Ed Leigh. Blog 5

I’ve been looking forward to this week all season. The Nissan Freeride World Tour comes to St Moritz and Graham and I get to enter, well we get to go after everyone else.
First up Switzerland is now off the chart expensive. My wife lived in Geneva for three years between 2001 and 04 and at 2.2 to the pound things were great in the land of gold, chocolate and social order. Sadly the incredible rise in the price of Gold has driven the Swiss Franc the same way and now you’d be lucky to see 1.6 to the pound. All this meant that I paid twenty five quid for a very average pizza in St Moritz on my first night…gutted.
Then again every cloud….
The event site was the Corvatsch Mountain, a part of St Moritz that I’d never visited before. Previous experience of the resort was limited to the mountain and it had under whelmed me to the point that I had never really considered coming back. I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about and assumed that it was more the exclusive address than the actual riding on offer. How wrong could I have been. We arrived at the beautiful new cable car station to discover that they hadn’t had new snow in 19 days, this in itself was amazing, that for the best part of January one of the alps flagship resorts hadn’t managed to muster one flake of snow. Then we took to the hill.
The predominantly North facing area had, because of it’s altitude and exposition retained all of the powder from the last dump. It wasn’t bottomless but in places it was shin deep and the base would give. Considering how long it had been without snow this was incredible. I was very nervous about entering a contest on a 45-60 degrees face if the snow was going to be icy and knowing that while it wouldn’t be perfect it would have some purchase was a huge confidence boost.
If you’ve never come across it before the Freeride World Tour is a six stop series with the finale in Verbier on the revered Bec Des Rosses face. The idea is simple, take the world’s best freeriders and close off a very steep extreme face of a mountain and let them lose. Who ever takes the most extreme line and stay on their feet wins.
I’d dabbled with this in Alaska back in my hey day, but times have changed and the speed and risk that the top boys expose themselves to now is absolutely off the chart.
The main face that we would be riding looked beautiful, there were some very obvious easy lines for a fail safe route, so I wasn’t overly worried but there were also some very critical and exposed lines that would no doubt get probed by the world’s best freeriders who had assembled here for the second event of the season.
The day before the event was scheduled to run (there’s a waiting period to allow for the best conditions) we got our inspection of the face. After a traverse that some riders instead opted for a  forbidden short cut that looked more like a sheer cliff, we had a solid climb up onto the ridge overlooking the face. The biggest skill in this environment is being able to translate all the features you have seen when you were looking up at the face now that you are almost blind looking down it. It is a very rare skill and one that takes lots of time and no impulsive quick decisions to master.
Here’s the track from inspection
Heart rate is definitely the key on this one, I’m not sure though whether it’s exertion or nerves.
Away from the competition site the mountain had real personality. It was like a huge natural snowpark with pillows, drops, transitions and transfers littered everywhere. I managed to hook up with James Stentiford, a mate from school who taught me to skate and inspired me to follow my dreams and try and become a snowboarder. James is forty this year and is still competing on the freeride world tour. While he has taken team manger roles to keep him busy he still rides as often as his body and the snow will let him and to see him ride in the flesh is a treat. He has control, strength and flow, which when combined with his experience  is an inspiration. I had more fun on that warm up afternoon than I’d had in three weeks in the flat motorway pisted resorts of the downhill circuit and it pumped me up for competition day.
Cometh the day, cometh the hour and I still hadn’t settled on a line. Staring at the face I really wanted to take a line that I felt would do me justice and wouldn’t squander this opportunity . But on the other hand we’d had one solid powder day, my legs weren’t strong and the snow was changeable at best. With all these niggling doubts I took the easy way out. I’ll defend myself by saying that it was the right decision under the circumstances, but really that’s a cop out. I should really have pushed myself harder and I was more than a little embarrassed watching the footage back when it aired on Ski Sunday, which is no mean feat considering how small my embarrassment gland is.
My only consolation was that Graham had fallen and no matter what happened I would take the victory in our personal battle, seemingly a rare occurrence for me.
Despite the lack of anything close to extreme on my run I was still elated to have been a part of the competition and seen the world’s best in action. You cannot imagine how good these guys are until you see this kind of action up close and personal. Imagine for a second watching someone ski into a twenty metre cliff blind and backflip it….Unbelieveable, truly unbelieveable.For what it’s worth here’s my track, if you’re in the area then you can follow the inspection track traverse and hike and that will take you onto the ridge and you can see if you can paste my run on this track…Whatever you do don’t follow the track from event day, we abseiled out of the cable car so you might find it difficult