FWQ 3* Morgins Freesession: February 20th 2016

4 years after my very first FWQ competition in Morgins Switzerland, it was time to return to the sleepy winter paradise. The first time around I managed to finish last following a wildly unspectacular line and a butt check at the top. I wanted to try a more challenging line this time around and hoped that the snow conditions would make that possible. I rode to Switzerland together with Birgit Ertl, an Austrian skier, and snowboarder Bettina Pickl. I also planned to meet up with Valeria Apostolo, an Italian skier I met back years ago competing in Italy. We had some harsh conditions on Saturday to face check the venue. Crazy hard winds and icy temperatures made the long chair lift rides pretty unbearable, but it was fun just playing around on the mountain with Val. There were thick and heavy clouds engulfing the mountains and visibility was not good. I had a few pictures from 2012 when I competed here the first time luckily, because the fog wouldn’t let us take a closer look at the face. We took a few runs closer to the lifts where it was heavily tracked and tried to find some fresh lines but only ended up too deep into the woods and had to traverse back to the trails to return to the lift. That evening was the riders meeting and welcome party. They had some spaghetti for us and after the meeting a live band was playing. It was a great atmosphere and I was happy to see some competitors who I don’t get to see often. That is one nice advantage to traveling a little further to compete: you get to see the folks over on the western side of the Alps every now and then too! After dinner and the meeting, we were all pretty tired and anxious to get some sleep, contest day usually comes bright and early! Checking some pictures before drifting off to sleep, I was determined to finally tackle the steep line here.

The next morning we got up bright and early and made our way over to the finish line of the contest where everyone was gathering. The sky was brilliant blue and we were all excited that the contest was definitely on; this season has been horrible with conditions and nearly every contest has been postponed or canceled so far! Although my start number was 41, I had to take the second ride with the CAT to the top (it can handle 20 people each time) so didn’t get to see anyone's run before starting. At least I would have plenty of time to check the lines from the top before dropping in. The CAT had a long chain with some t-bar holds on it where we could hold on to get towed up the mountain. The tricky part is when the CAT goes over a hill and begins to descend: the chain starts to scrape along the snow so we have to bend over to keep a hold. It seemed so much easier now, in 2012 I remember nearly falling off! We passed by the tourists who stopped on the sides of the trail to let us pass, some were cheering us on, others were calling us crazy. That got a little chuckle out of me as I thought back a few years when I also thought it was pretty insane! It's amazing how experience, familiarity and time can really change your perspective!

At the end of the trail the CAT stopped and we had to take another chairlift to the top where we had a short hike of about 10 minutes to have a look down into the face. The competition was underway and I could finally get an idea about the snow conditions. It had rained on the face overnight unfortunately, there was a thick layer of crust on top. Other competitors were clearly having issues with the snow, some loosing skies, others punching through the snow and flipping over. I had time to take a good hard look at the options I had at the top. This face doesn’t offer many options overall, there are a few lines with some drops which many people end up riding. I usually just like to find something fresh rather than looking specifically for a line to earn points. I did want to finally try the steeper and exposed chute at the top lookers right of the face. I had a course of action all planned out in my mind when a skier took the same line, got tangled up in the crust and ended up tomahawking down the gully. He left full body sized potholes in the face and erased any chance of a fluid run down that line. Concerned about getting my nose caught in a bomb hole, I opted out of that line and looked for a different one. As more and more people were struggling in the conditions, the simple idea of putting down a clean run became more and more crucial. I considered starting on top of a long steep line without any jumps but the possibility for fast, smooth turns. I even hiked to the top of it before I realized that with the strong winds we had, the chance of me missing my start because of not hearing the officials was present. I ended up changing my line yet again and decided to start the face the same way I did in 2012: a little drop over the cornice at the top of the face, and hopefully this time, a fast fluid run to the bottom. Jumping anything could mean punching through the crust and losing it, but the very top of the face still looked good enough to risk it. The drop in to the lip of the cornice was a little bumped out and tricky, I wasn’t sure if I would get enough speed for the drop while also being concerned about getting too much speed since I wouldn’t have any kind of set up turn to check it. As usual I was going back and forth in my mind about whether or not to go for the drop at the start. I had messed it up in 2012 and that meant last place. On top of all that, my snowboard boots were constantly opening up after the first turn or two. I was wary of what an opened boot would mean on this face. Swiss snowboarder Tibor Sesti was at the start waiting as well and helped keep me motivated to go for it. The camaraderie in the contests is at least half the perk of competing. I ended up tying small slipknots into my boots laces to (hopefully) ensure that they wouldn’t come undone during my run.

Sooner than later it was already my turn to go and I knew it had to be clean. I managed to keep my nerves under control as the countdown started. I focused all my attention just on this one part and figured the rest would be a walk in the park if I could stay on my feet. 3... 2... 1... drop! I started off towards the edge and felt good about the speed. I managed to get a shifty stale grab in the air and landed cleanly into the face. That felt so good, I thought! The face was an easy slope of crust below me. I kept my weight shifted towards the back a little and tried to put some big turns down picking up speed. Everything was flying by so fast! As I neared a flatter section, I opened up and picked up some speed. I felt the nose of my board catch the crusty edge of someone's track and begin to swing the board around to the backside. I was going way too fast to do anything but go straight and could feel my heart drop into my stomach as the board began to jump wildly below me. I knew if I didn’t get it back straight some how, I would be in a world of pain. The hard crusty layer would have torn me up nicely for sure if I lost control! I don’t know how I managed to get the board back to straight but with a huge internal sigh of relief I was back to speeding down the face. I only had one more section in front of me and thought to try to find one last jump before the flat stretch to the finish line. I opted for a smaller drop in this section just because the snow wasn’t great and I couldn’t see if anyone else had already gone for it or not (meaning I didn’t know how the landing would be). I just tried to keep the fast flow up and only found a tiny little rock to sort of pop over at the bottom. I was down... I stayed on my feet. While I was very happy about that and the fact that I got a good drop in at the top, I was still a little disappointed with myself for having opted out to the easier line.
At the bottom we had a great vibe going on. The beautiful sunshine and easy tunes from the DJ made chatting with others and watching the competition a real pleasure. It was great to just enjoy the atmosphere. As I tried to loosen my boots, the knots were so tight that they wouldn’t budge. I tried for a good 30mn to get it loose to no avail. 3 of the other guys also spent various amounts of time trying ironically, to free me from the boots that wont stay tight! After hours of laughing, reminiscing and hanging out, the competition came to an end as did the day. We took the final run all the way back to the village along the endlessly long cattrack and I went straight to a shop to try to untie my boots. After about an hour there, one knot was released and the other one broke leaving me with no quickdraw laces. At that point I was just pretty happy to get the boot off and figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get it fixed somewhere. I met up with Valeria and Birgit at the car just as they were finishing loading everything. I was able to quickly change out of my snow gear and we just made it to the prize giving in time to get seats before it started. To my massive surprise, I ended up taking the 3rd spot on the podium. It was a great feeling following the bad feedback and results in Verbier and really lifted my spirits. We started the 10 hour long drive home as soon as the prize giving was over. It turns out that it was a really good thing I got 3rd since that money could go towards the speeding ticket I got while driving home in the middle of the night! What a weekend! Good people, good vibes and finally a good result! With any luck the motivation will carry over to the next competition in Montafon on Saturday!