It's been an epic start to the season here in Innsbruck- I haven't skied a November in the Northern Hemisphere before and I didn't know it would be this good. The Austrian glaciers have been treating me really well, and I've been lucky enough to ski better-than-average conditions for this time of year. A big thanks to the Innsbruck crew, especially Fabi, Jochen, Julian and Lukas for giving me a place to stay and a ride to the mountains, as well as the rest of the crew for being so fun to shred with!
For a start check this out, my FWT buddy Raphi Webhofer filmed me ranting about Komperdell poles and protectors while wearing my new Surfanic Hunter Jacket and Eaton Pant, I put an edit together and they put it on the front page of their website! I think they are the biggest pole company in the world so I'm stoked, check out the comedy edit- it includes unused helmet cam footage from the For a Few Lines More movie as well as super recent footage from the Innsbruck glaciers with me in the new Surfanic gears.
Also check this out, I got another poster from Fischer this year! Thanks for the pic Klaus P, Downdays.eu bossman.
I'm @neilwilliman on Instagram
Here's another few of my favourite instagram pics that I've got since I've been here, already captioned on the right side:
And check it out I got the cover image of the Planks team edit! Rocking out in my favourite Surfanic gears from last year- blue Blasted jacket and white Prime pants.
Credit: Mathias Bergmann/Sweetshots, from the Fischer team shoot at Monashee Snowcats, BC
Can you handle more content? This is another video promo that I filmed and edited to help promote the launch of Dr Zipe's new goggle the Headmaster. It's got some of my favourite pow shots from South America, along with my Fischer teamate Niki Salencon. This is the last of my South America content really, but my love affair with that place is going to continue.
I'm here training for another week and then embarking on a trip that will take me Innsbruck-Stockholm-Christchurch-Vancouver-Revelstoke-Vancouver-Stockholm-Innsbruck before 2014 hits. On the way I will attend/organise the NZ Premier of 'For a Few Lines More' (check out the poster below), compete in the Freeride World Tour stop at Revelstoke, achieve frequent flier status and drive a car from Sweden back to Innsbruck with my beautiful girlfriend Tove. Gonna be a good one!
So I last left you in Portillo ski resort, having just crossed the border from Argentina, and had a couple of amazing days skiing powder to start off our Chilean experience. We followed it up another overnight drive, as was the theme of the roadtrip to avoid paying for hostels every night. Tove and I ended up on the sunrise shift again as we came through the green plains en route from Santiago to Pucon as the local scenery continued to impress. Chile is much greener than Argentina since the weather systems come from the west and lose most of their heavy moisture in the form of rain to enable themselves to rise above the mighty Andes. This is the same situation as exists on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand and the views felt closer to home than Europe, with the exception of the exclusively Spanish signs.
Looking down from near the top of Super C colouir at the Portillo pass from which we would continue our drive down and to the right of the photo into Chile
Morning light on my Dr Zipe
Arriving in Pucon
This car actually worked and was full of stock for the kiosk behind it!
Getting touristy on it
We arrived in Pucon 13 hours later in the morning of a beautiful sunny day and were immediately awestruck by the landscape dominating volcano the seemed to fill the sky of the ’Center of the south of Chile’. Skiing off the summit was the last of our main goals for the roadtrip, which the others at our cosy hostel seemed to think was a big deal- that had already or were planning to take a guided tour up there including renting an ice axe, crampons, a guide and a hilarious shovel-like apparatus to sit and slide down on. The fear of alpine conditions had been drilled into them from all angles, which I assumed to be partly justified and partly to convince them to pay for the expensive tour. They didn’t know what to make of us when we said that we were just going to ski tour up, and then went to bed nice and early since they had be up at 6 and leave by 7am in the guides van. We planned to leave at 9 but ended up getting up at that time, having a leisurely breakfast, sorting out our gear and eventually leaving the hostel at 11. This meant that by the time we arrived at the gate to the national park and tried to pay entry fee the park warden told us we were too late and not allowed to begin climbing.
Not discouraged we took the other fork of the road to the ski area carpark instead, which although lower meant that we were able to sneak onto the lifts and save about an hour of touring time, definite win and cheaper, thanks Mr Park Ranger. We enjoyed the sunny and windless day and commented more than once about how incredibly lucky we had been with the weather on this trip, along with everything else! Sometimes things just don’t go your way, but this week had definitely not been one of those times. Even the guys that had to skip the volcano to do some work during the day (who worked by distance and hadn’t told their boss that they were going on a road trip) enjoyed a beautiful day in the sun as they caught up on emails.
Stoked to have just got some free vertical from the chair in the background
Tove is laughing at the tour group mountaineer bum sliders behind me
View over the clouds from the top
We eventually caught up with one of the guided tour groups, who eyed us warily as if we were an unpredictable foreign species with unfamiliar sticks on our feet instead of shovels under our bums. To be fair to them we had been lucky that it was one of the warmest days of the Spring so far, meaning that we were able to keep our skis on until about 50 metres short of the summit, where the icy moonscape finally forced us into bootpacking the last of the summit ridge. I’ve heard that luck favours the brave though, and that you make your own luck, two quotes that I assume came from inconceivably lucky people. Even so we were feeling so smiled upon by lady luck that day and week that we could probably have penned another few sayings about how luck comes to those who smile back, but we were too busy taking time lapses and getting sunburnt.
Looking into the crater, there was too much sulfer steam to see much but we could hear the lava bubbling away
Stoked to have touring poles for a change, and that Tove's knee got her to the top of a volcano first day back on skis after tweaking it in Portillo
Arty view from the top by Harris' iphone
The clouds began to roll in as we admired the view from the summit but this only provided an even more spectacular backdrop for the skiing pics that we snapped on the way down, and we were nearly back to the carpark by the time they actually enveloped us more the mystical looking short walk back to the car. That night we rewarded ourselves with a restaurant meal (and personally an 800 gram steak), followed by a visit to the local natural thermal springs and a swim in the neighbouring snowmelt river. Chile you are amazing.
Harris enjoying the spring snow decent
Me spraying the clouds
0.8kg steak reward dinner
The next day we drove back to Bariloche, across a Chilean-Argentinean border that turned out to be a gravel road. We got thoroughly lost, to the growing distress of the two crew that were trying to get back to work, and the growing enjoyment of us that had nowhere to be and got to see traditional farming villages, wild animals swimming and a pair of Condors playing together in the wind. We saw the local Gauchos (Argentinean cowboys with traditional bright clothing and berets) rounding up cows with their horses, open farming houses brimming with chickens and turkeys, waited out a wild sheep roadblock and eventually had to ask directions in our limited Spanish before giving the Kangoo a push to get it up the last hill back to the road to civilisation. This was one of my favourite parts of my whole trip for sure, a paradise for us tourists in a place that tourists never seem to go, given the way the farmer looked at us when we asked him for directions.
This was pretty standard
Extremely free range chickens
Totally in our half of the one lane
Boss sheep giving us the eye
Once we made it back to a sealed road we were also treated to the 7 lakes road back to Bariloche which is the more well known beautiful drive in the area. Cruising the smoother road in the warm afternoon sunrays gave us some time to think and talk about the amazing experiences and luck that we had had over the past week, filling our bellies with the warm contented feeling of chances taken and gambles paid off.
One of the 7 lakes from the name of the road
The next few days in Bariloche felt mellow in comparison, spring conditions had set in and we enjoyed some casual laps in the park, hitting some rails felt nice but also weird after spending most of the last 3 weeks in the backcountry! Niki lent me his Big Stix 100 to ski park which still felt pretty small after so long on my 192cm Big Stix 122, the only ski I took to South America J He also showed us a follow cam video of what he had been up to in the Van Titter valley (between Cerro Catedral resort and the Refugio Frey valley), scoring the same storm that we had got in Portillo, check it out here!
Niki's edit from the Bariloche sidecountry while our roadtrip crew were scoring the same storm in Portillo
And suddenly it was time to get the bus back to Buenos Aires for our flight, which this time we took with the American crew that we had done the road trip with. Another 22 hour ride in first class bus comfort, check my earlier blog for pics to see what I mean. The Americans also invited to stay at their place in the city where they live when they’re not in Bariloche and it turned out to be a bit of a mansion, even city rent is cheap in Argentina! As long as you take cash to exchange at the black market rate kiddies, remember that. We enjoyed a night out partying the night before we left too, even though it was a Monday, and still managed to get kicked out of a club. I feel like we fitted as much as possible into the month we had there, but there is still so much to see and do and I already can’t wait to go back!
We weren’t quite as lucky with our airport check in on the way back to Europe and had to pay for our obscenely heavy ski bags, but I figured out that I’m going to get frequent flier status on Star Alliance by the end of this year too so that put me in a better mood, airport lounges and a free ski luggage for me next year! We got to Munich and took an airport transfer to Innsbruck, gaping at the first world and how unfamiliar and unnecessarily over-developed and clean it was in comparison. It was Oktoberfest too which added an even weirder element of drunker tourists that seemed over ready to throw their money at anything vaguely amusing, and we hoped that we hadn’t resembled them in South America.
Our stoke began growing again soon though because we were on our way to Innsbruck for the premier of ‘For a Few Lines More’ at IF3 (the International Freeski Film Festival), the ski movie that I am in courtesy of Whiteroom Productions and Fischer. We arrived in time to hang out and catch up with the crew, drink beers and smile before heading to the cinema together. The movie theatre was the biggest one they had and sold out which felt really good after all the effort that we put into the film, and I was stoked to see myself on a proper bigscreen for the first time. We got up on stage with the producers and director to talk about our parts in the film and the trips we went on before it showed too and it really seemed like people cared about what we had to say, or maybe it was just because we were about to throw a bunch of free stuff off the stage at them.
Nice start to IF3 Innsbruck for us, the sold out cinema filling up for our movie 'For a Few Lines More' by Whiteroom Productions
Whiteroom Productions crew on stage
Everyone spoke German except me
I was stoked on the film, here are the tour dates and trailer, then it’s dropping online for free in spring! I’m already motivated for an even better part next year and we’re looking at trips to Canada, Iran and Norway to try and be a bit more organised than the pre-heli library session that Fabi and I had to do in Canada last year :-P
So then it was time to be one of the tourists and check out Oktoberfest on the way home, it was a cool thing to do once, but be warned that the 1 litre handles of beer are also 7% because it got the best of me and I missed the last train back to Innsbruck, now I owe Fabi a big favour for picking me up from the Germany/Austria border.
Turns out I've been spelling this wrong
Alex Hoffman and I getting overconfident
I got back to Sweden in time to make the most of the warmest Autumn that Tove has seen in a long time and had to spend a lot of time on the computer organising the season and updating my website etc. But now it’s done, I’m now skiing for Dr Zipe, Komperdell, Pieps and Quiver Killer Inserts as well as my long time sponsors of Fischer, Surfanic, Planks and Incline, so stoked! And as I write this I’m on way back to Austria to meet Pieps and get free avalanche training with the team, a perfect pre-season session. Check out the Skiers Left foundation if you want to know more about freeride specific avalanche safety. So I’ll be skiing again in a few days on Sölden glacier and then staying in Innsbruck for the rest of the season! With the exception of competition and filming travels that I’m equally excited about J Bring on the good times! To all of you out there about to head off on a season as well- have fun and stay safe, hope to see you out there!
Roads are not the best feature of South America so the driving time of 38 hours is grossly underestimated
Words by me, photos by everyone in the blog.
As many of the events in my life seem to go, this was an unplanned, super lucky, sometimes stressful but very eventful week- an 8 day roadtrip from Bariloche, Argentina and back. Up the Argentinean side of the Andes and down the Chilean side with aplenty closed passes, long colouirs, touring volcanoes and getting lost in beautiful backwater farming villages, where learning Spanish on the fly was the only way to get directions out.
How did it start? We met 4 friendly Americans in Bariloche and they just happened to want to go to Portillo, Chile the same as us- where another friend of mine Andrew Rumph had recommended us to come visit him. Turned out they had already looked into renting a car and two more was not a crowd, so not long after we were departing in a mighty 7 seat Kangoo, with skis packed inside and outside the roof as taught to me by Austrian Kangoo master Fabian Lentsch, thanks buddy. It was a long overnight drive to Mendoza but my turn to drive came just in time to catch one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen, complete with a full moon and wild Argentinean countryside.
3 of our new American friends Harris, Dan and Max dealing well with the indoor skis
Thanks big sign
Earlier on there was a full moon in the shot too, phonetoe just couldn't do it justice, photo by me
As one makes the pilgrimage from the Los Pampas province of Argentina to that of Los Andes Mendoza is the gateway city between the plains and the mountains. An old and beautiful city of award winning architecture it has a large Chilean population due to its proximity to the border, meaning that our arrival on the 19th of September was high on festivities and low on vacancies- it was Chile’s national day. The hostel that we managed to find space for all 6 of us (in different rooms) was near to a city park, a park filled with music, dancing, flags and of course several large farms worth of ‘carne’. It seems the Chileans place meat at the bottom of the food pyramid as much as Argentineans, as in 5 plus a day, which may be why the local Argentines seemed fine with the celebrations that were the equivalent of a Canada day party in the USA.
Tove stoking out on the Chilean national day celebrations complete with a meat street
Street art in Mendoza
The next day we planned to cross into Chile by one of the few passes through the Andes, bound for Portillo ski resort, which is pretty much a hotel with ski lifts located just on the Chilean side of the pass. But as we prepared to leave the hostel the friendly receptionist found out that the pass was closed due to heavy snowfall! Being mid September (which is Spring to all you Northern Hemisphere-ies) and only a week before the resort shut down for the season this was a shock in more ways than one- suddenly there was epic pow at our destination, but we couldn’t get to it. The options were few, it would’ve taken over 35 hours to get to Portillo by either of the other closest two passes, and so we drove up to the border town of Uspallata to line up with the stranded Chilean families, play tag in the gravel, cross our fingers and twiddle our thumbs. The news was bad the first morning- it was Saturday and they said the pass would be closed until Monday. Gutted and plan-less we returned to the hostel that we had arrived at late the night before to reconsider our options, or lack thereof. As we sat down for a mate (Argentinean caffeinated tea) one of the border workers came in to see his friend that worked there and told us that it would actually open Sunday morning. Stoking out that we hadn’t immediately begun driving for one of the other passes we made the most of our free day by going horse riding. Argentinean style there was no safety briefing- the local gaucho simply asked in Spanish if we had any experience, though whichever answer we gave was simply acknowledged with a curt nod and no further instructions.
Looking towards the storm over Portillo pass from Uspallata
Tove and I saddling up with the local gaucho
Looking back across the plateau to the Argentinean side of the Andes
The next morning we up and at ‘em early, arriving in the first queue of cars (that grew to 6 lanes), waiting for the hooter from the road control workers to begin attacking the road to the pass in a fashion similar to the intro of the Flintstones. When the time came we were quick off the mark but eventually passed by many due to our seemingly uncommon lack of desire to drive on the wrong side of the road around blind corners. The border itself brought further challenges as one of our American friends had overstayed his visa in Argentina. He seemed pretty un-phased in my eyes since I’ve had a friend get a 10 year ban from the USA for the same thing and when they dropped the bomb that it was a 30,000 peso fine I thought that things were about to get serious. Turns out that 30,000 Chilean peso is only $70 NZD (€45), not the $7000 NZD that it would’ve been if we were talking Argentinean peso. Sprits instantly rose as we were through the last of the barriers separating us from Portillo and epic untouched powder, and it turned out that none of the other cars in the queue were on their way to the ski resort!
Max enjoying the queue with a view from the back of the Kangoo
The crew standing in front of the face that we would later hike the colouir on the left side of. Dan, Davis, Harris, Tove, me and Max
As we had been waiting in the long single file for the border I had been eyeing the mountains around us in awe and wishing that we could ski them, they were huge and steep and I immediately understood how difficult it would be to keep this pass open in a storm. One epic looking face appeared to have avalanche debris at the bottom, but no evidence of a slide above it. As we drew closer though we realised that the ‘debris’ were ski tracks, it was Portillo! The lift had been difficult to see because it is a ‘slingshot’ instead of a chairlift, which is like a cross between a cable car and a T-bar. There are two bars hanging from the cables, each of which has 5 poma attached to it (shafts with button shaped ends to ‘sit’ on), and the poma bars and at opposite ends of the cable, meaning that as one goes up the other is coming down. These are almost apologetically placed in the heart of the intimidating Andes range as if in an attempt not to offend it, and since the majority of ski-able faces are at the bottom of potential avalanche paths it seems that this design is also to facilitate ease of transport if necessary, or at least less expensive replacement. There is a chairlift as well though and we gravitated to it immediately after arriving just in time for a half day ticket. There was an unskied chute directly under the chair that finished with a mandatory air, it was love at first run. I found out afterwards that it was a permanently closed area but the forgiveness that I didn’t have to beg was far easier than the permission that I didn’t ask. I met up with my American instructor friend Andrew Rumph and he showed us around to more epic spots, and took me shooting with his pro photog friend- who turned out to be the photographer for the USA ski team that were training there. We skied without a break until the lifts closed at 5pm, one of the best days of the season.
The view from the hotel at Portillo and my local instructor buddy Andrew Rumph sending a cliff that I backflipped while shooting with his photographer friend, hopefully it will get run in a magazine or similar
An unfortunately overexposed GoPro framegrab of backflipping the cliff with the hotel in the background
Max having trouble with his first go at the 'slingshot' lift
Tove getting some airtime above the lake
We got a couple more shots with Andrew's friend Jonathan, who I found out afterwards is the photographer for the US ski racing team and the first guy to get a racing shot on the cover of Powder magazine! So I'm hoping to see them published somewhere in the future.
Portillo is one of the most beautiful and scenic resorts I have even had the visited, and the grandeous hotel at the base made full use of the view with huge windows and an outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs. It was from these tubs that Andrew peeled a finger off his cold beer and pointed out ‘Super C’, a 1200 vertical metre colouir that was a slingshot ride and a ridge hike away. It barely ever saw the sun and the recent snowfall had loaded it with deep, well bonded snow. We had originally been planning to spend 3 days in Portillo, which the pass closure had reduced by one, and Super C seemed like the obvious option for our second and final day there, so the beers were cheers’d to it and the thighs given a nervous rub of steep&deep hiking anticipation. We had met one of Andrew’s friends Jake skiing the day before, who worked reception at the hotel, and he joined the team for the morning mission as the only member to have made the hike before. It was good that he did as we valued the extra pair of legs, it took about 4 hours of straight bookpacking to slog up the steep face of knee to thigh deep snow and we were all exhausted at the top. Tove had tweaked her knee in the heavier snow of the late afternoon the day before and made the tough call not to come. With impressive views of Aconcagua (the highest mountain in South America) and mild altitude nausea on my part we readied ourselves to drop in for one of the longest continuous pow runs of my life, past and future. It was amazing and steep and deep and it kept on going and going and going. There were hoots, hollers, hugs and blatant disregard for getting as much footage as it deserved, this was a time to ski for ourselves, runs like this don’t happen every season. I found out later that Chris Davenport had previously visited Portillo for 2 weeks and hiked Super C 9 times, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised. After we left Andrew and Jack used our bootpack to get up there twice more during closing week, and I’m glad to have been able to leave that behind for them in return for the local knowledge of it being there. Thanks again guys.
The face that we hiked to drop over the back and get to Super C colouir
The long sweaty bootpack
Nearing the top of the face, we are the 4 dots in the middle of the photo
A view of Aconcagua, South America's highest mountain. It isn't a volcano but was long believed to be due to this lens cloud that often forms at its peak
Harris, Jake, Davis and myself at the top
View from the top
Time to drop in
Nearly every turn was like this, but most of the GoPro video was overexposed unfortunately.
My first gif animation- the even better type of faceshot.
Davis wasn't sick of the pow even after 1000 vertical metres, photo by me
Myself, Davis and Harris stoked on the run, photo by Jake Linehan
White line on the left shows where we hiked, red line on the right shows where we skied, put together by Harris for his instagram, @Hampton23
The sun going down on our last evening in Portillo paradise
That evening we said our farewells and drove through the night to Pucon, to maximise the rest of the days that the Mighty Kangoo rental was available to us. Chile is much greener than Argentina and our journeys would take us into the thermal areas of hot springs, volcanoes and dirt roads to borders. Stay tuned for the next update!
So far Argentina has been so exciting, skiing for the first time in a few months and meeting new amazing people. But also it’s been a week to learn how to adapt to a new culture, the very relaxed Patagonian style. Things take their time and you just have to let it flow that way. No need to stress. There’s always time to have a Mate (traditional hot herb drink) or some Dulce De Leche on a cookie. People are very friendly and as a visitor in their country I feel warmly welcomed. Family time here seems more important than sitting by the TV, computer or phone. A good example is the birthday party we went to the other day. It was held in a house on the backyard built with the purpose to drink Mate in, have a barbeque or a party. This is apparently very common in Argentina, to have a hangaround house in your garden.
Tove enjoying a mate on the way to the mountain
On Thursday we went riding at Cerro Bayo together with Colin Boyd (FWT snowboarder) and his Argentinean girlfriend Sofie that we stayed with in Wanaka last season. This daytrip was an unexpected surprise and Cerro Bayo turned out to be a freeride paradise! It was only an hour drive from Bariloche but the locals there don’t seem to have discovered what this year’s new gondola has to offer. We scored some fresh snow and a blue bird day with no queues so definitely a day we’ll remember for a long time. With the stunning backdrop we decided to get the camera out, check out what we got below.
Neil Slashing some powder in Cerro Bayo
Tove getting some
Colin Boyd getting deep
Yesterday we were back on our touring skis, and they were back on our backs. Niki joined us for another mission with James and Lucas, this time touring off the back of Cerro Catedral (Bariloche’s local resort). We were lucky and needed their local-ness to get a one ride pass because they had to convince the lady that we were going cross country skiing on the tracks at the top of the gondola. We started our mission in a milk bowl with absolutely no visibility but we got lucky and the sky opened for us just in time for a sketchy rock scramble over to a good run. The rain crust was still lurking at variable depths under the dry pow meaning that we couldn’t quite ski full speed or drop anything more than a few metres, but the deep turns that we got kept smiles on our faces for most of the skin back to the resort. A 2 day storm was coming in, dropping crazy snowflakes that looked like bean-bag filling, and the thoughts of family fire time with Mate and Dulce de Leche cookies lured us home to bed for a day off.
Making love to skis with eyes
Making the most of a small hole in the clouds
Niki dropping in Patagonian style
And then it snowed a bunch and we went on another amazing trip! Tove wrote the following words:
Frey Frey Frey, where to begin with you? Well for us it started at a bongo drums party for a friend of a friend that were celebrating that his girlfriend got pregnant. After the party we got a text from Colin Boyd (FWT snowboarder and friend) saying his crew were heading to Refugio Frey (a backcountry hut) tomorrow and that we were welcome to join if we feel like it. Absolutely we thought! Getting to Frey was interesting; first we had to convince the ticket lady that we were going cross country skiing so we could get a one ride pass for the Gondola. It was only a short tour from the top of the lift to the ridge and drop in but we managed to get lost because the visibility was soooo bad, it was like skiing in a milk bowl with no tasty cereals in it. But then something amazing happened, the light popped and the cereals appeared everywhere! It was suddenly a bluebird powder day and we were the first to get to the saddle that divided Cerro Catedral from the back country and the valley that led to Frey. Eric Hjorleifson and Jen Ashton were next to drop, that felt good.
Dropping in in the first laguna
Neil Loving it!
Famous freeride skiers Eric Hjorleifson and Jen Ashton arriving on the scene
It had snowed 2 days before but the resort had been tracked in low light since then and we had no expectations on the snow quality just over the ridge, so after our first run of deep dry pow we got to the bottom in stuttering, stoked shock. The sky was clearing too and we immediately made way to the next ridge to harvest more dream conditions before moving onto a small river crossing, tight tree navigation and the Frey valley itself.
Niki the monkey man showing us his secret spotts
Tove scoring it
Tove and I touring up
Neil getting tangled up in the bush while crossing a river
Niki Approaching Frey
We arrived at Frey with still a few hours of light left so we had a quick Mate and headed out for some more powder skiing. We started touring up a step beautiful face but then eventually had to start boot packing up. Niki the monkey was leading the track and we got to a pretty icy part, our token snowboarder was doing really well in snowboard boots but just as we said so he slipped on the hidden ice and fell over some rocks, his back pack with an attached snowboard got caught and he dislocated his shoulder. He was screaming “mi hombro” but we thought he was saying “mi hombre” which means ’my man’ or ‘my friend’. Hmm we were very confused for a second but soon realized he meant his shoulder. Neil turned into a ski patrol hero and after two tries relocated his shoulder into the right position. There were immediate hugs and cheers, followed by a very relieved and mellow run back to the hut for him and Neil, while Niki and I continued hiking to the top of the face.
Here’s a photo of Tove skiing down, it was steep, fluffy and a superb last run.
With legs tired like over boiled spaghetti we headed back the hut. Dinner was ready to be served which tonight was soup, risotto, pizza and desert and it only costs us about 7 €.
Heaps of skins
We woke up with the wind shaking the little hutt and the clouds hanging like a napkin over the mountains. But we headed out and again the sky opened for us and we scored a long nice run. After that I decided to start the tour back to the resort but Neil and Niki went for one more run in a nice colouir. The tour back worked my legs pretty good and getting to the top was a relief. Niki and Neil were not far behind me and I knew they haven’t had anything to eat in a long time so I left some salty biscuits in the touring tracks for them to snack on. They were stoked!
Back for one more
We got back to Cerro Catedral after closing and felt happy, exhausted and filled with new good memories. Although we just realized we didn’t have a ride home and thought it was going to be tricky to find a way down the mountain. We got lucky and found a ride down to the roundabout and from there a friendly guy picked us up in his tiny car but we managed to fit all of us and all our gear. On the way home we did a necessary stop at the supermarket and bought stuff to fill our empty bellies with tasty treats and amazing Argentinean meat.
Niki Having a little rest
Frey, Frey, Frey, what an incredible place. Just waking up in the morning and picking your lines by looking out the window while drinking your Mate. I’ll definitely come back.
Well it's been an eventful 100 hours! 3 beautiful cities on 3 different continents, a bus ride the width of Argentina and a beautiful day ski touring in Bariloche. Lots of craze-mazing experiences and a bit of no-comprendo induced stress, summed up as best we can in the photos below- there were a lot of favourites to choose from.
Somehow I got this 33kg bag onto the plane without paying any overweight, stoked!
Wednesday: Flew from Stockholm to New York. Found out we had a 10 hour stopover and that Manhattan was only a 40 minute train ride away. Took that train to town, turned out it was a beautiful sunny day and rode around on an open top bus listening to a tour guide while eating fresh strawberries. Followed it up with the tastiest and most authentic Mexican food and beer I've ever had, and made it back to the airport in time for a beautiful sunset.
New york, New York!
Manhattan architecture coming at ya
Tove and I touristing it up on top of a bus
Thursday: Flew to Buenos Aires. Got a bus into the city center and then walked around looking like confused tourists while carrying extremely heavy ski bags. Eventually found the ginormous inter-city bus terminal and realised that we were probably just about to miss the bus from Buenos Aires (east coast of Argentina) to San Carlos de Bariloche (in the Andes, on the border with Chile), which was our final destination. Got to the bus 10 mins late. The bus was 30 minutes late. Got told (in rapid Spanish) that our bags were too big. Paid 100 peso each ($20 NZD) to get him to put them on the bus, which he put in his pocket in front of us. Lost our tickets for 5 minutes and almost got left behind. Found them, got on the bus, got over our heart attacks and settled in for the ride. Turned out it was a 'first class' bus- seats that reclined to 160 degrees, regular meal and drink service (including some crazy Argentinian wine spirit), movies and on-board toilet. Luxury for two tired travelers!
Sunrise over the northern end of the Andes
A colourful contrast to the New York bus ride 15 hours earlier
SO stoked to be on the bus, on our way to Bariloche and on time for dinner
Friday: Woke up in time to savour the rest of the 22 hour bus ride as we rolled up the last of the desert plains to the impending Andes range, which radiated a distinct Mordor-like aura as heavy black stormclouds brooded over them. Got really excited! Arrived at the bus stop, tipped a guy 4 peso (90 NZ cents) for carrying our ski bags (which were now ~40kg each, as we had added our carry-on bags from the plane), and then somehow fitted them in a tiny taxi to town, which cost 30 peso ($6.50 NZD). Our local friend and my Fischer Skis teamate Niki Salencon picked us up in the worst car that I've ever seen to cost €3000 (Argentinian import tax has gone into overdrive to protect their crippled economy and anything not made in the country has become insanely expensive) and took us almost directly to the climbing gym and then a bar, where we met some of his other local friends- who immediately invited us to join them on a back country mission the next day. How could the 1st chapter of this trip get any better?
The Andes/Mordor approaching
Off the bus, straight to the climbing wall- great way to meet people. Tove (far right) impressing the locals.
Saturday: First day skiing South America! It reminded me a lot of 'backcountry' skiing in NZ, which meant we drove up an non-maintained 4WD track as far as we could and then hiked for an hour or two with our skis on our bags to get to the snow. Once we got there we were stoked though, toured up through a magical forest to a very wintery ridge system. There had been some recent heavy snow and so the avalanche danger confined us to low angle skiing, but to be sliding on soft white stuff got us so stoked, having just come from northern hemisphere summer! Tired and satisfied we stumbled back to the truck and home for our first southern hemisphere shower, a sleep, and dreams that the month to come on this continent would be as much fun as getting here. Chapter 2 already in the making....
Truck locked, gate closed, Big Stix on my back- mission on
The crew, left to right- Lucas, James, Tove
Tove meeting some of the local wildlife
Eyes on the lines for next time, when the avalanche danger is lower
Tove, bringing the jogging shoes to the alpine
My finger, Tove's blinger, good times. Sun to snow via several cities, it's already one to remember.
Summer in Sweden has been treating me super well, I've had time to rehab my body, hit a water ramp to learn some new tricks and start up an Instagram account. Check out this banner of my instagram page and get at me with a follow to see super arty and up to the minute images of me frothing for winter- my Instagram name is neilwilliman, because I'm so original.
Instabangers at instagram.com/neilwilliman
And here's a wee video of jumping on the water ramp:
Plus some pictures that I got pubished in the NZSkier magazine and NZ Snowguide magazines that were released recently:
A cliff shifty photo of me in Austria by Rasmus Kaesman, printed in NZSkier magazine pretty much as a Fischer advert.
This Christmas powder photo of me in Åre by Fredrik Kockum goes with a write up by my buddy Charlie Lyons about my comeback from injury and bad luck on the Freeride World Tour last year to re-qualify and put myself back in the top 30 male big mountain skiers in the world.
Holding the Sick Bird belt buckle and my Surfanic stickered helmet at the top right of the ski news page, where my re-qualification for the FWT was announced in NZSkier.
The pictures from the article that my friend Si Reeves and I did about ski touring the Mt Cook region (New Zealands highest national park) with my Dad, from NZ Snowguide magazine.
This is what the trailer looks like! It got released recently, and I'm pretty stoked. Check it out below, as well as the wee montage I made of which shots are me. Enjoy!
Full movie premiering at the International Freeski Film Festival in Innsbruck on the 3rd of October as part of the worldwide tour! Click the pic to see a full size version, all these frame grabs are of me, from film by Simon Platzer
And this is how it felt to help make it:
This was my first season filming with a pro ski movie company. I always thought that the film trips would be entertaining; an easily captured adventure with ups and downs, crazy characters met along the way, a lot of laughs and everything always working out in the end, like an episode of 'Family Guy'.
It turns out that they are difficult to plan, hard work and sometimes just don’t turn out how you want no matter how hard you try. Like trying to get laid. But this just means that it feels even sweeter when it works out and you get the moneyshot.
‘Whiteroom Productions‘ is the film company, named after their successful debut movie 'Time for the Whiteroom' from last season. The man behind the camera and in the editing suite for both movies is Simon Platzer of SP Films. They are Austrian based and film mostly with Austrian skiers (and sometimes snowboarders), but I was lucky enough to get the invite this season after meeting them when they visited New Zealand, thanks in large part to my Austrian based ski sponsor Fischer.
After seeing their first movie I was really impressed at what they were achieving on a pretty limited budget, and they took it to the next level this year, turning up in New Zealand and camping on the Tasman Glacier below Mt Cook (NZ’s highest mountain) for a week and touring/climbing to all the lines that they shot. The weather forecast was pretty unfriendly but they stayed anyway and it turned out they were just high enough that it snowed there while it rained on all the ski resorts in the country- and then went unexpectedly bluebird. I was pretty inspired by their get-it-done attitude and thanks to the financial nod from Fischer I found myself on a plane with them on the way to Canada to film for a couple of weeks.
First sights of Canada
The reputed new powder haven of Canada was our first stop. Fabi (Fabian Lentsch) and I were pretty happy to finally arrive after the 9 hour Greyhound bus ride from Vancouver. We were actually a day late as well, as we had been denied boarding on our flight from Barcelona when we arrived 55mins before departure (instead of an hour), resulting in a day long man-date in the city. This was just after a 4* FWQ competition in Andorra including an afterparty where my wallet was stolen, preceded by a 14 drive from Innsbruck. So we were happiest to see the hostel beds for a night, to prepare for the upcoming week of solid film days.
The experience of the others having been there for a couple of days already meant we knew exactly where to go though, Dani (Daniel Regensburger), Jochen (Mesle) and Simon (Platzer, of Simon Platzer films) took us directly to the Cat Skiing area which borders Revelstoke Mountain Resort. The avalanche danger was high and there had been a recent death in the backcountry so we were confined to the trees for the first few days, but they provided the pillow powder goodness of my Canadian dry dreams in abundance.
One of the sick pillow zones
A blunt and to the point Canadian sign
Jochen walking the pillow talk
Fabi's turn to go big on the pillows
I was struggling to get used to my new touring setup at first, and since touring to film lines means only 3 or 4 get done a day it took a couple of days to start feeling it. Dani got unlucky and landed on a tree so hard that it broke the heelpiece of his boot, meaning he had to ski rentals for the rest of the trip but Jochen style-mastered off everything and Fabi started getting ridiculous, picking and stomping some of the rowdiest tree/pillow lines I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. After 3 days in this zone the filmable lines were becoming sparse, and we were creeping closer and closer to the terrain that cat skiing clients were paying to ride. The cat skiing groomer drivers and guides that had turned a blind eye to us until now eventually gave us a pretty clear indication that they wanted us to move on, which Fabi bore the brunt of pretty well. A new adventure was needed.
The friendly ex-patriot German who ran the hostel we were staying in in Revelstoke knew a guy who had built his own mini snow cat, which he called his ‘kitty’. Just over half an hour drive from Revelstoke is a snowmobile-permitted, easy access backcountry area that the locals politely asked us not to name here. The guy with the kitty also had a snowmobile (‘sled’ in Canadian) and a big tent and would take us all to the top for a price. It was a match made in Canadian heaven and our new adventure was found.
Dani Following the sleds
Our entourage with all the kit
This mystery mountain wasn’t one to put out one the first date though, and she made us work for it big time. The kitty and the sled both broke down at some point on the first day and there was so much snow from the last storm that it was difficult to get around on them even when they were going, or even to ski tour instead. The first zone we got to looked good but all the landings were flat as a car park and confiscated our skis more than once. Pitching the tent that would be our home for the next few days in the near-dark wasn’t easy either, and the cooker that we had didn’t do much to heat the inside, meaning that any wet clothes not worn in the sleeping bag froze solid overnight. There wasn’t a lot of talk over breakfast and our boots were about as easy to put on as a straightjacket.
Camo-Jeremy fixing the kitty, tent in the background
Nightlife in the tent
Once we got out and about though we realised that we had made the right choice. Rising majestically above a sea of valley fog the sail shaped peak we beheld wouldn’t have taken a ship anywhere on the calm, sunny day that greeted us. Better zones were found, friendly locals with sleds were met (as we could only afford the kitty and sled for the first day of our 3 day tent-venture) and the snow stayed cold even though it was sunny. One of my favourite moments was taking a photo of Jochen where he is barely visible, choked and blinded by the powder at the very top of his line. It didn’t really matter what you did here- a turn was a faceshot, or pointing it through the pillows caused powder explosions every landing. It was lucky that the lines up here were too short to present any serious exposure, lines could be scoped and sent with a ‘hold on through the powder blindness’ attitude, followed by hoots, hollers and high fives.
Neil discovering the morning man in himself
The ultra zone
Jochen getting face deep in goodness
Neil's last line of the trip
And then it was all over. We were packing up the tent and skiing back down to the road, which was one of the longest runs of my life. I knew I was touring fit by then because I could still enjoy the heavy snow at the bottom of the run with a heavy pack on. We had scored.
The long trudge out
A collage of memories form the trip, get at me on instagram, instagram.com/neilwilliman
Jochen stoked on the whole trip
The next film trip would be to the Whistler backcountry, with even more ups and downs than I could have imagined on the way. Our organisational skills and luck would be tested even more rigorously by my new acquaintance, the rough loving snow goddess of ski film trips. And for that story kiddies, you will have to wait until next time, because that’s enough excitement for one night.
These words were by me, Neil, and the pics by me, Jochen Mesle, Fabi Lentsch, Dani Regensburger and Simon Platzer.
And a bonus montage of what I've been up to for summer,
Summerlifeloving, New Swedeland goes Paris to Biarritz with Surfanic teamate Tove Kockum
So I got an iPhone and instagram...
For those of you who know me well you may be surprised. So I thought I would post this video to make fun of myself. And I guess I'm now an Instagram likes whore as well so if you enjoy these words or video get at me with a follow http://instagram.com/neilwilliman
Or click this picture to get there, it's one of my favourite lines that I skied on our film trip in the Whistler backcountry for Whiteroom's new movie 'For a Few More Lines', and was generously donated from my freeski and film buddy Pete Oswald's website, which is also worth a look, peteoswald.co.nz
Click the picture to follow me on Instagram for more pics like this! Photo of Neil Williman by Nick Kingston on Pete Oswald's camera in the Tantalus Range, BC
The trailer for the movie comes out in the next few days so you'll get to see a bit more of this shot in it, but you'll have to wait till the premier in September to see if I stomp it...
So those of you that know or follow me anything more than in passing will realize that this article isn't current- but it didn't get run in any of the ski magazines that we submitted it to. It did get run in a snowboard mag but only with the snowboarding shots, and Vasco Coutinho the photographer has just given me permission to use all the best photos in this post, as long as you go to www.latitude46.net which I will because he snaps bangers! I've just been back to this area, and comp-wise I'm in the same position now, so it seemed an appropriate time to be sharing it with the inter-web. Enjoy!
An Italian snowboarder, a Kiwi skier and a Portuguese photographer/snowboarder aren’t who you might expect to find in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Norway. The people who stopped by to tell us that we couldn’t park and sleep in our van were certainly surprised about where we were from, and sometimes interested enough to let us park and sleep there after all. How did we end up there? Well the Italian-Norwegian, Kiwi-Swedish and Portuguese-Danish romances were the base ingredient, throw in a FWQ 4* competition in Røldal and top it off with Norway having about 10 times more snow than the alps that season and you’ve got Norwegian photo-roadtrip pie.
A huge huge thanks goes out to the Slinning family for hosting us at their incredible new-age ‘Juvet Landscape Hotel’, in Valldal near Ålesund. This was the first stop of the trip and the base for amazing backcountry, ferry rides, spa jumps and lifestyle shots. Feast your eyes. And do anything you can to get to stay at the Juvet Hotel.
Enjoying the view from one of the rooms of the 'Juvet Landscape Hotel' windows, photo by Vasco, latitude46.net
Massimo airing the hot water, but trying to avoid the cold water, photo by Vasco, latitude46.net
Next up was Røldal Freeride Challenge, the 4* FWQ competition. Our Italian team member Massimo got unlucky and crashed in the snowboard qualifiers after laying down a good top section in his run. I, Neil the kiwi, got lucky and took second in the finals, which gave me enough points from the competition season to qualify for the Freeride World Tour the next season, and won just enough money to continue the roadtrip. We hired a van that we could sleep in and set about making the most of the snow-laden springtime countryside by finding, building or touring/splitboarding to as many backcountry features as possible. We built jumps (well not me on the first day, I was too hungover from celebrating after Røldal, sorry guys), toured across frozen lakes, rode ferries, saw beautiful sunsets over beautiful scenery and incidentally went surfing too. It was cold. Feast your eyes again.
The view from the ferry dock, on the way to exciting touring misisons. Photo by Vasco, latitude46.net
The road down to Hoddevik, where we went for a cold surf in head to toe wesuits. Photo by Vasco, latitude46.net
As if Norway hadn’t been amazing enough already, Vasco (the Portuguese photographer/snowboarder) found a way to take things to the next level. I don’t and never will know how he spotted this thing from so far away, but he had his eye on the prize as soon as he saw it. A natural halfpipe. Those words are thrown around a lot in the snow world, but this one was different. A superpipe of natural formation; a supernatural pipe. It was a two hour tour/splitboard from the road and it just kept looking better the closer we got. We got there, waited for the right weather, waited for the right light, rocked off (Massimo won) and got the shot. People always say that there is a story to a photo, and I hope you can feel this one. The vision of the photographer, the commitment of the team, waiting for hours for the right weather and light, and the nervousness (on Massimo’s part) of hoping not to fall, because the first ride in this thing was going to make the best shot. The satisfaction of it all coming together, and the resulting complete visual meal.
Massimo split-boarding out to the well-spotted natural feature, photo by Vasco, latitude46.net
'twas but a half day drive between surfing and this frozen moonscape, photo by Vasco, latitude46.net
Apparently this shot was run as a full pager in a snowboard mag, well timed Massimo and Vasco, latitude46.net
Vasco in front of his find of the season, photo by me, Neil
But I was jealous. I felt like Massimo had got the best two shots so far by jumping the spa with a sweet grab (I’m sorry, I can’t name the grab, I’m a skier. But it was definitely sweet) and winning the rock off for the first run in the natural pipe (then killing it). I wanted mine. I wanted my dessert. On the last day of the trip we found it. I can’t even remember where it was now, I just tried to find it on a map but looking for a place that I think that starts with S and is near a tunnel and somewhere on the way to Bergen from somewhere near Røldal is surprisingly difficult. Maybe it’s better that way. But as soon as we drove under it I knew I wanted it. That road gap was mine. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t stomp it, but I wanted to put my prototype Fischer skis to the test. They held up. My body was a bit sore though, stackars pungen! But it was the end of the season. I got my just desserts for my dessert but the taste of success still tanged sweetly on my tastebuds.
We dispersed back to the country of origin of our various romantic interests, and, later, dispersed back to our countries of origin. But we’ll be back. We still hunger for the raw beauty that Scandinavia serves up in its various ways. Maybe we’ll share these delights with others next time. Maybe it will be you. Thanks for sharing, meals bring people together. Hejdå Skandinavien, vi ses snart.