*Originally published in our Vol 13. January Issue. Words & Photos by Nate Abbott / PBP
What sticks in my mind from this trip are the contrasts, mundane as they may be: Being surrounded by enormous mountains and endless terrain, but only venturing more than a kilometer from the road on one of ten days. The anger of an innkeeper following us out of his lodging screaming auf Deutsch contrasted with our expectation that for a nightly price of over a hundred Euro apiece we should each have our own bed and maybe even some floor space for our bags. The discomfort of a “non-smoking table” in the middle of a restaurant where every other patron is smoking versus the delicious local food and beer. Going to an authentic Austrian mountain town and spending most nights at a joint called the Funky Chicken where we eat fries as side dishes to pseudo-Indian meals. Sitting in the Funky Chicken watching five-year-old ski movies featuring some of our crew doing 3s and 7s after we have spent all day trying the most preposterous of new contest tricks on a hundred-plus foot kicker into a powder landing. Watching footage, during a weekly celebration of St. Anton’s skiing history, that mixes extra heavy Eurocarving with the aforementioned footage of house-to-house-to-house gap jumps, then going back to our lodging and looking over Simon’s shoulder as he watches every speed check, trick, landing and angle of double-flipping 1080s.
The Dumont attacks this big wally to drop.
And also in my mind is the memory of our special day. Not Jossi 25 feet over a bus precariously sliding an uneven concrete ledge or Simon sliding concrete and dropping an unhealthy distance to a small flat pile of snow or Bene grabbing and poking on the second rotation of a trick that could win a big-air contest. No, our special day dawns with overcast skies and a decidedly unremarkable amount of fresh snow. But we realize that Sonnenkopf, a few kilometers over the Arlberg pass, has more than double the forecasted 15 cm of snow, and we gather lift passes, avalanche gear, powder skis and our wits. And we spend the whole day ignoring the responsibilities of our fortunate jobs, and we let the snow that lays over a surprisingly carvable springtime base be an unexpected gift. Each run is a mix of turns, yells, joys and moments that will not be forgotten as TJ, Simon, Jossi and Bene do backflips, 360s, hand drags and shifties off each roll, mini pillow line or moss-covered rock until we reach the obvious line between winter powder and spring slush and cruise the final 500 or so feet to the bottom of the tram and head up to do it all again.
As we fly home over the curls of ice and water that shift and swirl into the Atlantic from the coast of Newfoundland, a Lufthansa 747 overtakes us close enough that we feel its turbulence. I wonder who is on that parallel path — perhaps a young skier on his or her way to explore North America? A trip to Europe brings us close to new people, places and things, yet frequently a lot of our interaction is limited to PR people and the workers at restaurants and shops that we frequent. But not always.
A little job security for the Austrian snow plow drivers.
One night at the Funky Chicken, a long-time ski instructor well past the age I would expect to be a follower of freeskiing, leans over to our table, tells Simon that he looks familiar, and asks, “Are you a skier?” Which leads into a conversation about how much respect he has for the activities and skills of Simon, TJ, Bene and Jossi.
I think of the families living in chalets where we rented rooms, families who can’t possibly appreciate our early mornings, making so much noise with our ski boots and bags of gear on the way to some kicker session; or late evenings, returning after dark and filling their home with the stench of sweat, piles of wet ski clothes and yip yaps of joy while watching footage from the day. The children in these families, who peer around the corner hoping for a glimpse of TJ, ask me why I’m carrying three backpacks, and they want so badly to watch the mini-edits that come together as the trip grows by days and by shots.
Maybe these kids will grow up in their mountains as skiers, and possibly our brief relationship will inspire them to make freeskiing a life, and perhaps they will be able to explore our continent. It makes me feel that they could be influenced by a DVD left behind or a story in a magazine, as I was in my youth by skiers and media, to explore this sport and ride it to a new future.