Closing the circle

12.105km.

3 countries.

16 resorts.

82 days, 3 hours and 22 minutes.

Thousands of powder turns.

Hundreds of kicker jumps.

Zero severe injuries.

Countless new friends.

These are some of the numbers of the Perfect Winter. But you know as well I do that there is much more to a long trip than mere numbers. While I’m finding it difficult  to stay away from emotional clichés when talking about this season in the Alps, let me try to stick to the facts of these last few months.

One of the big objectives of The Perfect Winter was to witness the changing of the seasons. In Portugal, especially in the south, spring and fall are kind of extensions of a long summer. Even our winter is very mild when compared to higher latitutes. Therefore, we are not used to the changes that come as Earth spins around the sun. In the Alps, on the other hand, these changes are not only obvious but they also profoundly affect the lives of the people living in and around the mountains. First of all, green and brown give place to a magical white carpet covering everything. I was fortunate enough to witness the first heavy snowfall that kicked this late winter into full gear.

At first I didn’t grasp the true importance of this in Alpine life, but it’s pretty obvious. While this generation relies on snow to make ends meet as it attracts tourists, previous generations would wait for snow to cover the fields and fertilize the earth for cattle grazing and crops. It’s scary to think that all this can change as winters get shorter and snow falls higher and higher.

I must say that even thought this winter was far from harsh, I enjoyed it to the maximum. Because I was there all the time and with the right people, I could go out whenever conditions were perfect. You can read all about this throughout this blog…

Eventually the season in Tirol came to an end. By the time of departure spring had arrived and once again I was privileged enough to witness the changing of the season, as the snow starts to melt and the grass starts to grow.

This time the arrival of a new season had a strong impact. After  my first winter in the mountains I could really feel the days getting longer, and the warmer temperatures seeping through the valley. Experiencing the incoming Spring is hard to describe in words, and quite pointless at this time actually. However, while it did put a different positive vibe into the daily routines, it meant that Perfect Winter was ending.

I left Tirol on March 15, and headed West towards the beautiful village of Villars, in the Vaudoises Alps in Switzlerland. This town and the surrounding mountains are a picture perfect place – but extremely expensive. The obscene prices around here were simply an insult for someone coming from southern Europe, even after spending a season in Austria where the cost of living can be similar to that of Portugal if you shop smart. However, I was invited by friends to stay over and their company largely compensated for this financial shock. I ended up exploring most of the amazing mountains in Villars, Les Diablerets and Glacier 3000 in just 2 days, with a hint of local knowledge and chilled vibe. Thank you David and André!

The final stage of this journey would really represent the closing of the circle. Most of us usually started skiing or snowboarding  with friends, and still spend their holidays in the mountains in groups, and friends are probably the most important part of every snowtrip. Most of the fun comes from the people you are with, regardless of the snow conditions or how nice the place is. So being reunited with the MG Snowtrip family in France, who I have travelling with for some time now, was indeed returning to the origins of snowboarding: sliding down slopes with your snow buddies. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t take some time to adjust to be snowboarding with other people around me instead of simply roaming free, but in the end it’s just another way to enjoy life in high altitude.

There are hundreds of photos of this amazing gathering of friends and snow enthusiasts here and here, so I’l just post one that shows the good spirit present in this snowtrip.

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The drive back to good old Portugal was nice and easy. I was blessed with amazing waves right when I arrived, and pretty much that sums up the invaluable experience from this Perfect Winter.

However, the ride is never over. There will be more winters to spend and more paths to travel.

Ride on.

 

Tourist no more

Looked out the window. It’s a complete whiteout, flat light, and the recent rain took all the new snow. It looks like this:

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That’s it for me, I’m staying home. Am I a tourist no more?

After more than a month straight in the Alps, my perspective has evolved (much more than my performance, unfortunately, but who cares anyway?). I no longer feel the urge to go out to the slopes everyday, nor do I particularly enjoy riding pistes anymore. After being introduced to some of Tirol’s secret spots and riding for 5 days straight in what could be considered a private, untracked, unspoiled, private mountain, maybe it turned me into a bit of a snob. Obviously I have to get down to earth and think about how lucky I am to be doing this and especially how grateful I am to the local crew who is showing me around. Does riding with the locals make me a local? No it does not. But it does shift my way of riding  and reading the mountain into something more than being a tourist.

I have nothing against being a tourist – after all, it is virtually impossible to avoid it. If you only can take a week a year to go some place far away and do something you really enjoy, there’s no problem whatsoever. I did exactly that until this trip, and will probably continue to do so. But my point here is that that there is so much more to a place, any place, than what can be seen and experienced in one or two weeks per year. You have to take the time, to put in the hours to know the people, know the spot,study the conditions and learn when it’s good and when it’s not. How are you going to do this if you have to plan your trip months in advance, and stay only for a fidgety 6-day opportunity to release all the eagerness to shred that you accumulated over the year? Of course you’re going to go out every day, from opening to closing, no matter if it’s windy, cold, foggy, wind blown, snowing, freezing or simply dry of snow. You’re gonna be out, and you’ll make it worth.

The obvious comparison is with the beach. After being in the Algarve for 15 years, I hardly go to the beach in the summer (except for surfing, if it’s pumping). The ridiculous crowd filling the sand and the roads is just a nightmare. And  they all seem to come for the same places, at the same time, with all the things the Algarve has to see. And yet, I cannot blame these people who can only come for this small period and enjoy their time, making the most of what they know. That’s me in the mountains up until now.

I fear this season will damage my future snow vacations. After spending a whole winter in the Alps, and experiencing the best the mountain has to offer while knowing that you cannot plan these things so far ahead, it will be hard to be a tourist again. Or maybe not, maybe that will make me even more stoked to return to this magical place.

But what am I talking about? I haven’t even left! You know what? I’m gearing up and going shredding!

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Why Austria?

If you had to choose a destination to spend 3 months of your life, paying hard-earned money to stay at a carefully picked location, with enough solitude to feel like a soul-searching trip yet close enough to civilization to be able to leave your house on foot and access stores, local ‘wildlife’, transportations and whatever it was that drove you there… would you choose a country that speaks one of the most unintelligible languages of Europe (at least for us Latin speakers, but I suspect we’re not alone on that one), and a region that boasts the most unfriendly, inaccessible and harsh geography on the Old continent?

Well I did. Austria was always the choice to spend The Perfect Winter. And despite the obvious disadvantages (language being number one), here’s why.

– It is beautiful. The Alpine landscape here is just breathtaking. And yes, I am aware that the Alps start in France and cross Switzerland, Liechtenstein, good ol’ Oesterreich, Germany, Italy and all the way into Slovenia. In all these countries the mountains look good. But there is a special care with the landscape in Austria that is truly heart-warming. Especially compared to the landscape raping you see in that country that starts with an F and has baguettes.

– It is cheap. Ok, it’s not cheap. But it is definitely cheaper than any other Alpine country. Yes, I know, choosing wisely you may find here and there cheaper places in other countries. Or not. After having been in every one of the latter (except Germany) for snow holidays, I can tell you, for example, that the cheapest beer in any French resort costs more than the most expensive beer in Austria. And it always tastes better here, hands down. Food is cheaper too – try eating out in Switzlerland. Or even in Alpine Italy, and you’ll see those €€ flying away so fast you won’t have the chance to say goodbye. Even the lodging is cheaper, but that’s not the main plus about it…

– Everything always looks brand new. Everything. The houses. The roads. The cities. The streets. The gardens. The buildings. The infrastructure at any ski resort, it is mind-boggling, it’s always spanking new. How on earth do they do it? At every apartment I was in during holidays in Austria, everything was just clean and perfectly set. No paint coming off on a hidden corner. No patch of rotten wood on the back of the house. Brand new furniture. How do they do it? Go to a restaurant. Nothing looks remotely used. Go outside. The buildings look perfect. What materials are those? How often are they maintained? As I said, mind-boggling.

– Things work. Maybe it’s because of the proximity with their German cousins – or maybe due to their common origin, better yet – stuff works. Rules and regulations apply, oh yes. But it simply works.

– The people are a strange and balanced mix of German stiffness and southern warmth. Strange but it works fine for me.

– Did I mention the mountains look amazing? It is just breathtaking.

There are of course other negative aspects (other than the language, and even that, I must say, I am growing fond of). But everything is bearable. Except for one detail.

The hedious music exhaling from the aprés-ski bars. Oh dear. We are in the country of Mozart, for goodness sake. Or Parov Stelar. Or Kruder & Dorfmeister. How can they assassinate so much good music with the euro-dance garbage puking out of so many overly loud speakers everywhere around 4PM?

But hey. It ends soon, and then you have those mountains around you. And it makes everything fine again.

The first video

After the first days, where there was a bit of everything (no snow and sun, rain, wind and finally a heavy dump of the white fresh powder), I give you the first video. It was shot today in Hochfugen.

Temperature at 2000m was -7ºC, no wind and poor visibility. It was snowing the whole day but it ended up being a great snowboarding day.

(I am truly sorry for not posting more frequently, but I am still catching up to riding everyday. Once I get home and sit in front of the computer, I am so tired that I can hardly keep my eyes open. But soon I’ll be fitter than ever!)

The Perfect Winter has landed!

Stoked is the word! We drove 2600km during 4 days, crossing 5 countries and we made it! How freakin’ cool is that!!?

Spain and France were easy, as we found hardly any traffic and good weather. But as soon as we entered Switzerland… full on traffic jam from the border onwards. We were heading for Lausanne to stay at a good friend’s house and came across friday rush hour traffic, combined with the first real winter weekend this season, where every Geneva inhabitant seems to drive their oversized over-luxury car to their chalets in the mountains. Seriously, the density of Jaguars, high end Mercedes, BMWs and many other seriously expensive cars (that unfortunately I do not know the name) per square meter on those roads was just mind-boggling. But eventually we got to Lausanne, where our friends Sergio and Marylin had prepared us an amazing raclette. Tank you for that great dinner and company, for the nice beers, bottles of wine and for a great night sleep.

(no pictures though…)

And it was good that we woke up nice and relaxed because after a fantastic breakfast with snowboard master André Pisco in Montreux (next to the Freddie Mercury statue – we will rock you, baby!) we were in for a treat.20160109_112753

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The. Worst. Traffic. Jam. Ever. Which lasted for the whole of Switzerland. On its longer side. With rain. And no views, for what would eventually be one of the best scenic routes of the world. Thank you, relentless capitalism.

Eventually we got to Bodensee, which in any other day would be a mandatory stop. But we were so fed up with the road that we just passed by and aimed straight into Austria. And what did we find as soon as we passed the border? This.

Heavy rain, fog, and by 4pm it was already so dark we could swear it was midnight. And yet we had still more than 3 hours of driving ahead. And lets not forget we are crossing the Alps here, and we’d been driving already for 4 hours. Did I mention we got heavy Lexus, Cayenne and Jaguar traffic jams throughout?

Anyway, we made it. The FreshPipe Snowmobile got us through Central Europe and we were ready to roll into The Perfect Winter, my first day of the season, and my 39th birthday.

And this was the view as I woke up in Gerlosberg:

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And my birthday present to myself was this: a season pass for the Tirol region!

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And with this card and a stupid smile on my face we went up the chairlift to find a fabulous day on the slopes of the Zillertal Arena. While the valley was covered with clouds, there was sunshine above 1000m. The slopes were fantastic, not many people and we just went cruisin’. Hey, just see for yourselves.

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But this was just the beginning. The Perfect Winter is not about being a tourist in a famous resort, is about going deeper into the heart of the Alps. But give me some space to enjoy a bit of time out before I go on that deeper side. And speaking of which, the forecast for the next days is up to 50 cm of fresh powder. I’ll let you know all about it in the next posts, stay tuned!

The Crowdfunding experience

‘Support something meaningful. It’s as simple as that’.

This is the headline on the indiegogo webpage, where The Perfect Winter crowdfunding campaign is hosted. This was my first time running such an endeavour, although I contributed to a few in the past. The idea is brilliant: instead of searching for a lot of money from a few major sponsors, companies, brands or the keyholders of any business areas (and banks, let’s not forget that), it  searches for a bit of money from a lot of people. It’s actually kind of revolutionary because it frees the entrepreneurs from the corporative agendas, and puts the idea directly to the test within its target audience. Although it does involve a lot of work (more than I anticipated, oh yes), the thought of skipping a step in the financial chain is very rewarding, and the creator of the concept, product or service gets to feel what is the economic value of its ‘thing’.

Academic considerations aside, it is also a very emotional thing. The perfect Winter is a personal idea, that can only be valued by people who think more or less like I do – outdoor sports and adventure lovers, nature enthusiasts and, let’s be honest, dreamers of some sort. Some people do not get the appeal of spending a winter in a cold, snowy, foreign place, leaving your job and risking professional, social and family consequences. But the ones that can see beyond that – such as you, who are reading this, I suppose – did probably get a smile when you first heard or read about this project. I know I would. So, when you – the supporters of this campaign – put your contribution in, despite all the effort and hardship to earn your salary, you deposit more than the €€ value. There is a bond and and a vote of confidence that I take very seriously. I will do my best not to let you down, because from this moment on, The Perfect Winter is no longer a solitary travel, we are in this together. And believe me, I am so, so thankful for each and every one of you who contributed.

This emotional side was unexpected, to be honest. I was aware of the work, and I was aware of the process, and the networking effort, and the marketing, the persistence. But I was not aware of the gratitude I would feel whenever people would contribute. Nor was I prepared to the sarcasm of the nay-sayers, and the indifference of a few close ones. But hey, it’s all part of the experience. And the negatives are wildly compensated by the positive vibes when someone I hardly met long ago sends me a message ‘great idea, I hope you accomplish your goal. I put in my contribution’. And not to forget the help from the sponsors, who made all the perks possible, and actually believed in this project while it was still in a very early stage.

‘Vestir a camisola’ (to put on the uniform, in a free translation) is a portuguese expression for dedication to a cause. I like to think of myself as someone that does that in everything I put myself into, and is a quality that I really appreciate in people. I cannot thank enough to all of you who ‘vestiram a camisola’ of The Perfect Winter!