Sexist Snowboards

Using sex, and more specifically, the female form, to sell products is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book, but you’d think in these times of supposed equality and respect for women, that it might have dwindled somewhat. But not in snowboarding it would appear.

sexist snowboards It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given the way that women tend to be portrayed in the snowboarding media – predominantly as eye candy – but I’m always amazed at the number of new boards that emerge each year sporting graphics that quite blatantly objectify women.

What’s even more surprising is that it’s totally at odds with apparent efforts by the snowboarding media and certain brands over the past few years to recognise, represent and cater to the industry’s female contingent better.These companies seem to reach out to women with one hand, offering female specific products, media channels, and even the odd female team rider, and then slap them in the face with the other, with sexist advertising and degrading graphics on their boards.

Here are some of the worst culprits…

Sims Fader 2003

Sims Fader 2003

Back in the dark ages of 2003 Sims managed to get away with putting a topless image of porn star Jenna Jameson on their Fader snowboard, along with a series of other glamour models posing seductively. Classy eh?

Burton Love 2009

Burton Love snowboard 2009Six years later Burton featured Playboy centrefolds on its, equally tacky, Love series. While they stopped short of showing any full on boob-age, they were still the kind of images that belong on the top shelf rather than the top of the mountain. Needless to say the boards didn’t go down very well (not like that) and there were protests to have them banned.

Burton Custom Restricted 2014 

Burton Custom Restricted 2014Undeterred by the offence caused by the Love series five years previously, Burton decided to roll out the scantily clad ladies again for the 2014 restricted version of their ever-popular Burton Custom, which featured blurred images of swimwear models posing seductively on the beach. Admittedly not quite as risqué, but still pretty disrespectful nonetheless.

They must have decided that female objectification had become more acceptable in our increasingly liberal and “progressive” society, or perhaps they’d just run out of ideas? As Burton is hardly renowned for its creative graphics, let’s assume it’s the latter.

The fact that the boards were only available in certain shops just made them seem all the more seedy, as if they were some kind of illicit porn or sex toy. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the blurred design looks like it’s being viewed through the opaque plastic cover of a top shelf magazine?

Rome Artifact 2009

Rome Artifact 2009

It may not picture the slightest trace of naked female flesh but the 2009 Rome Artifact manages to be even more offensive than the ones that do with its neon light strip club graphics and “LIVE NUDE GIRLS” or “BENT OVER BABES” emblazoned on the base. Seriously? 

Reprobate Tap Her 

Reprobate Tap Her

I had to do a double take when I saw this board in the window of a snowboard shop in Morzine. Not so much because of the graphic, as it’s hardly unusual to see a semi clad woman gracing the topsheet of a snowboard, but more because of the name. Personally, as a woman, I find the expression “I’m going to tap her” pretty offensive, but given the brand name, I guess that’s their objective. Fortunately their puerile attempt to appeal to snowboarding’s laddish contingent appeared to fail, as I’ve never seen or heard of them since.

Lib Tech Jamie Lynn Phoenix

Lib Tech Phoenix Jamie Lynn series

I have to confess that I feel a little conflicted with this one, as I actually really like the graphics on the Jamie Lynn series of Lib Tech boards. The images are more abstract and arty than the gratuitous lads mag style “artwork” seen on some other boards and I think they can legitimately be considered works of art as opposed to mindless sexism.

Lib Tech Deflower 2014/15

Lib Tech Deflower 2014/15

Jamie Lynn has a real thing for the voluptuous blue nude, and here she is again on his 2014/15 signature board, except this time with no head, super-sized nipples and a flower not quite covering her lady bits. I’m sure Germaine Greer would have a lot to say about this image, and the fact that it’s called the Deflower makes it hard to refute any allegations of sexism. As I said before, I like Jamie Lynn and his designs for Lib Tech, but I think I’d probably have to side with Germaine on this one.

Bataleon Camel Toe 2013/14 (limited edition)

Bataleon Camel Toe 2013/14

Well done Bataleon, we see what you did there. You’ve got to admire their audacity, but the graphics on this board are wrong on so many levels. It’s obviously tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t stop it being pretty degrading to women, and er, transgenders.

Yes Great Boobs

Yes Great Boobs

Yes managed to justify decorating this snowboard with nothing but, pretty fake looking, tits by donating the proceeds to help breast cancer survivors “experience the life-changing effects of snowboarding through Retreat Yourself camps in Colorado”. While I commend cause, it seems like a pretty tasteless way of going about it.

Gnu Pickle Stallion 13/14

Gnu Pickle Stallion 2013/14A couple of years ago Gnu eventually hit back at all this flagrant sexism on behalf of the ladies with the delightfully tongue-in-cheek Pickle Stallion that features naked male models in ludicrous poses, on skis no less. Their modesty is protected by pixelated strips, along with their faces, which are obviously of no interest to us girls when there’s a naked torso on display.

It’s a great parody that manages to subvert the notion of sexual objectification and ridicule the offenders. The strategically positioned banana logo is a particularly nice touch.

Lobster Jib Board STD

Lobster Jib Board STD 2011/12

The Helgasons are hardly renowned for being saintly and subtle so it’s no surprise that their range of Lobster snowboards feature some pretty controversial graphics. However, last year’s special edition Jib Board STD was offensive even by their standards. Apparently the board carried a safe sex message to the kids that “STDs will fuck you up”, but that wasn’t enough to prevent it from being banned in several shops. I’m not sure it’s been proven that you can catch genital teeth from sleeping around…

Union Danny Kass bindings – 12/13

Union Danny Kass bindings 2012/13Snowboards aren’t the only culprits. Boobs have even made it onto bindings thanks to Union and Danny Kass. At least the modesty of one of the pair, of bindings, is protected by a little T-shirt, although, as it bears the logo “We Make Party” I’m not sure whether that makes it any less chauvinistic…

Flux RK Visuals bindings 2015/16

Flux RK Visual bindings 2015/16

And it looks like Flux have gone one step further by featuring a close up of a woman’s crotch and thighs on their RK Visual bindings for next season. Awesome.

DC Ply 2012/13, Nitro Addict 2014/15, Capita DOA (most of them), Salomon Man’s Board (all of them) … The list of sexist snowboards goes on and on…

sexist snowboards

However, none are as bad as the Anti Hero Allen Before & After skateboard deck…

Anti Hero Allen Before & After skateboard deck

I guess they do say that snowboarding borrows a lot from skateboarding. Perhaps sexist graphics are just another example?

I’m not a raving feminist or feel personally affronted by any of these designs, (ok, maybe some) but what does make me uncomfortable is the fact that they are representative of this male dominated industry and the issues associated with that. How will women ever attain equal recognition in snowboarding, be that with prize money, funding or sponsorship, when we’re still being presented as nothing more than boobs on boards.

At the end of the day, the market is driven by consumers, and these kind of graphics wouldn’t continue to emerge year after year if people weren’t buying them. So come on guys, show us some respect. Female shredders want to be taken seriously as riders, and not as eye candy to decorate your snowboards and the pages of magazines. There are loads of rad graphics out there that display a lot more depth and imagination, so why not leave the pictures of boobs and bums on the bedroom walls of teenage boys and get yourself a grown up snowboard. And besides, if you want to impress a girl on the slopes, riding around with sexist images on your snowboard is probably the worst way to go about it.

What do you think of these boards, and the representation of women in snowboarding generally?

 

Powder chasing

“Have you seen the snow forecast?” said Dan, grinning from ear to ear.

“Yeah, at last eh?” I replied, relieved that it was starting to look like the season wasn’t going to be a write off after all. It was the end of January, usually one of the best months for snow, and this was the first prolonged forecast of snow there St Gervais powderhad been all season.

“Shall we go this weekend?”

“I thought you were working?”

“I’ll sort it, let’s go”

And before I knew it, my powder hungry boyfriend had booked flights, arranged to stay with friends and even bought us both new avalanche safety gear. It was the best travel service I’d ever had, except for the fact he’d booked us flights at 6.30 in the morning. Surely he knows I’m not a morning person, sheesh.

Snow in St GervaisHowever, there was method to his apparent madness and, having arrived in Geneva at 9.30 am, we were on the slopes of St Gervais by lunchtime, relieved not to have encountered any of the travel chaos that usually accompanies heavy snowfall. In fact, we’d had no problems whatsoever until we arrived at our friends’ chalet and had to put snow chains on to get up the drive!

As we looked down from the chairlift at the trees practically collapsing under the weight of all the snow, there was absolutely no question that the 3am alarm call had been worth it. Off piste the snow was at least knee deep and still coming View from chairliftdown hard. It couldn’t have been more different to when we were here just before Christmas and the slopes and buildings were completely free of snow. In fact, in all the years I’ve been visiting St Gervais, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so snowy.

The next morning we awoke to the beautiful sight of the Aravis mountain range bathed in a pink hue, with the town below covered in a thick blanket of fresh snow. It was going to be a blue sky powder day!

Sunrise St GervaisThe only thing getting between us and the powder covered slopes was the small issue of a foot of snow that was blocking the road up to the chalet, and we weren’t going anywhere until it had been cleared. It took two strapping lads (yes, I am talking about Dan and Chris) close to an hour to clear it, which is probably enough to take the edge off a powder day, especially if, like Chris, you have to do it every time there’s a big dump of snow. Talk about earning your turns!

Clearing snowAs it turned out, we were actually quite happy not to have been up there first. St Gervais is relatively low so the powder can be slightly heavier than it would be at higher altitudes, and as its slopes don’t have the steepest gradient, if you get stuck it’s pretty hard work to get going again. There were still plenty of fresh tracks to be had but we made sure we kept an existing track within easy reach in case we needed a get out! At one point I bailed and was totally engulfed by snow, which was actually a little scary.

Avalanche transceiverIt seemed like quite an opportune time to do some avalanche safety and transceiver training so we took some time out to practice tracking buried transceivers under the guidance of experienced mountain man, Chris.

After half a day of blue skies the snow returned, and it kept dumping for the next few days, which meant lots more road clearing but also plenty more powder turns! In addition to St Gervais, we also took in the neighbouring resorts of Megève and Combleux, all of which have loads of great runs through the trees that were perfect for the snowy conditions. The combination of steeper gradient and lighter snow there also made it a dream to ride, and as the resorts were quiet, there were always freshies to be had.

Megève tree runs For the last couple of days of our trip we’d planned to head somewhere a bit further afield and opted for La Clusaz on the other side of the Aravis, which is a resort I’d never been to before. It’s also pretty easy to get to from St Gervais, in theory, and normally just requires an hour-long drive up and over the Col d’Aravis. As the snow had eased and the roads seemed fine we set off, hoping to get to La Clusaz for an afternoon shred. The road that winds up to the Col d’Aravis had been well cleared, however, just as we approached the top, we came round a bend to find an abandoned snow plough in the middle of the road, which ended abruptly by its enormous blade. It was pretty apparent that we weren’t getting any further.

Les SaisiesWe could hardly believe it – we were practically there, but were going to have to go all the way back down, do a massive detour to Annecy and approach from there. If we hadn’t already booked and paid for accommodation in La Clusaz we’d have sacked it off and gone somewhere else instead, but we were committed now. However, rather than write off the day completely we decided to spend the afternoon in one of the nearby ski areas before embarking on the tedious detour. On the way up I’d noticed signs to Les Saisies, a little resort that I’d visited briefly when I worked for ski tour operator Ski Independence, so we headed there.

Fresh tracks, La ClusazMuch of the terrain in Les Saisies is fairly gentle but we managed to find an area with some great blacks and reds, and fantastic snow. On our way up there we passed over some very enticing expanses of untouched snow but when dipping into them on the way back down it was easy to see why no one had ventured in too far as the lack of gradient meant you’d soon grind to a halt.

When we finally made it to La Clusaz that evening we were pleasantly surprised by what a cool town it is and both agreed that it was worth the ball ache of a journey to get there.

Col de Balme, La ClusazThe next day we discovered that the ski area was equally good. We spent most of the day up in the Col de Balme area of the resort which had wide open bowls, challenging terrain and loads of great snow. Despite the fact that it hadn’t snowed for two days, the snow was in great nick and there were still fresh tracks to be claimed. Word had quite clearly got out that the Col de Balme was the place to be and there were quite a few people heading up the lift to get a piece of the action. It was a massive bowl though so everyone dispersed pretty quickly at the top. Next time round we decided to take the other, decidedly quieter, chairlift, which linked to a drag lift that Col de Balme, La Clusaztook you up to a practically deserted bowl that was far less tracked out and had some awesome lines to take, as well as stunning views. We ended up lapping that drag lift for the rest of the afternoon doing “one more run” after another until the light went and we decided we’d really better head back.

If we weren’t already feeling smug enough at having found such a sweet spot to shred, it was intensified further still when, on riding down, we realised that the rest of the mountain had been sitting in thick cloud while we’d been enjoying the sunshine higher up.

It was a fantastic end to what had been an amazing impromptu trip. We’re now back in the UK recovering from a serious powder come down, counting the days until our next trip and praying that we’ll be blessed with similar conditions. That’s the only problem with powder – it’s pretty addictive!

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Snowboarding in Scotland: When it’s good, it’s very, very good…

GlensheeWhenever I go snowboarding in the Scottish mountains, I’m reminded of a nursery rhyme that my Grandad used to recite about a little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, that went: “When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.”

I’m quite sure it was never intended to be an analogy for skiing and snowboarding in Scotland, but it pretty much sums it up perfectly!

Glenshee ski areaUntil a couple of weeks ago, conditions had been frustratingly horrid, with storms and hurricane force winds that not only made winter sports impossible but blew away the snow and caused loads of damage. However, things eventually took a turn for the better mid January when a band of high pressure moved in and the weather calmed down enough to allow the ski areas to repair the damage, clear the roads and groom the runs. By the weekend of 17th January all five Scottish ski areas were open and people flocked there in their masses to enjoy fantastic snow and clear blue skies.

Glenshee cafeHaving been unable to go that weekend, and taken to the snow on my mountain bike instead, I was desperate to get up there before conditions deteriorated again. We had a small window of availability on Tuesday and Wednesday, and after checking the forecast, Wednesday seemed to be the better option.

snowboarding Glenshee

Photo: Philly Waygood

It was a lovely morning when we left Edinburgh and it stayed that way all the way to Glenshee. The journey up is usually fraught with anxiety over just what you’ll find when you get there. Will the road be open? Will it be too windy for the lifts to operate? Will there be enough snow? Will we be able to see anything?! Even if it’s forecast to be good when you leave Edinburgh, it can have changed completely by the time you get there, which, on occasion, has resulted in an about turn at the Spittal of Glenshee, or sooner.

Fortunately the road was completely clear and the metre high wall of snow lining it was an indication that we ought to be ok on the snow front. The weather was also unusually calm with patches of blue sky visible, so all in all things were looking good. This was confirmed when the ski area came into view, and not only did most of the lifts seem to be operating, but the slopes were bathed in sunlight. Phew.

Butchart's Coire GlensheeAlthough the weather was good, except for a bit of a fresh breeze, which was nothing compared to how it can be, we soon discovered that we were unable to get over the back to Meall Odhar, Coire Fionn and Glas Maol, presumably because there wasn’t enough snow cover. It didn’t matter though as the snow was so good everywhere else, and the slopes were nice and quiet. We spent most of our time over at Butchart’s Coire, and in a way it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as I’d normally just do a couple of runs on that side before heading over the back. It was great to explore Butchart’s properly and discovered Butchart’s Gully, an awesome natural boardercross, Glensheewhich I didn’t even know was there!

We rode all afternoon, loving every minute, until the descending sun started to turn the mountains a glorious shade of pink. On the way back, we stopped off at the Bridge of Cally Hotel for a wee après drink and reflected on what a great day it had been. There’s no doubt that skiing and snowboarding in Scotland can be a little hit or miss, but like the girl with the little curl, when it’s good, it’s very, very good.

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Snowbiking

Snow at GlentressAfter waiting weeks for the right conditions for snowboarding in Scotland, it finally all came together last weekend. The storms had subsided leaving masses of snow and a band of high pressure moved in bringing clear skies and sunshine to all five of the Scottish areas.

It looked amazing, but rather than being up there with my snowboard, I was at Glentress on my mountain bike, experiencing very similar conditions.

Although I was desperate to get some Scottish sliding in, Dan was working so I promised to wait until the following week when he was free, consoling myself with the fact that it would be loads quieter then, and I could do some mountain biking in the snow instead.

Glentress jumps in snowDespite having encountered some treacherously icy trails at Glentress a couple of days previously, I decided to head back in the hope that the fresh snow that had fallen since then would have covered the patches of sheet ice and frozen tyre tracks.

It was a beautiful day with still, blue skies and a deep covering of fresh powder snow. The sun felt warm but it was cold enough for the snow to stay dry and light. The conditions were perfect for snowboarding, but also, as it turned out, for mountain biking in the snow!

Mountain biking in snowAlthough slightly harder work than usual, the climb was a piece of cake compared to when it had been icy, and I was amazed at how much traction I was able to get on even the steepest sections of the climb. I dare say my newish “Fat Albert” tyres helped (although they weren’t much good on the ice!) and the fact that there had obviously been a few people up before me to forge the trail no doubt helped too.

In some ways the snow covered trail was even easier to negotiate that usual as all of the rough and rocky terrain had been filled in and the step-ups were significantly lower than usual!

mountain biking in snowThe same applied to the drop offs on the descent, which you were just able to roll over. Although the trail was much grippier than it had been when icy, it was still pretty slippy at speed so I had to take it relatively easy, although I didn’t have the same worry about falling and landing on hard ice. At one point I did skid out but the landing on a pillow of soft snow was actually quite nice!

Spooky Wood resembled an awesome boarder cross course with added jumps and drops, and all the way down I couldn’t help thinking how much fun it would’ve been on a snowboard.

There wasn’t quite as much snow lower down and I was able to go a bit less tentatively, but the aching in my leg from my recent fall on the ice served as a reminder not to go too crazy.

Spooky Wood in snowI’d been desperate to go mountain biking in proper snow and it didn’t disappoint, especially on such a beautiful day. The Tweed Valley is a stunning setting at the best of times, but covered in a blanket of snow, it was almost magical, particularly as there was hardly anyone else there.

Going downhill on snow is undoubtedly more fun on a snowboard, and going downhill on a bike is undoubtedly more fun on dirt/mud, but the overall experience was awesome, and easily made up for missing out on the first good Scottish ski day of the season. Particularly as I made it up there a couple of days later…

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Mountain biking on ice

One of the (many) great things about mountain biking is that you can do it all year round, whatever the weather. As long as you’ve got the right gear, and inclination, there’s nothing to stop you shredding as hard throughout the winter months as you do during the summer.

Over the past couple of years I’ve done a fair bit of winter riding and quite like getting a bit muddy, but other than a few frosty rides, I was yet to experience ‘proper’ winter conditions. I do, however, draw the line at storms, and as that’s what we’d been experiencing for the past week or so, I was champing at the bit to get out on the bike. When the turbulent weather finally subsided last Friday I was desperate to hit the trails, so headed to Glentress.

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It was forecast to be bright and sunny but very cold and still pretty windy. However, the fact that the winds weren’t gale force and accompanied by driving rain was a godsend.

Stepping out of the car at Glentress Peel it instantly felt colder than any other time I’d been there and my hands were totally numb before I was even ready to leave. There was no evidence of snow or ice but the air was freezing. As always, the climb warmed me up, although only just, and rather than being the usual sweaty mess, I was a snotty mess instead. The hands took somewhat longer to warm up, which made gear changes particularly painful, but fortunately they were fully functional again before I needed them on the brakes for the downhill sections!

The first signs of ice appeared in the troughs of the jumps section like some kind of malicious booby trap. Fortunately I managed to dodge them but decided that it probably wasn’t the best day to work on my jumping technique. As I continued up the fire road it got increasingly snowy and icy, and by the time I got to the start of the climb up to Spooky Wood, the road was completely covered in snow and scored with tyre tracks of solid ice.

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The climb up to Spooky Wood was pretty sketchy and although I did my best to avoid any existing tracks, there were some sections where the entire width of trail was sheet ice. At one point my bike skidded out from under me and I had to walk for a bit before I could actually get enough traction to get going again.

The view from the top was even more stunning than usual but the prospect of what lay ahead on the descent took the edge off it somewhat. Fortunately there were three young lads about to set off so I quizzed them to see if they’d already been down at all. They hadn’t, and seemed just as apprehensive about it as me. Chatting to them I learned that they were brothers, one being a semi pro downhill rider and another who was mountain biking for the first time. Talk about a baptism of fire! Or should that be ice? And I thought my first time was pretty full on

When Morgan, the semi pro, skidded out on the first drop off and then again on the first berm, it didn’t bode well and I vowed to take it easy. I set off tentatively, trying to avoid the icy bits, but it was impossible not to skid in places. The flatter bermed section was easier to negotiate and the snow felt a bit more grippy so I gradually gained confidence and increased my pace. Next thing I knew my bike skidded out and I landed with a thud on the hard ice, bike on top on me. I’m no stranger to taking a tumble but that was a sore one. Fortunately it was just a bit of soft tissue damage though so I picked myself up sheepishly, urging myself, once again, to take it easy.

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It took about ten minutes to get down Spooky Wood, a section that I normally do is around three, and when we got to the bottom Morgan made the executive decision to give Super G a miss, opting instead to take some “secret trails” through the trees which he didn’t think would be as icy. Not relishing the thought of carrying on by myself I asked if I could tag along and fortunately they didn’t seem to mind!

The trail Morgan picked was infinitely better and we were actually able to blast along at a decent pace for the rest of the descent. It was actually even pretty muddy lower down, which was much more like the Glentress I know and love!

When I got home I discovered that Glentress had issued warnings about the treacherous conditions on their Facebook page, and while it was a bit late for me, it was reassuring to know that my first experience of true winter mountain biking was possibly a bit more extreme than usual.

Despite still sporting some pretty impressive bruises, I headed back up a couple of days later and experienced winter riding at its absolute best. However, as I’ve already banged on for long enough here already, I’ll write about that in a separate post

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Searching for snow

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Morzine

“Maybe we should take our mountain bikes instead”, I said to Dan as we packed our snowboard bag, only half joking. It was mid December and there was worryingly little snow in the Alps. And with only a few centimetres forecast before the return of more mild temperatures, it certainly didn’t look like we were going to get much snowboarding on our first trip of the season. Fortunately we weren’t just going for the snow and were visiting friends who live in St Gervais, but I’d be lying if I said that the chance to get in some early season turns wasn’t a major motivation.

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Avoriaz

It’s always a gamble booking a ski or snowboarding trip before Christmas. Sometimes it pays off, like the year before last, where we experienced some of the best powder we’d ever ridden, and sometimes it doesn’t, as was almost certainly going to be the case this time. Arriving in Geneva it felt like it could easily have been spring, and the temperature didn’t change dramatically as we climbed towards St Gervais. The next day our spirits were lifted when it started to snow, but sadly it soon turned to rain. Our only comfort was that it ought to be falling as snow higher up, but even that wasn’t a certainty.

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The Stash, Avoriaz

With neither St Gervais, Les Contamines nor Chamonix open, the next again day we decided to head to Avoriaz where we hoped the previous night’s precipitation might have fallen as snow. By the time we reached Les Gets and Morzine it became glaringly apparent just how bad the snow shortage was. The slopes were almost completely bare, and a discarded umbrella by the otherwise deserted mountain base was a poetically depressing sight that seemed to sum up the situation perfectly.

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Lower slopes at Les Contamines

It was raining lightly as we climbed up to Avoriaz, and the higher we got, the more desperately we willed it to turn to snow. Sadly it didn’t and on arrival we were disheartened to find almost as many people carrying umbrellas as skis and snowboards. There has to be only one thing more depressing than a lack of snow in a ski resort and that’s rain. However, encouraged by the fact that there seemed to be plenty of people on the slopes, we jumped on the lift, optimistic that it might be snowing at the top. But it wasn’t.

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Upper slopes at Les Contamines

Wiping the drizzle from our goggles and congratulating ourselves for having invested in GoreTex outerwear last season, we strapped on our boards and prepared to make the most of it. Amazingly, other than being a little heavy in places, the snow was actually pretty good and we managed to get some great runs in the limited area that was open. The snow cover was good, however, a chairlift ride over The Stash with its features looking ridiculously unridable, revealed just how much snow was still needed for the resort to open fully. Unfortunately my GoreTex indulgence hadn’t stretched to gloves, and after a couple of hours my usually trusty Hestras were like saturated sponges, and my hands resembled anaemic prunes.

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Freshies at Les Contamines

While it certainly wasn’t the first day of the season we’d dreamed of when we booked the flights back in October, full of hope for a stellar start to the season, we left feeling pretty happy with the day we’d had given the way things had panned out. Unexpectedly ok as it was, we weren’t exactly desperate to head back the next day, especially as conditions weren’t forecast to be any different. There was, however, a decent dump of snow forecast in a couple of day’s time, which coincided with Les Contamines’ (rescheduled) opening date of Saturday 20 December.

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Powder butters

Fortunately the forecast came good and we headed up to Les Contamines for first lifts on the Saturday morning. The snow was pretty average lower down so we went right up to the top as soon as the upper lifts opened. As we rode up the top lift we could barely contain our excitement at the sight of an open bowl full of fresh, untouched snow. As we climbed higher, the people who’d been ahead of us on the lift started to descend, leaving deep tracks in the snow and us even more desperate to get up there. By the time we got to the top there was still plenty of untouched pow for us to get freshies too, which we took great pleasure in doing. We lapped that lift until the entire bowl was tracked out, and then some more. It was better than we could ever have hoped for and we left feeling totally elated. When we got back down to the town it felt like spring again and was hard to believe that we’d been blasting through fresh powder less than an hour beforehand.

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Happy!

We left a few days before the massive storm that caused travel chaos on the busiest weekend of the season but saved the resorts from a disastrous New Year’s week. Unfortunately the turnaround in conditions didn’t last long and the slopes are once again in dire need of replenishment. Hopefully things will pick up in the Alps soon but until they do I’ll be sticking to the slopes of Scotland, on my mountain bike!

Have you been riding yet this season? How was it?

Penmachno Enduro

A couple of weeks ago I did my first mountain biking Enduro race and enjoyed it so much, I’ve already signed up to do another! The race was held at Penmachno mountain bike trails in North Wales and was not only my first mountain biking race, but the first to be held there.

IMG_9333We’d driven down to Liverpool to stay with family a couple of days earlier but still had to get up at 5.30am to make it to Penmachno for an 8.30am start. By the time we crossed the border into Wales the sun was on its way up, and without a cloud in the sky, it soon became apparent that we’d totally lucked out with the weather.

As we’d done a recce a few weeks before, we knew where we were going, but as we drove out of the tiny village of Penmachno towards the trails, it looked completely different to the modestly signposted fire road that we’d encountered on our last visit. A local farmer had allowed the organisers to use his two adjacent fields for parking, camping and event base, and judging by the quantities of horse shit we had to dodge, its usual residents had only recently been evicted.

IMG_9303After registering, we set off on a practice run of the course, which was compulsory for everyone. As with any Enduro race, the route and timed sections aren’t disclosed until a couple of days before the race, although I suspect most people already had a fairly good idea, particularly the locals. One of the reasons for holding the event was to showcase a load of new trails that have just been built, so we knew that those sections would be included. What we hadn’t anticipated was just how long each of the timed sections would be, and after talking to more experienced enduro riders and the organisers, we learned that they were considerably longer, and flatter, than most enduro stages.

IMG_9313One of my biggest worries in the build up to the race was that I’d fall and mess up my timed run, something that proved to be a legitimate concern when, 20 minutes into the practice lap, I hit a root badly and toppled off the trail down a steep bank! Fortunately, other than a rather large bump on my shin and a bit of a scrape, both the bike and I were ok and I quickly clambered back onto the trail before anyone saw! Initially I thought this might not bode too well for the rest of the event, but fortunately it wasn’t a sign of things to come and I managed to stay on my bike for the rest of the day.

When we got back to the base we had an hour or so to wait until our allotted departure time for the timed loop so we grabbed a bite to eat and chilled out, quite literally, in the winter sun.

As our departure time approached I started to get a few butterflies, but the whole thing was so relaxed that they soon disappeared. And besides, we had a fair bit of climbing to do before the first of our three timed descents anyway. We set off in groups of ten people, ten minutes apart, in order to reduce congestion, and although everyone went round the course at a different pace, IMG_9321we pretty much stuck with the same bunch all the way round. I’d noticed at registration, and from general observation, that out of over 200 entrants, less than 20 were girls, so it was nice to see that three of them had chosen to depart at the same time as us.

When we arrived at the start of the first timed section there was a queue of people waiting to set off, which gave us the perfect excuse for a breather before what was commonly being referred to as “the killer” section. Although classed as downhill, it wasn’t all that steep and even had some short uphill stretches, so required a lot of pedaling if you wanted to get a decent time. When my turn came I dibbed in and started pedaling frantically down the rocky trail as if my life depended on it, my old hardtail bike rattling all over the place. When it got IMG_8987steeper I eased off the pedaling to focus on negotiating the obstacles, but as soon I was able, I spun the cranks as fast as I could. By the end of the section I could actually hear my lungs screaming, so when the finish came into view, it was quite a relief. I clearly wasn’t alone as at the end was a congregation of other riders recovering from their exertions before embarking on the next climb, which was also a bit of a killer.

After a steep slog of a fire road it felt good to arrive at the start of the next timed section, especially as it was my favourite of the three. Like the last, it was also quite a long one that required a fair bit of pedaling in places, but there was also plenty of fun downhill to blast down. When we did this section on our recce a few weeks previously, it had been practically dark and pouring with rain so this was a piece of cake by comparison.

SC Ross Media-PenEnd11_14 - 641The stage started with an older stretch of narrow, rocky singletrack through thick forest before giving way to the first section of new trail – a series of smooth swooping berms that are great fun to ride. After popping out onto the fire road, which you could have been forgiven for thinking was the end of the section (I did in practice!) we were directed back onto the older trail again for another pedal-intensive section before the final descent to the end. I got so carried away that I nearly went flying past the dibber, but fared much better than the poor girl in front who went flying over the handlebars on the final drop. She managed to pick herself up though and hobble to the dibber on foot to clock her time. Respect.

IMG_9339The climb to the final timed section was another stretch of fire road but was nowhere near as much of a slog as the last one, which was just as well, as I was starting to feel a little weary by that point. After popping an energy gel to I set off on the final section, which started with another section of smooth new trails. After a series of berms, whoops and drops, the trail climbed a bit (something I hadn’t even noticed before, but really felt this time!) before a series of massive swooping berms that eventually spat you out onto the fire road again to join the final stage of singletrack. This last bit had some really tight switchbacks to negotiate, but was otherwise pretty straightforward. I didn’t have much left in the tank but kept pedaling as fast as I could whilst telling myself not to mess it up now. I would have been gutted to fall or anything so close to the end after having had a pretty good run until then. As it turned out, the unthinkable had happened to Dan as he’d got a puncture just before the end and had to finish the final stretch, which involved a short but rocky climb, with a flat tyre.

IMG_9344As I dibbed out for the final time I felt pretty happy with how it had gone. I’d given it my all, had no real mechanicals (other than a slow puncture that I discovered later), and had managed to stay on my bike the whole way round! Result. Out of around 20 girls who took part (only two of us on a hardtail) I finished around half way down the field, which I figured it wasn’t too bad for a first shot.

The Enduro season is now over for this year, but entries are already starting to open, and close, for next season. We managed to sign up for the Scottish Open King & Queen of the Hill race in the Tweed Valley in August just before it sold out, so can’t wait for that, and will hopefully get a few more in the diary before then too. Until then, there’s lots of winter riding to enjoy, on both bikes and boards!