Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sainte Foy - Top to Bottom Challenge 2014

I'm not competitive, until I think I may actually be able to win!...

We'd eaten all of the powder in Sainte Foy, a resort renowned for it's off piste. Unfortunately the lack of snow fall coupled with the sheer number (comparatively speaking as there is normally only 20 people on the slopes!) took it's toll on the fresh stuff.

We ventured a little further afield as well, chomping some lovely fresh lines down the Col de Granier. It was pretty handy really. Our guests were split quite nicely in ski/board ability allowing Kerry and I to go and do some more adventurous stuff with the better boarders, but their friends and partners were able to ski together and have a good time as well.

One evening over dinner it was decided... There was no more off piste powder runs out there so to spruce up the last days riding with some really awesome guests, a race was discussed.

And so was the birth of the Sainte Foy - Top to Bottom challenge. A no holes barred, gumball rally of a race, in no way official riding at high speed on live pistes to see which of the contenders was the fasted snowboarder.

There were only a few rules;

#1 - No off piste. No cutting corners, secret couloirs or tree runs, only between those piste poles

#2 - Any route. Any combination of pisted runs could be used to get from the Col de l'Aiguille 2620m to the finish line in front of the Maison a Colonnes in resort 1550m

And that's about it... Just get from the top to the bottom!

Headed towards the Col de Granier
3 riders were up for the challenge... myself included. And I instantly started to regret that decision. I ride with guests... a lot. Kerry and I ride with nearly every single guest who stay at our chalet, and almost every day of the week. And the last time a race was proposed, last season, I spectacularly wiped out a skiing guest who didn't take too lightly to getting intimate with me at 30mph!

The other contenders were awesome boarders as well, but named Steve, and both out to show this 'young buck' just what boarding is...

We went through a brief 'course initiation'. We were limited by our route because the local ski club had shut the l'Arpettaz piste (8) forcing us all on to the red to the right of the map, Creux de Formeian (4). Both Steves also took a slightly longer route down, making a win very easy for me! But my conscience got the better of me and I showed then the shorter route.

Sainte Foy piste map
Then the moment everyone had been waiting for.... Myself and the two Steves got on the lift at the bottom as the rest of the inhabitants from the chalet took up their positions on the sun terrace on the finish line. Kerry and another guest were to be positioned mid way up resort where they could see most of the action and relay the details, commentary style, down to the finish using 2 way radios.

Steve, Steve and I all agreed that we had hyped up this race waaaay too much. It took 30 minutes for us to ride the 3 lifts to the top, sipping drams of whiskey to calm our nerves or bolster our bravado, depending on the rider.

At the top we strapped in and waited for our signal to go, being given by Kerry on the radio... However then disaster struck, we had just dipped over the other side of the mountain and could no longer hear anyone on the tiny radio. We later found out that our friends at the finish could hear everything we were saying, but we heard nothing. A phone call came from Steve's mate from the same position as Kerry and a count down was started... 20 seconds.

As I counted down Steve rushed to put his phone back in his pocket, gloves on and prepare for the start. Then, finally, the moment of truth as we set off down the hill.

Cattle Bell trophies
We were quick, very quick, and I winced at the thought of catching an edge at these speeds. I made the first break for freedom straight off the bat. And now all I needed to do was hold on for dear life and keep it that way, with the two Steve's behind me.

All was dandy and I was loving it, wooping and cheering as I hit a big dip at high speed, forcing my legs up against the compression, but it all came unstuck as I crested the next hill and slid out, then caught my heal edge trying to get back up and clouting my head in to the floor.

I had a quick sitrep moment as I checked whether I'd actually hurt myself or broken anything. I'd crashed at the fastest point of the run so far, later finding out I was going 57mph! Luckily nothing but my lead in the race had taken a battering as I glanced up from the floor to find Steve, who was previously in 3rd, shooting past me laughing his head off! As I spun round on my stomach trying to get the board under me before taking chase I noticed the other Steve was floundering around on the floor just like me! 2 of us crashing out allowing last place to become 1st!

Now we were on. I was sat in 2nd place after composing myself and pointing the board straight down the hill. I could see Steve in 1st way out in front and could hear the other Steve close behind me, edges shooshing on the hard icey piste. Then my chance, Steve in front slipped, only slightly, but enough to put him on his arse, and enough for me to take the tighter line past him, rubbing it in with woops and cheers!

All I had to do now was hold on to the lead again. We'd just passed the point Kerry should have been at spectating, but I couldn't take my eyes off the piste in front of me to look. The trouble with going fast on a snowboard is that the fasted way is to point the board straight down the hill, but that position also means it's harder to maintain an edge, and very easy to catch an edge, at high speed. It's a catch 22 type thing.

The next section was fairly shaded by the trees on either side, that shade meant more ice, proper ice, icey ice! I was really quick here, taking advantage and pushing out further. A few people on the piste must have had a shock as I crested a hill and tore through the group followed by Steve and Steve chasing!

The last part of the course is slightly slower, a bit warmer and a lot slushier, not ideal for speed but an even playing field. I chanced a look back and took great delight in not seeing the Steve's, I was nearly home and dry and gunned it as fast as I could getting air off of little piles of snow on the piste until a particularly tricky (for me at least) section where I would normally cut off the corner. However, rule number 1 of Top to Bottom challenge #1 - No off piste, so I had to put in a big turn to scrape the speed off and correct my course, dipping to the left of the piste poles instead of heading off in to the wilderness.

Steve, me and Steve receiving our Cattle Bell trophies
I came screaming round the last corner, hands raised in jubilation, I'd won, It had taken me 4 minutes 20 seconds to do it, but I'd done it. Steve and Steve weren't far behind though, I'm glad I didn't fall again after that first one!

Later that night we had a 'Prize giving ceremony' for the trophies for the first Sainte Foy Top to Bottom Challenge. The others told us that everyone on the sun terrace were huddled around the radio listening as Kerry and Mark gave some amazing Murray Walker like commentary like "There's 3 of them coming down!" and "Someones in first but we don't know who!"

It was an amazing day, captured on some sketchy placed gopro's, check out the video below

I'm looking forward to the 2015 Sainte Foy Top to Bottom Challenge.... Will I be racing you?

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