features a spicy beetroot soup. It was an amazing meal considering the few ingredients they had to use and they spent some time apologizing for the fact that there weren't the traditional number of courses.
Enjoying Polish food for the first time, Lofer
To reciprocate the generosity the South African contingent decided to do a traditional Boxing Day braai, a bit of extreme braai'ing if you will. It was about -20C outside and took hours to braai the meat, we had to light the fire inside and then carry the coals outside to the braai as the fire would not light outside. While cooking the meat the bottom side barely warmed up, at the same time you had to be careful your beer did not freeze over.
Bart and I discuss the finer arts of Extreme Braai'ing, Lofer
Our braai went down very well with our polish friends, especially the corn on the cob which caused lots of confusion over how to eat it. As usual the braai'ed bananas and chocolate went down the best
The group enjoys the fruits of a two hour extreme braai, Lofer
So after a week of snowboarding during the 2002/2003 season Klepster and I decided to try Italy, this time we had two other boarders to teach, Darren and God (yes God is a boarder). The flight out was delayed by five to six hours and so by the time we got to the plane we were very drunk but they let us on anyway. Then we had a four hour transfer from Bergamo airport to the resort so by the time we got there it was already very late.
The resort itself is one of my favourites, they tend to turn the entire mountain into piste and the costs are very good when compared with France. It had a number of bars, one of which turned out to be our usual hangout as it featured very good, and very cheap, pizza. The only downside of the bar was the entertainment which was decidedly Apres Ski which I think translates as crap, including such delights as a fat bloke simulating sex with a blown up sheep while singing about being a farmer from the west country. Klepster and I learned early on not to go for too many of the extras offered by the package companies, at Livigno we went on a pub crawl that started late and by the time we fininshed we were still sober!
The next morning we went off to rent boards and boots, well almost all of us as I had decided I liked this game so much that I would buy my own equipment (about 500 pounds of Burton gear). The decision to buy turned out to be a good one as I progressed fairly rapidly during the week much to Klepster's annoyance. When Klepster and I got to the slope we discovered that we had forgotton most of what we had learnt and were wondering whether we had made a good decision, and we had promised to teach Darren and God to board. After some consultation we decided that thinking about everything we were doing wasn't working and so we just decided to go for it. This approach seems to work in boarding, the more you think the slower you are!
A privilage, teaching God how to board, Livigno
God turned out to be a natural, probably the most natural boarder I have ever seen, within a few days he was up and running and making turns with ease. Simply amazing. Darren on the other hand struggled early on, and on the third day had a nasty fall injuring his knee (it swelled up considerably). Klepster and I thought that Darren would decide that he had had enough, but to his credit he went off and queued with the predominantly English crowd for a knee brace and was back on the slopes the next day. He has gone on to be a good boarder who specializes in running trees. He does have poor choice in music though, no boarder should ever contemplate listening to Dido after a day on the slopes!
Getting Darren, the Dido fan, up and running, Livigno
I caught a cold on the last day, so swapped with Klepster so he could try out the Burton and I could try his rather stiff and short 156 Rossignol. We kind of split up as I was going to head back to the chalet and sleep, on the way there I decided what the hell lets see if I can get to grips with this thing. After a while I started getting used to it, it was much harder work and you really had to push it but once you were going it really turned nicely and was very fast. On the final run of the day I met up with Klepster who was grinning from ear to ear and singing the praises of my Burton saying how much easier and better it was than the Rossignol. When I proceeded to beat him down the hill on that 'lousy rental board' he was less happy though! I attribute this to the Burton being a good learning board, and my dominance (if it was that) was very short lived.
La Plagne (2002/2003)
After Livigno, Klepster and I decided that we should go again during the 2002/2003 season. We just could not get enough of this boarding lark! We couldn't find any other takers so decided on another package tour to one of the largest resorts in France buying a cheap deal off Igluski. This time we decided to catch the Eurostar (train) to the resort as this effectively gave us two more days on the snow. Klepster had managed to get us upgraded to first class on the way to Paris so it was a very comfortable ride, in Paris we went for a beer (so by the rules we could say that we have been to Paris) and Klepster was horrified to pay 13 euros for a small bottle of beer. After Paris we went in a sleeper car overnight to the resort. On the bus to the resort, the tour guide called our names on the bus and then informed us that the Chalet wasn't up to standard so they were upgrading us to the local four star hotel with full board and that as an apology would we accept an eight day lift pass for free. After that upgraded became our favourite word.
Goofing around, La Plagne
Conditions at the resort were exceptional, virtually every night a fresh dump of snow was deposited on the slopes. We were also able to put our powder bogey to bed by having about a foot of powder to run off piste. One particular run along the side of the mountain (with a 100ft drop to the valley below) was probably the most memorable off piste boarding I have done, you could run along at speed with the board cracking through a small top layer of glistening ice to ride about 2ft of soft powder. There were also a few opportunities to try some small jumps with some very soft landings. Klepster had by now also bought his own board and within a few days was easily beating me down the piste and pulling off some nasty 180's as well!
The best off piste powder, La Plagne
Amazing powder how I love thee, La Plagne
Klepster and I also couldn't resist trying the Kamikaze run, which as a double black was quite a daunting prospect. We thought we could just brake most of the way down, it turned out to be a very bad decision as about 2 or 3 meters into the run we both fell and then slid on our backs down the rest of the run, at first you slide facing down the slope but eventually the drag of the board turns you round until you are careening out of control backwards down the slope. We didn't try that again.
Relaxing at a bar, La Plagne
We also got a day pass to Courchevel, which is a very swanky upper class type resort (think 6 euros for a small cup of coffee). Most of the skiers had decided that a complete white out meant to stay off the mountain but Klepster and I decided bravely (or foolishly if you will) to have a go anyway after all we had paid to be there. We caught the lift to the very top and then after wondering around in complete bemusement for a while saw a small sign saying Courcheval 1650. It was only after dropping and saw the first piste marker that we realised that we were running a black, we needn't have worried though as the powder was waist deep which slowed our progression down the run. The only way we could tell where we were going was to wait for each piste marker to loom out of the white and slowly pass by. It was an incredibly quiet, peaceful, and unforgettable experience. Some people are intimidated by sensory deprivation, but I might just be mad enough to like it! Later on during the day it cleared up and we started to realise that Courchevel is expensive because fundamentally it has some great runs.
On the final day, Klepster spotted some ski tracks leading off piste in a direction that we hadn't gone before so I ducked under the barrier and charged off following the ski tracks. Fortunately I was able to stop just before falling off a 20 ft drop onto a sheet of ice, I then had to use my board to dig my way back up the hill. Klepster sat at the top finding it all very amusing but I don't mind saying I was more than a little scared.
Using the board to dig my way out from certain death, or pain, La Plagne
Les Arcs (2003/2004)
After a successful snow train trip to La Plagne we decided to repeat it with an overnight Eurostar trip to Les Arcs (Les Arcs and La Plagne are across the valley from each other and are now connected by cable car). This time Klepster and I were joined by Darren and two newbies Rick (the worst snorer ever) and Gavin. On arrival at the resort Gavin looked terrible, he was complaining that it was the train trip ('never again') and the bus trip up the mountain, however it looked like he was suffering from altitude sickness. After some sleep he seemed to recover so maybe it was the train, and Rick's snoring. As Klepster and I stayed in the bar on the train we didn't really notice.
Les Arcs is quite a good resort for night life but I think it is better suited to skiers than boarders as there are a number of pistes that are almost flat requiring good gliding skills. Amoung the bars possibly our (especially Rick's) favourite was the Oz Bar mainly because you could buy beer by the pitcher at reasonable prices, for France at least
Chilling at the Oz Bar, Les Arcs
When we arrived we were greeted by a boarders worst site, there was no snow on the pistes and only one run was partially open using artificial snow. We were advised not to buy an eight day pass as a big blizzard that would close the resort for a few days was expected, we just took a gamble and bought the passes which turned out to be a good choice as conditions improved virtually overnight.
We got to run a few off piste sections, most memorable of which was a section below the mid station that was really bumpy and steep but great fun. There was also a short section on the run into Arc 1800 where we were staying, where Klepster and I managed to crash into each other mid air. We were racing across the powder when we suddenly hit a drop of about 3ft onto the road, we both hit it at the same time and in our surprise at suddenly flying managed to collide mid air. There was also a great section that was normally a black run but was closed because there wasn't enough snow to prepare it but there was plenty to ride and where I began to experiment a bit with 'getting some air'.
The Troll getting some 'major' air, Les Arcs
Finally there was a small powder bowl on the run into Vallandry, to make the powder bowl you had to bunny hop a small irrigation ditch. Unfortunately I mistimed my jump managing to hit the other bank of the ditch with the nose of my board at speed, of course the board stopped and I didn't. Klepster said it looked like I managed to head but my boots, I felt a bit sore after that and ended up looking like a snow cone.
The Troll snow cone, Les Arcs
I progressed a little during this holiday but it was becoming clear that Klepster had surpassed me by some margin, especially perfecting his 180 to switch trick and his powder riding was far better than mine. I was a little better at gliding the flats probably as the Burton is great at this, not really a skill a boarder should be proud of is it?
The Troll's gliding skills rock, Les Arcs
Gavin initially struggled to get up on the board, probably because he is quite a big bloke (he said it was because he had a high centre of gravity, yeah right) so we had to teach him by getting him up on his toes first rather than his heals. Its a harder way to learn since when learning 'toe side' is more challenging. After a while though he really progressed rapidly and I think caught the bug, although as yet (2007) he hasn't been back yet. Rick on the other hand spent most of the holiday playing Game Boy in the room, annoying Darren no end.
Bialka Snowboard School (2005)
After skipping a big trip in 2004/2005 for a trip to Australia I joined Canman's snowboard school for a long weekend in Bialka, Poland. Canman tends to run this each year coaching Polish boarders of all skill levels. Bialka is a small but growing (with EU funding) resort just south of Krakow, Canman had taken a large block of flats including a games / entertainment room in the basement and had organised a sleigh ride, traditional Polish barbecue and entertainment.
I have never seen so many collisions than I did on this short weekend in Bialka, the Polish skiers seem to warm up by having a half-jack of Vodka chased with some extra-strong lager for breakfast. Klepster and I on the other hand would have 'the breakfast of kings', a big dough nut washed down with an energy drink. During the evenings I tried to avoid the continual demands for 'Disco Troll' to join in the fun on the dance floor by trying to explain that my back was killing me. I also skipped the sleigh ride as those things have no suspension and who wants to spend two hours looking at a horses butt, how can that possibly be considered 'romantic'?
On this trip we were joined by John and Kirsty and quickly had two more converts to boarding after only a few days. We were also introduced to Canman and his Grande Bande.
Grande Bande entertains the crowd, Bialka
After a very short season during 2004/2005 I was looking forward to another week during Christmas and new year. The Polish did not disappoint and organised an excellent Chalet in a small Austrian resort, the only downside of the Chalet was that it was about half an hours drive from the lifts. It did have some spectacular beer though, it was here that I continued my affair with Weisbier that I had started on a trip to Berlin a few months earlier. Unfortunately I had to limit intake to one or two pints before everyone had to get together to go back to the Chalet for dinner. Thanks Thomas, you were a star giving us a lift to and from the piste every day! Every night we were treated to some great Polish food, prepared 'back home' and booze, when we tried to repay this generosity with a bang up meal in a restaurant we couldn't actually find a restaurant willing to serve us all (the only one in the village was booked for a birthday party) so we ended up buying a few rounds and stumbling back home.
In common with most Austrian resorts the pistes are very steep (a French red is a much easier prospect than an Austrian red) which didn't make it the ideal place to try to learn how to hard board. The first couple of days I stuck to my soft board trying to get back up to speed, and then Alicja and I decided it was time to try a hard board. Riding a hard carving board is completely different from softboot riding, it takes far more skill (maybe more than I have) and much more power and fitness. After a day on the hard board I was completely exhausted, and had endured a few big falls especially on the last run back in.
Preparing for some hard boarding with Alicja, Matrei Austria
The next day I decided to run the hard board in the morning while the pistes were still bashed and then ride the soft board in the afternoon. Unfortunately I still managed to have two big whiplash type crashes (caused by my inept riding) and do some bad damage to my back. I spent the second last day sleeping as I was in severe pain, but on the final day decided to go and ride my softboard slowly in the hope it wouldn't hurt too much. It did so I retired to the half way lift bar for a number of pints of Weisbeer planning to catch the gondola down at the end of the night. Some people joined me while others continued to night board, to my horror the lift stopped and I had to ride the board very slowly back down the mountain which was difficult as I could hardly stand never mind board. It took a while to get down the hill, with much giggling and swearing thrown in!
Thomas Canman Mirka Darren and I, Matrei Austria
Despite my accidents and injuries I was determined to try hard boarding again, when you get a carving turn right the feeling is incredible.
Bialka Snowboard School (2006)
Another year, another visit to Canman's Snowboard School. The format and location of 2006's school was the same as 2005.
This time we were joined by newbies Chuck and Dez. They spent the first day with Canman, that night Dez asked if we could accelerate his learning mainly because I think he was too lazy to walk up the nursery slope! So Klepster and I suggested we just take them to the top and then they could ride down, they were a bit nervous at first but after a few minutes watching Dez we knew he was another natural like God. Chuck battled a bit more and unfortunately she aggravated an old shoulder injury requiring surgery and extensive physiotherapy so I think Klepster and I had finally failed to convert someone to boarding.
Klepster Alicja Troll and Dez, Bialka Poland
This time we also hired snow mobiles, the guy leading us was a little concerned when he discovered we were 'English'. Apparently the English always 'go to fast and crash too much', Klepster tried to prove him right by going fast and trying to jump the snow mobile. It was great fun though, once you got used to the idea that you aren't really in control as you don't always go where you steer.
Snow mobile, Bialka Poland
Les Deux Alpes (2006/2007)
For my birthday, my parents bought me a nice new shiny hard board for the 2006/2007 season and new bindings. I couldn't wait to try it out.
My birthday present, Bath
For Christmas 2006 I decided to go boarding on my own as the Polish trip was organised for the first week of January and involved an 8 hour train trip, and accommodation that 'wasn't very nice' (an old army barracks with hot water only for an hour twice a day). I organised a rather expensive week in a fully catered chalet, it turned out to be a great chalet with a great cross section of people (chemical engineers, teachers, army officer who had just returned from Afghanistan) and I had a private room with an en-suite bathroom as well. Les Deux Alpes is a strange resort as it is 'upside down' with the steepest, black runs into the resort. It was also a very high resort with a glacier the guarentees all year round skiing. This was necessary as the 2006/2007 was a poor season, every night they had to clear the pistes of stones and the snow was of poor quality and very thin which may have contributed to my broken arm. Its also a resort that's more suited to skiing than boarding, as most of the runs are quite narrow.
For the first few days I stuck to my soft board to build up confidence. On Christmas day I decided to try out my new hard board during the morning. It was great fun, handled beautifully and was very fast. On boxing day I decided to repeat the morning on hard board and afternoon on soft board. On the last run down on my hard board I stopped at the mid way station, then at the last moment saw a run I hadn't tried so I decided to try it before stopping for lunch. Half way down the piste I fell awkwardly at very slow speed and I knew instantly I had broken my arm, the pain and the fact that my arm was flapping at a strange angle as I slid down the hill made that clear! Fortunately two French boarders stopped and helped me, after lots of gesturing they understood that I had a broken arm and one stayed with me while the other went for the medics. I will be forever in their debt, unfortunately I didn't get their names! The first question the medics asked was 'how are you going to pay for this', then they put me in a splint and carried me in a stretcher to the helicopter pad. I had to get off the stretcher and get into the helicopter, and then we flew down to the base of the mountain where the helicopter took off again leaving me all alone waiting for the ambulance. The helicopter returned shortly after with another boarder who had dislocated his shoulder and then just as the ambulance was about to drive away with the boarder, the medics yelled at them to take me as I was a priority case! The doctor at the local clinic decided my elbow was just dislocated and proceeded to pull on my wrist, lots of swearing and yelling eventually led to an x-ray and confirmation of my suspicions. They decided I had to go to hospital at Grenoble where the doctors told me I needed immediate surgery, unfortunately they could only do it the next day. The following day I had 6 hours of surgery and then spent a week in the French hospital before flying back to the UK.
A week in hospital with my elbow on ice, Grenoble
The surgeon said that it was a very difficult operation as my left humerus was in about eight or nine different pieces and I had also broken the bones below my elbow. I ended up with a y shape plate and about 17 screws to hold together my arm.
Human cyborg more metal than man, Grenoble
The French hospital staff were excellent and the quality of care was very good. The food was also excellent.
Thank you to the doctors and nurses, CHU Grenoble
At the end of July 2007 I had a bone graft on my broken left humerus as it hadn't healed. In six hours of surgery they chopped a piece of my hip out and stuck it into my elbow together with a bunch of new metal work and screws. I thought it would be easier than the first time as there was no trauma but it was harder since I had two painful injuries. I was off work for 4 weeks trying to recover and am still wearing a removable cast at night (for the first 6 weeks I had the cast on most of the time). The last visit to the doctor seemed to say that it was looking good i.e. the bones were joining up but it still feels horrible as it rattles and clicks like crazy.