For the snowboarder that travels, there is no debate – the European Alps are at the top of the destination bucket list. Uncommonly known, it is actually just one single mountain range – only it’s a mountain range that spans over eight different countries, resulting in extreme cultural diversity and insane riding possibilities, both on and off piste. Simply put, there is just no other place like it. And for Rip Curl riders Marion Haerty, Lucile Lefevre, Olya Smeshlivava, Kristiina Nyman and Jessy Brown, it meant the guarantee of a Search experience to remember. A quintessential snowboard trip.
For the first leg of the trip, the crew met up in the birthplace of modern mountaineering, the home of the highest peak in Europe – Chamonix, France. The first thing you see when you drive into town is the sight of Mont Blanc, and as the girls said over and over in the car, it’s truly breathtaking. You don’t get to ride under the shade of a 4,800 metre giant every day – and when you add on the additional 3,800 metres from the valley that lies below the summit, it’s nothing short of majestic.
Perhaps Jessy explained it best as we sat around one night in the Alps, chilling out on the sofa, sipping on peach schnapps and the local mulled wine. “I’ve only heard stories and seen photos of this magical place,” she said, perhaps a little tipsy. “I’ve been overwhelmed with excitement about this trip. The thing is, I’ve chosen to stay as open as possible during this trip – not to take any preconceived notions in to it.
“One of the first things that struck me as I got to France was the architecture. I was simply in awe with the history the walls conveyed and community vibe through the streets and paths of little towns niched right on the flanks of these crazy Alps. I was just so inspired. Seeing any kind of mountain life was a treat. I found myself learning so much by observing, I started looking at mountains with a fresh outlook even though I’ve spent most of my life in mountains. My home mountain is Whistler, BC, and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring my backyard – but the Alps are just on another level. The sheer vastness of the Alpine humbled me. I really felt how little of a human I was, and instantly had so much respect for my surroundings.”
And that’s how the trip unfolded. Observing. Taking it in. Everything was a surprise, and the crew embraced it.
As for the riding, the team found a fun border cross/banked slalom slope on the very first day, and it was the perfect training ground to let loose. French Rip Curl team rider Sébastien Konijnenberg tagged along for an expression session, hitting just about every jump or flat trick table he could find. Back at the chalet the evening consisted of sampling the local cheese specialty, “tartiflette”. Coupled alongside the typical cold cuts of the region, it was unbeatable.
But the indulgence had to end, because it was time to hit the road. The next destination was the ski resort of La Rosière, just a few hours’ drive from Chamonix. It’s a French resort but it’s also very close to the Italian border, which means that there were hopes to ride in both countries. And while Marion jetted off to Austria where she was set to compete in the Freeride World Tour, the crew headed south, driving head-on into a fresh dumping of snow. Timing is everything, no? And although the incoming powder inhibited them from crossing the border, the French side and its untouched tree lines made up for it.
Next to drop from the team was Lucile, who was en route to join the French freestyle team. So then there were three – Olya, Kristiina and Jessy – and they took to the road, heading across Switzerland and into Austria to meet up with Marion and the Freeride World Tour. They had hopes that because there was an event set to run, it meant there was a dumping on the way. But by the time the trio made it to the Bavarian city of Munich, there was word that the contest was postponed due to poor conditions. Not ideal, no…
But rather than mourn the time they spent travelling, they cut their losses and decided to turn back to Switzerland. But not without a day or two in Munich, of course – big city, snowy day… how could they not? And their decision proved to pay off, because this famous German city also happens to play host to an infamous river wave.
The Eisbach river is fairly narrow, and at a certain junction in the river, there are just enough stones piled up that it creates a naturally flowing stand-still wave. So every day in the English Gardens in the middle of the city, surfers congregate around the riverbank, launching themselves straight into the freezing water with their boards. Depending on the amount of water, the wave can go from a metre high, epic and quite difficult to stay up and riding, to small and… still quite difficult to get onto.
But the crew wasn’t to be discouraged by a challenge. So they grabbed some Rip Curl wetsuits (thickest they could find, of course) and gave it a try. They found the experience to be… surreal. One of those things in life that you wouldn’t even think of writing down on your bucket list.
“Yeah, that was an experience I will never forget,” Jessy recalled a few days later, a smile on her face.“It was snowing and there we were, putting our wetsuits on in the middle of the city. You can imagine the looks we got! I think that’s what made the adventure so fun: the randomness of city surfing, the hype we had created and the vibe we got from spectators watching while all bundled up in winter coats. I will be the first one to tell you I wasn’t the best surfer, but I had the best time.”
For the last leg of the trip, Les Grisons awaited. This area is the most eastern part of Switzerland and mainly German speaking, but both French and Italian are spoken as well, making it the only trilingual canton of the country. The girls got the chance to ride some good parks under the sun, and finished the two-week trip with a bang.
It was, put simply, quintessential Europe – and they wouldn’t have had it any other way.