Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ice Caves, Big lines, Big crashes! 2014 Season goes off with a Bang!

Winter Sunset in Lake Tahoe
This winter has been more then I could have ever prepared for. I competed in 9 competitions all over the west coast. Started the season off traveling to Whistler and then bounced around hitting Colorado twice, making an event in Montana, touring around Lake Tahoe for all the Rahlves Banzai events and to finish off the season flying up to Alaska for some crazy action. I could not be more thankful to family, friends and sponsorship support. Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Oakley, Never Summer Snowboards, Dakine, South Tahoe Crossfit, Phar North and Great Basin Physical Therapy, you guys are absolutely awesome! Thank you all!
Kirkwood powder day with some fun exposure. This icy take off was a bit intimidating but made for a fun line.

Over and over I have heard talk of a "crapy snow year". Well that all depends on where you are! Yes my home had a significant dry spell but man just a bit east everything was going off. Lucky for me the Subaru Freeride Series was located in the depth of winter! Whistler had awesome snow and of course AK always is a blast whether it's a deep year or not.

Last summer I trained my butt off biking, Crossfitting and eating right in preparation for the coming winter. I am so grateful for this because I had know idea what my season had in store for me and strength was key to making every event.

Photo Credit: Jason Hummel  
Hand stand push-ups are a great way to create balanced strength all through out your body! South Tahoe Crossfit.
Whistler was my first adventure this season which I have previously blogged about:
It was a first for me being in a photo contest which was absolutely a blast. It opened my eyes to what I hope my future in snowboarding to be. Shooting photos and being creative with snowboarding is so rewarding and fun. You never know what the end product will be until your day is over and your staring at the computer. Some shots work out and some don't, but I felt so inspired after this trip to continue to shoot film and photos as much as possible. This shot Jason Hummel published in Mountain Magazine. Check out more on Deep Winter using this link!

Team Awesome! Deep Winter Crew
 Photo Credit: Jason Hummel

I was able to come home a ride locally for a bit before my next competition. My home mountain Kirkwood Mountain Resort went off! It was really fun riding Kirkwood during a low snow year. It changed all the lines that I have ridden numerous times into different experiences.  It was a necessary to hang with friends and get to see my partner Josh for a bit. We both travel a ton in the winter so it's important to embrace the moments we have together. He is my best friend so it's fun to come home and share the incredible experiences we have on the road, I love to hear his adventures as well.

Backcountry Fun!
 Photo Credit: Josh Daiek 

Sending it off the Kirkwood Chair 6 Cornice.

This was my 3rd season competing on the Rahlves Banzai Tour. It's such a blessing for Tahoe to have such an crazy race going on locally. The Rahlves Banzai is fast and intense. You never know what to expect. From one course to the other you encounter different obstacles and challenges.

Getting my racer on at the Alpine Meadows Banzai.

The first Banzai event was at Kirkwood. The course was pretty icy through the gully and a bit more manageable at the top. I was a able to clench first place in the first two heats.The 3rd heat was heavy. Iris Laz was on fire! I did my best to catch her but she was out of reach! I ended up in second which was definitely something to celebrate.

Squaw Valley was the next stop. The course was icy, bumpy, slushy and just overall crazy! The girls were riding well but no one was having an easy time. I did great in the first two heats but in the finals I had an epic fail! I fell in the worst place possible. A long heal side traverse where I was wallowing in snow that felt like quick sand. As I watched every girl go by frustration overwhelmed me. I still placed 4th so I can't complain about that.
3-2-1 Send it!
Alpine was where I finally had some redemption. The course had fast big swooping turns and then your flying through a mogul field where you have to straight-line to carry speed into the flats. This had to be my favorite course cause I was able to use my skill in handling high speeds. We all stayed neck and neck in the finals so it was hard telling who would come out in the end. I finished first and I felt so pumped to finally get the win!

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale getting launched into the crowed, a fun part of making it on top of the podium!
Going into the finals I was in first overall, but not by much. The finals course at Sugar Bowl was insanity. Anything you would hope not to be in the race was! Featuring blind roll overs, one man shoots, icy moguls and more. 
I had a great first heat which put me into to semi finals. Unfortunately I blew my drop-in and missed the first gate completely. I had to stop and hike back up and around the gate so I didn't disqualify. I thought there was know way to win but I also knew I had to give it my all to catch the other girls. I went as fast as I possibly could and to be honest was wildly out of control. I was able to pass the 3rd place girl but couldn't manage to get 2nd and 1st.  That unfortunately solidified that I would not be the 2014 Banzai champion. I ended up in 5th place overall after a redeeming performance in the small finals.
My time for redemption! In the small final I had so much fire and focus, eager to win this one to get the 5th place spot.

I ended up in 2nd overall which I was absolutely stoked on. The competition has stepped up a bunch sense the previous years. After placing 1st overall the two years prior it was awesome to pass the torch on to the beautiful and talented, Audrey Hebert, who has a bright future in snowboarding ahead!

Audrey Hebert, Canadian ripper!

SFS started at Crested Butte, CO. It was great to start off the season placing second. I was stoked on my run day one and had a blast in my run day two. Day one I had my first ever Sick Bird nomination which alone was a huge reward! I did have some mistakes in the finals day two which made it impossible to clench first. I have a detailed account of this event in another previous blog:

The second stop of the SFS was Telluride, CO. I had been to Telluride only once before and that was with Josh for one of his competitions. I remembered it being extremely steep and my memory served me right!
 The snow off piste was not ideal but it was sure fast which made for high speed descents. Day one in competition I got a bit lost and missed a couple features. I placed 5th which got me enough points to get into finals. Day two there seemed to be one obvious winning line. It has really gnarly snow and only one major feature. That didn't appeal to me. The judges always express they want to see you having fun. I chose a line airing 15ft off the top then had two ten footers lined up at the bottom. I stomped the first air and went flying full speed into a big shoot. I almost made it out when I hit an ice chunk I didn't see coming. It sent me flying into a front hand spring off my head landing right back on my feet. I just kept rolling with it and stomped my next two features. With that huge fall they placed me in 6th.  I was absolutely devastated. I had a really hard time with this one because Marry Boddington won both Telluride and Crested Butte which fizzled out any chance of me winning and getting the one spot available on the Freeride World Tour.

The last SFS event was held in Big Sky Montana, by this time the Banzai Tour was over and knowing that I could not make the FWT, I was burn't out on competition and not sure if I really wanted to compete.  My body was pretty warn out by this time. I had rolled my snow machine on top of my self messing up my back and crashed hard a few times, I had not been sleeping well and eating pretty poorly from being on the road. In the end I womaned up and decided to stick with the plan. I promised my self this event I would just have fun and ride some memorable lines. Which I made happen! Big Sky is extremely big with rad lines everywhere. It was a huge snow year for them so we got to ride faces you would not typically get to ride in previous years.
 The event was held on the most beautiful competition venue I have seen in a long time. Sistain steeps for at least 1,500ft. There were features all over the place which made for some great action and to top it off the viewing area at the bottom was huge.
Big Sky Day 1 Competition Venue. Ain't she a beauty!
Day one I chose to hit a few smaller features up top which were easily landed. Then for a  much larger feature at the bottom I got snagged on some rock on the take off which sent me flying to the left into a uphill landing. I went straight to my butt. My heart sank when this happened. I knew I would not make it to finals.
Hazel Birnbaum, fellow Kirkwood Kid, Placed 2nd which solidified her spot on the Freeride World Tour! Go Hazel! 
 I finished 11th at this event which put me in 5th overall for the tour. 5th isn't bad though when my goal was 1st it definitely felt a small bite of failure.  I now reflect back and am reminded of all the events I have competed in over the years. I have learned so much about self, friendship, traveling and so on. I have won and I have lost, unfortunately your emotions connected to these outcomes are easily manipulated. Self doubt and self love can be effected by how you preform in a contest. I feel my biggest triumph had to be not abusing myself mentally for not performing ideally at Big Sky. It was the first time I didn't care, I truly felt blessed to be alive experiencing a new adventure full of excitement and beauty. That alone was a moment where I loved my self. I knew if I landed my run I could win and if I fell I could lose. Which it's as simple as that. The outcome should never change my love for self. It was awesome to see where woman's snowboarding has come and all the ladies who made it onto the podium killed it! Way to represent!

After a few epic days of freeriding at Big Sky, I then jumped back on a plane for the Arctic Man Challenge in Alaska! Many people have been asking me all about this event and I had know idea what it would be like. Well to sum it up in a few words:

 Crazy-Wild-Snowmachines-Techno-Ice-Powder-Crashing-RedBull-Beer-Friends-Adrenaline-Chaos-Fireworks-Bonfires-Northern Lights-Dance Party-Fastest Racing!

When I arrived to my connection in Seattle I linked up with my dear friend Shelly Robertson and Jason Hale who I had just met that season on the Banzai Tour. These two where awesome travel buddies. Full of positivity and excitement of whats to come. We got picked up at the airport by the event organizers security team. These two guys were amazing. Covered head to toe in Camo and fully equipped with a crossbow, fireworks and Whisky! I knew we where with some real badass Alaskan folk. We partied in the RV on the way up to Arctic Man celebrating Shelly's birthday!

Upon arrival we toured the Arctic Man City. The camp was full of massive beer tents, food trucks, rock'n snow machines and endless parking spots for the RV'S which would be arriving the next day. This place can get up to 13,000 people and most of them have snow machines. It honestly had to be the most chaotic place other then San Francisco I have been in my life. Me being from South Lake Tahoe, I was a bit overwhelmed but ready to take on the adventure.

This race has to be the most gnarly race I have ever done. The race course is about 2 miles out side of camp. The course starts at the top of a peek where you ideally straight line and carry speed for a few miles and at the bottom of the canyon you hook up with a snow machines and get towed up the canyon. Then when you drive for a couple miles at a point you have to release from the snowmachine and slingshot to the next pitch going as fast as you can to the finish. Total the course can very between 5.5 and 7 miles.
The Axhelm Camp.

View from my camp.

Shelly Robertson and I being Posers :)

I met my puller (Snowmachine Driver), Ashley Axhelm, for the first time at the event. She was small like me and super fired up to get started. I was not very confident but also thought I shouldn't be freaked out until I saw what I was getting myself into. 

When we came up to the course for the first time we sat and watched some people at the hook up. It looked easy enough. You come down the hill, puller holds out the handle, you grab on and go! Ashley and I practiced a couple times and I started to get the hang of the quick throttle. I was having a hard time hanging on through the chop, you can't see anything cause the snow machine kicks up huge chunks of snow and you basically are at the whim of your driver to pull you in a smooth line. By the third practice I thought I would try and hang on through the first gate. I had been letting go because the G forces were so strong I kept getting ripped off. This time I was going to hang on for the long haul. I made it through the first gate and saw I was headed straight for a huge hole! I slammed so hard I felt all my ribs flex and my back crack, I tomohawked  multiple times going who knows how fast. I laid there for a second and realized I had snapped my board in half. This really set the pace for how gnarly this event really was.
The view from the race course.

I just hung out for the rest of the day trying to heal from the crash. Day two I grabbed my extra board and put it into the toboggan that our teams gear was being pulled out to the competition base in. I was determined to do well and redeem myself from the day before. We arrived at the hookup again and I started to get anxiety being back in this zone. It was hard to remember that even though I had never done this event before it was just snowboarding and one thing I do know how to do is snowboard.

We waited and waited for our gear to arrive and when it finally made it I ran over to get started. I grab my board and realized from camp to the race course something had happened. There were 5 inch long gashes running up and down my board. I was so sad. I looked around in disbelief. "Ok it this a sign that I am just not mean't to do this!" Thankfully my friend Boby saw my face and came over. Asked what was wrong and I showed him my board. He laughed a little and said "I think I can help you out!" Thanks to Boby I had a bad ass race board with prime waxing. Probably a better board for this race then anything I had brought. It was a wide board in a 162. This was much larger then I was used to but when your planning at going 60 miles per hour behind a snow machine you want something stable and yes durable.

Ashley ready to get some!

We then finally started day two of training. I did my drop in from the top alone twice just to get some more confidence before we practiced the hook up again. When it came time for the hook up Ashley and I nailed it multiple times. I also got redemption pulls through the first gate and making it into the canyon. By the end of the day I had rode the entire course start to finish and felt confident I could run the course top to bottom on race day.

Race day we started with the Adaptive riders and then move into woman ski, woman, snowboard, men ski and of course finishing off with men snowboard. The adaptive riders where absolutely amazing! They were fearless dropping into the steep run. The woman ski charged and so did the snowboarders. When it came time for me to drop in I was convinced my goal was to finish. Not worry about anything else. I dropped in on this board I had on rode once before. It was a bit grabby but man was it fast! At the hook up Ashley was waiting, when I saw her start to approach I knew it was game on. We had an ok hook up, yet nailed it through the Canyon. At the sling shot we where going between 54-60 miles per hour. When I released I was again on my own. The speed wobbles at release were insane and I was so freaked I was going to go down. I know I lost some time but so stoked I didn't crash. Who knows what its like to crash on hard pack going that fast!  I carried as much speed down the last pitch and made it through the finish alive!
Ashley and I placed 4th! I was so pumped and felt alive. Your in an extreme tuck the whole way down so I could barely walk off the course because of a dead leg! I had a vision of marathon runners who come through the finish and just lay on the ground. I totally get it now!

We celebrated all night shooting off fireworks and dancing our butts off! Arctic man is not for the weak! I definitely think I need to harden up a bit before I ever consider doing this event again.

The next day I got a ride from the event to Valdez Alaska where I finally felt like I could really just relax and come back to center. I met up with a dear friend who also is an amazing photographer, Justin Befu. He had be guiding up at the Alaska Snowboard Guides Heli operation for the season. We were able to get out and do some shooting freeriding. This is where I finally felt at home in Alaska. It's the most freeing place. Justin and I only saw one other person out that day and were able to get fresh lines. If only I had a private photographer every where I went! :) Justin produced some epic shots that I of course hope to be published. We shall see! Regardless of that I had some fun soul shredding which revitalized my spirit after a crazy season.

Justin Befu shooting photos in the Valdez Glacier

Exploring the Valdez Glacier. This was an unbelievable experience. I am one with water :)

The forecast wasn't looking ideal so after just a few days in Valdez I changed my flight early and headed home.
 Reflecting now it's unreal how many incredible experiences I have had. Challenging every aspect of self. Battling with ego and staying true to the essence of snowboarding. Feeling alive and knowing this is where I want to be.

Life is but a dream! It's so delicate and short we should never waist anytime being unhappy. A small note to all of you who managed to read through this long blog...

Anything you want is just a small effort away. If you just believe in your self you can do anything!  The impossible is just your mind playing tricks on you, give yourself some credit and live your dream.

See you all next winter and let's hope the snow gods shine down on Tahoe!