Maypow – the long wait for the right conditions

November 5, 2014 | 11:13 pm | 1 comment »

Big plans were made already before the season had even started. I wanted to get in to alpine terrain and ride bigger lines than before. My goal was to ride lines in Japan, The Alps, Alaska and Norway – My dream locations. On paper the plan and schedule looked perfet. I was aiming for my best season ever and I was ready for it but Nature didn’t get the memo. Season 2014 turned out to be a lesson of patience. Everywhere we went the conditions forced us to change the plans. It was either snowing too much or not enough for the alpine terrain to open its gates to the dremy lines. It was May before I got to drop in to terrain I had been planning on.

 

I spent half of March and April in Tamok and Lyngen filming with Approach&Attack crew. We had good snow and great times but got only glimpses of the bigger lines. The conditions were just not right for the bigger stuff like it had not been in Japan, Alps or AK. I started to give up on the hopes of riding bigger stuff. It just was not happening this season. I went home end of April with thoughts of maybe still coming back from some spring snow. But then the forecast turned around. Cold low pressure hit northern Norway bringing lot of new snow still this late in the season and after a cold high pressure was supposed to roll in.  I contacted Jonas Hagström and Justin Lamoureux and gave them the thumps up. The end of the long wait was in sight finally.

 

MayPow (4 of 8)

Backside of Lakselvtindane – the famous Lyngen massif

It was still snowing when we met up in Tamok. We decided to start straight with the Tamok classic, Öksehögget, since it was protected couloir and didn’t need clear skies for visibility. Conditions proved to be as good as I hoped. Month in the area had given a knowledge of the snowpack.  The next day the strom cycle moved on, skies cleared and the snow was stable. It was on now! The warming may sun was the ony thing we had to watch out for. In May it didn’t really drop below the horizon anymore. We shuttled between Lyngen and Tamok day and night riding classics and possible first descents of the area. “Good things come to those who wait” – proved to be correct. We rode and hiked two lines and over 2000m of vertical on the best days. Season truly climaxed at the very end!

Öksehögget (1 of 1)

Öksehögget (english: axe cleave) – Tamok classic. 500m vertical of narrow and consistant 40-45degrees couloir.

 

 

Check Justin’s blog  for his take on the trip as a first timer to Tamok and Lyngen.

Conditions dictate the plans part 2.

April 2, 2014 | 1:43 pm | No comments »

014_9960_engadin_bydavidbirriFilmer David Doom getting slowly buried by the snowfall. Photo David Birri

UNIQUE CONDITIONS

As the days got fewer the snow fall only grew thicker. It soon became obvious that we had no change of getting into any mountain hut. They were probably already buried by now. And even if we did manage to find a hut and dig it out, only thing we could do is just sit in it since the avalache danger was so high. We were having hard time hiking even in the trees with this much snow. I could only imagine that the waist deep hiking would turn into swimming above the trees.  The dreamy alpine lines were better to be left alone this time. The conditions forced us to stay in the trees and ride belly deep powder and pillow lines all day long, day after day. What a bummer?!!

At first we really were bummed that we had to turn down our original plan. We were so fixated on the hut mission that we almost didn’t realize what was going on around us. The snow records were breaking daily in the valley. They had never measured such depths since 50 years when they  had started. And even if we have ridden deep pow before this was truly something different. I said it in Japan this year that it was the deepest powder day of my life there but now I had to correct that again. I never thought the Alps could top Japan in powder depth but it was happening right here, right now. We soon let go of our plans and decided just to enjoy the moment and the incredible snow. A saying “When the mountains are telling you something you better listen” applies again. Lesson revised. Otherwise you might miss out on all the fun.

Conditions dictate the plans part 1.

March 17, 2014 | 12:43 pm | No comments »

pic: David Birri

photo by David Birri

IT IS GOOD TO HAVE A PLAN BUT….

We had thought of a mountain hut mission somewhere in the Alps for years. It is nice pull back from the crowds completely every once in a while and let just the surrounding mountains and snow sink in. There is lots of these mountain huts located all over the Alps. We made a plan, even before the snow started to fall this season, to find one with good riding close by.

Snow fell very locally in Europe this season; some places barely had any and the next valley could have had tons. The storms seemed to be coming in from the south so we narrowed our search to the southern mountain valleys. Sten Smola knew some huts that fit into our plans,  promised to help us out and even join us on our mission. We set our eyes on the southern parts of Swiss Alps and decided to do a last minute call between few options once we saw the conditions and the forecasts. Everything looked promising when we flew in to Zurich and made our way down to meet up with Sten. But then suddenly the forecast changed completely. Fair weather turned into heavy snow and shifting temperatures. Nobody wants to be in the middle of the mountains in a storm so we had to retreat into the end of Engadin valley to wait it out.

Fortunatelly Sten also knew some treeruns which were supposed to be untouched by the crowds. We wanted to escape the crowds originally so at least that was following the plan. We had no idea that in those woods we found a snowy paradise.

As the days passed we learned that it was useless for us to make any plans. Conditions and nature were making the calls and we had no choice but to follow which was awesome!

 

Deeper in Japan

February 13, 2014 | 9:18 pm | 4 comments »
photo: Jani Kärppä

photo: Jani Kärppä

 

I traveled to Japan once again in early January. The reason is simple really: consistent deep powder. It snows there often and the most I have ever experienced. Waist deep powder is guaranteed! The plan was to sink our boards and heads deep into the Japanese snow culture with Jonas Hagström. And film with Antti Autti to his Approach&Attack

This was my third year in a row visiting Takumi Nagai and Yuji Maruta, friends and a mountain guides, in the town of Muikamachi. The town is surrounded by unique Japanese mountains and genuine culture that is getting harder to find in the famous big resorts like Niseko. It’s rare to run into other westerners in the area and that is big part of the Niigata’s charm to me. It is getting more and more interesting to see the culture beside of snowboarding and local way of living in the places where I travel. It gives an extra kick to the snowboarding too. We stayed with Maruta family this year.  They invited us to their home and showed us the greatest hospitality. It was a great exchange and experience between cultures even with the language barrier. I actually think that the language barrier even made the experience deeper for all of us. You concentrate more on even the smallest things. And like Takumi put it: “Language is Language” – meaning there is always a language between people even when the spoken one is not well understood.

 

photo: Jani Kärppä

photo: Jani Kärppä

 

I feel that snowboarding is in a different state too in Japan than anywhere else in the world. First of all it seems that there is actually more snowboarders of all ages on the slopes than skiers. I don’t know the actual numbers but my claim comes from a personal experience. From toddlers to grandpas they shred the slopes everybody with their own style and casually like snowboarding had existed there for generations.

Secondly, there are more different kind of boards than anywhere else. Everything from carving boards to the cool shaped powder boards and splitboards can be seen on any given day. This year I saw a powder gun that was measured 6’3″ (191cm) like a surf board. I believe that’s a proper “powder surf” already! But it was a funny sight when the board was at least foot taller than it’s rider. Yet, it was not exaggerated at all; while we were there it snowed over 4 meters and many of the days were too deep to make turns on my “normal sized” Hovercraft! And last year on a deep day, I saw a rider who had taken two snowboards and put ski bindings on them and used them like skis. Talk about snowboards influencing skiing! The variety, innovation, craft and beauty of powder snowboards is a pleasant sight in Japan. They truly have the conditions and the market for all kinds of powder boards. In two weeks I rode nothing but different types of powder snow.

Thirdly and most importantly, Japanese are really stoked on snowboarding. Even if I can’t follow their conversations in the gondolas or lift lines, they still look like they are really enjoying the moment. It feels and looks like Japanese stoke is something little different from ours. They seem more happy from less and they carry the stoke from snowboarding to other things in a more lasting way than we westerners many times do. Talking with our friends there, they seem to always have this spiritual way of channeling snowboarding into other areas of life and visa versa. “A day in the mountains makes the build up stress and haste disappear” Takumi says. He has also taken the mountain guiding into people guiding as he joined politics and got elected to city council. It feels that snowboarding is a lifetime deal for many in Japan. When they get stoked about something they carry it through life with pride, not changing it to something new with every whim. It is like a combination of stoke and determination. Of course, I am not saying that snowboarding doesn’t work the same way for us Westerners too but it just feels deeper and more genuine there.

 

photo: Jani Kärppä

fr3. photo: Jani Kärppä

 

…and of course the riding was amazing. The terrain is little different from anywhere else in Japan and there is actually big mountains and lines to ride. The rapidly changing weather and constant snow dumps makes it hard to do bigger missions and ride big lines but every year we get little closer. And in the end, if the reason of holding back on bigger stuff is snorkel deep powder, who cares really?

Minamiuonuma city and Niigata area ( The Snow Country) are not the easiest to travel around for Westerners since everything is in Japanese and the ski resorts are scattered around within an hour driving distance. There are no all inclusive ride-eat-party-sleep packages available like in Niseko or Hakuba which keeps the place still more genuine Japanese. A guide can help out though. Here’s th best one:  Takumi Nagai’s Tri-Force mountain guiding company

Check the previous story from Japan in Splitlines here

 

Island hopping – Surfing and snowboarding

June 6, 2013 | 9:11 pm | 1 comment »

Second week of May, 2013

Spring is warming up the northern world again and snow starts to melt back to water. Powder starts to be more rare but the surf dreams wake up as the H2O changes state. Storm cycle passed through the northern mountains and coastline with strong winds. Mountains were not really accessible nor tempting  but strong winds create different kind possiblities – waves. I checked swell forecasts for the islands close by and it showed some possible bumps in the ocean so we decided to go island hopping and hopefully surfing.

Mountain islands

 

Norwegian coastline follows the scenic trend best out of the whole the counry – it’s annoyingly beautiful for a neighbourg living in the flat inland parts of the North. The coastline is very broken and full of mountain islands raising more than kilometer high straigth from the crystal clear ocean. The sea looks amazing from the mountains and visa versa. Along the coast ocean reaches far inland with long fjords cutting water passages into the mountain scenery. It’s simply mesmerizing – when the weather is tolerable… and that’s not everyday in Norway.

Lofoten3 (1 of 1)

Fjord sunset last August

 

Last summers trip to the islands

Henningsvaer in Lofoten

The weather is very variable in the coast and can be extremely harsh. In these latitudes the temperatures are rarely on the warm side which is good for the winter activities but hanging out with a surfboard next to the cold sea with freezing temperatures requires… some dedication and proper preparing. Lot of the days are so nasty that even the dogs like to stay in but I mostly try to fool myslef with a frase: “there is no bad weather… only bad choise of equipment”. But when skies do open up and the conditions come together the islands are unbeatable. On a perfect day you can ride powder on great mountains all the way to the shore and surf after. I don’t think there is many places in the world like that.

After driving around I found a couloir that fell straight in to the sea and a wave close by and  managed to surf and snowboard same day! One dream came true that “spring” day but I still have to keep waiting for the perfect day on the islands. It was windy like never before and the couloir didn’t bring enough shelter so I had to turn back little before the top so I wouldn’t fly away. It was snowing time to time and waves were small but really fun. Even if the conditions we not perfect I had the best time and discoverd the potential that I have been looking for years. The scenery was unbelievable and the nature was strongly present; seals were checking the surf out and eagles were cruising above. I couldn’t stop smiling with my blue lips.

SurfNorway (2 of 2)

Waves didn’t mind the weather so why should I?

 

Green waves in the middle of the mountains

Green waves in the middle of the mountains

 

ride to the sea (1 of 1)

couloir straight to the ocean

There is so much potential on the islands for surfing and snowboarding but the exploration and finding the right spots takes time and dedication. There are few spots on the map but there has to be so much undiscovered gems on the islands. Mountains are more visible but the waves do not show themselves easily. And also the roads don’t go nearly everywhere so the access to shores is not easy. But who ever said that easy was rewarding?

The storm passed and the wind calmed down. Surf went flat and waves disappeared in to hiding again. Snow was not so good anymore this late in the season on the islands so we decided to return back to bigger mountains. Maybe the storm brought some new snow to higher altitudes since it was snowing in the coast too.

 

 

 

 

 

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