Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Big White, BC - Arrival and Practice Day

What an adventure...

In keeping with the theme of things moving southward before the eventual upswing, my flight itinerary took me from Sacramento to LA, and then up to Vancouver for the next event in the Nor-Am circuit. Of course nothing this season can be straight forward and hassle-free, that just isn't my luck this year...

While taxiing to the runway on the flight from LA to Vancouver, the pilot informed us that due to some small electrical issue, we had to return to the gate for a mandatory inspection. No big deal, we were only supposed to be delayed for about 5-10min. My schedule was strict though, and this was a late-night flight, so I had about an hour window to work with before I might be in danger of missing my rental car reservation before they closed for the night. Sure enough, 10min turned to 15, and 15min turned into 30. When 30min hit, I knew I was in trouble; missing my rental car meant missing the early morning drive to Big White (about 4 and a half hours east). The rental car station didn't open again until 5am, which would cause a delay in my arrival to the resort, and potentially the complete loss of practice day. In a scurry, I called the rental car station from the plane. I spoke with a rep and told them who I was, he confirmed my reservation and flight info, and ASSURED ME someone would stay at the Kiosk until my arrival. Thank goodness!

45 minutes behind schedule, we were finally in the air. There were empty seats EVERYWHERE! Note to self: Book a late-night flight whenever possible; you can stretch out completely across your row for a nap, move to a different row that looks more comfortable, on in my case, move to the very front coach row so you can get off the place early and RUN to get your rental car in time.

Everything worked out just fine, I got off the plane quick, customs didn't take too long since it was so late at night, and my luggage was off of the plane in no time at all. I grabbed my stuff, and walked as quickly as I could to get my car and get over to the resort. I walk into the rental station and it's a ghost town. No people, no lights, but most importantly NO EMPLOYEES. They were completely closed, locked up, lights out...I was STUCK. With nothing to do from 1am-5am, I pulled up a bench, stuck my gear underneath, and slept until the employees got there the next morning...

My bed for the next 4 hours...

Needless to say, I had lots to talk about with the staff when they finally arrived. I wanted to say so much more, but just talking was costing me valuable time. I was now almost 5 hours behind, and I needed to be on the mountain. I got my keys around 530am, and I was GONE.

The drive took just under 6 hours, and I was dead tired by the time I got there. There was a stretch of about 60-70mi that was covered in snow; looking back, I think it was probably better that I WASN'T on the road at 2am, especially through that patch of highway. Big White was an awesome looking resort, with a gigantic village. I found my residence spot as fast as I could, checked in, and got unpacked / geared up as soon as I could. By the time I found my way back to center village, I was already late for practice...

This course was SO MUCH DIFFERENT than the Copper Mountain course. The turns were so much wider and forgiving and I felt like the rhythm sections had a bit of a smoother flow. The technical features at Copper were pretty creative, and an amazing mental (as well as physical) challenge. I felt much faster through this course than I did at Copper, but that could very well be a result of having only 2 days on the snow before Colorado. That dreaded Wu-Tang at Copper absolutely destroyed me for my first race of the season. Big White didn't have a Wu-Tang feature had TWO. Taller, more vertical, and even less forgiving than the single feature at Copper, these things were in my head as soon as I saw them. But, I didn't travel that far to be defeated mentally; If I was going to lose, it would be from a mistake while actually ON the track.

"WuTang Clan aint nothin' to f..." - well you know the rest

Three to four practice runs and I had those things dialed in. Up until this season, I had never ridden features like these. I had seen something similar in France, but it wasn't as tall or as vertical as what I had now seen at two different venues this season. I kept my base flat, got my timing down, and popped nice and stable right over both of them. The rest of the course was all about picking the correct line. There was one banked turn near the bottom that had gotten completely torn apart and rutted by the end of the afternoon; a few coaches renamed it "The Dealbreaker". A commanding lead could be stripped away with an accidental slip over one of those ruts, and the rest of the course was flat before one last downhill to the finish line, so staying on your feet there was CRITICAL. The ideal line was a far outside entry followed by an aggressive dive towards the inside line just after the apex. It worked for me for my first two runs, and I was able to accelerate out. Later in the day the ruts were way too deep, and my last two runs put me sliding on my butt after I lost control over the chopped up snow. Everything else was solid though, and I was ready for the next morning's qualifiers...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Copper Mountain Nor-Am's - Training Day

Hectic schedule today. VERY Hectic. There are so many athletes out here this weekend; some of us just arrived, but the good majority have been here over the past couple weeks training as the course has taken shape.

We got to the mountain for registration at 8:30, geared up and headed straight up to the top of the course. At first we were told that the beginning of the day was designated for "Inspection" for all athletes; a great chance for us new-comers to see the course in person for the first time. When we got strapped in, the course tech's gave us the updated news that the course was only open for the skiers. We found a way to observe a few portions of the course, but the most critical was the start section. The start is on EVERYONE'S mind. Some features have changed over the past week, most importantly the "WU-Tang" feature heading into the first turn. It's an almost completely vertical quarter-pipe that takes a perfectly flat and controlled takeoff to make it over successfully. We saw every type of crash over that thing today, from snowboarders disappearing head-first over the other side (followed by ski patrol heading down to check on them), to skiers sailing every direction but straight into the air, and slamming to the other side.

Photo - The Wu-Tang that's sent lots of us flying

For me, I had the most difficulty in that section. I couldn't seem to keep my base flat, and my first few inspection runs resulted in flailing air-time into a couple nasty slams. The rest of the course has some technical sections, a few very creative features, and a lower rhythm section that's also proven a bit difficult. I've pieced together the course, but all separately. I wasn't able to piece together a solid run in the limited block of time we were allowed, but I've got a chance to put it together during inspection tomorrow. The weather forecast caused a schedule change tomorrow, so we're all out there again at 830am. Oh, and since so many athletes turned out, we got word tonight that we get ONE qualifying run tomorrow. That means ZERO mistakes. I'm up here with the Squaw Valley Team, and the advice I've gotten from their coach has been huge. I just need to piece together the start, middle, and lower section and I'm good.

My thoughts (and unfortunately this post) are scattered regarding tomorrow. I really wish I was able to come up here and see this course earlier. I'm excited, nervous, worried about the Wu-Tang, but I'm ready to sleep and get it all out of my mind. I need this experience, and I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Touchdown Denver!

The 2012 season; I've been off to a great start with my off-season training, conditioning, and mental preparation. The ONE thing that I (and the rest of the Western US) took for granted was the weather. It's January 19th, 2012 and the Sierra mountains have absolutely NO SNOW. Ironically, a storm is pulling into CA as I'm sitting in the Denver International Airport waiting for the rest of my crew to arrive. What does this mean for my season schedule? To start, my first event, an FIS USSA Revolution tour event at Northstar-at-Tahoe was cancelled. Even with $30mil in improvements on the mountain, there was no money in the world that was going to bring in enough snow for us to have a race track. Luckily, Northstar is in my back yard, so I wasn't committed to any travel plans or expenses before we got official word the event was off.

What does this mean for the season so far? Aside from the lack of on-track preparation, the snowfall (or lack thereof) has been so dismal that even freeride training has been difficult. Ian "Why Turn" Wu came up with me to help train over the features at Boreal, and was able to give some extremely valuable input after watching my stability while in the air. OF COURSE Ian had to put it in mathematical terms, and we agreed my "-x^2 path of travel should start to resemble more of a -1/2x^2 path." I cant honestly say what's more humorous; the fact that Ian can effectively connect snowboarding and math, or the fact that I'm completely comfortable communicating the same way. Nonetheless, his input was priceless, and just as valuable as getting up there 10 times and having to learn my mistakes the hard way.

Photo - The creative "Speed Bump" out of the start, Copper 2012

Tomorrow the Copper Mountain course is open for official FIS training, they've been great about updating pictures of their progress, and there have already been a handful of videos uploaded that show the course from the riders perspective. I've been studying those vids every single day...over and over, to make sure I have that course memorized before I get there. Over the past week, several groups of athletes have already come out to train up there; from a Shaun Palmer SBX camp to the first race for the local USASA Series. If I had the disposable income to chase the snow wherever it was falling, I would've been out here too. But, I've made due with what I had available, and I'm excited to be here this weekend. Once again I'll be up against the best racers that North America has to offer, minus just a couple that are out in Veysonnaz, Switzerland competing in the World Cup. I'm back in California on Monday, back to work for a few days, then heading up to Vancouver for the next stop in the Nor-Am tour. Right now this table is looking like a pretty good place to rest my head for awhile. Stay tuned for some pictures of the course when I get up there tomorrow!