If you picked up Australian-New Zealand Snowboarder Magazine’s Travel Issue that came out a couple of weeks ago you would have seen my story about snowboarding in The Czech Republic. Here are some extra bits for you…
When I was a young boy, my only knowledge of Czechoslovakia came from cheesy spy movies, and from the Eastern Bloc’s number one 80’s tennis export, Martina Navratilova. A framed black and white photo of Martina and my uncle still sits on my grandparents’ mantelpiece showing them holding the 1985 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles trophy they won together…but while you would think a photo of my uncle holding a Wimbledon trophy would be memorable enough, the scary thing that always struck me about that photo is that Martina’s forearm is about twice as muscly and huge as my uncle’s! And with other famous tennis players like Ivan Lendl, Jana Novotna and Petr Korda bringing their Terminator-like styles of play to the world stage through the 80’s and 90’s, I couldn’t help but grow up thinking that Czechoslovakians were either humourless, Ivan Drago-like superhuman tennis robots, or angry but stupid AK-47-toting communist bad-guys from the movies and novels.
But well after the ’89 Velvet Revolution and fall of European Communism I finally managed a summertime visit to Prague and the new(ish) Czech Republic, following the well-worn backtracker trail and enjoying all the cheap local beer. Even then, twelve years after their first democratic elections, the crumbling pall of Communism and problems integrating into a new capitalist way of life were visible all over the country. But you could see that the Czech Republic was finding its feet in the “New Europe”, and so this year, I wanted to go back with a bunch of snowboarders and see how things had changed…and to see if we could score some epic shredding along the way….but first we had to survive Prague!
We arrived in the capital of the Czech Republic at night, staying in a swanky Novotel next to Price Waterhouse Coopers, and if it wasn’t for a few funny looking street signs and lots of graffiti, we could have been in any bustling western European city. So it wasn’t until the new day dawned that we could see why Prague has become such a tourist hot-spot over the last decade. It really is a magnificent city: skinny communist-era trams rattling along ancient cobbled streets, magnificent multicoloured Art Nouveau apartment buildings lining the boulevards of the city centre, towering gothic church spires and winding narrow medieval lanes in the Old Town, and of course, the famous ancient Charles Bridge leading across the river to the largest castle in the world perched on the hilltop overlooking the city.
Most visitors to Prague come during the warmer months, but with a light covering of snow on the high points of the city, the whole complexion of the place changes, and as we were there to not just sight-see, we hit the streets trying to find features to ride. We searched high and low throughout the inner city of Prague, exploring into the ugly communist apartment block suburbs with their crumbling concrete facades and graffiti-covered shopfronts. There was a light covering of snow on the hill overlooking the city, but the rest of the city was dry, as it hadn’t snowed heavily since before Christmas. All the spots that looked promising needed just too much snow to be moved from somewhere else, so a day and a half of exploring yielded no real results, but we made up for our lack of luck with rails an urban jibbery the best way we know how: partying!
It’s not just for the picturesque tourist photos that visitors flock to Prague, it’s also the cheap beer and alcohol…and insane party scene. Martina and Jana were doing a bad job of representing the typical Czech woman in the 80’s. Instead, think of Eva Herzigova or Karolina Kurkova in warm black coats, tight jeans and high leather boots and you are getting a better impression of the typical Czech girl on the streets of Prague (check the foreground of photo to the right to see what I’m talking about.) I seriously considered giving up snowboard photography to become a Czech fashion photographer! And even in the depths of a cold winter all the pretty girls head out for a night on the town, and a serious dance to some seriously crappy euro-dance music. But the prices of drinks help dull the sound of thumping techno: if you pay more than $2.50 for half a litre of tasty local beer in a restaurant, bar or club, you are getting ripped off.
Check this previous post here to see some of the photos from the wild night out we had in Prague.
On the way to the snow we visited the spooky, famed ossuary (chapel) at Kutna Hora filled with skulls and skeletons. Supposedly the earth has been sacred there since an abbot sprinkled dirt from the Holy Land in the 13th century, and with between 40,000 to 70,000 skeletons overflowing from the cemetery, 140 years ago a local woodcarver was given the task of arranging the bones into a giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a regal coat of arms on the wall. Creepy!
We snowboarded for three days at Spindlruv Mlyn, Czech Republic’s biggest and most developed resort, and then we had a couple of days near the German border at Bozi Dar trying to find some unique things to shoot. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Click on the thumbnails below to take a closer look at the photo, and pick up a copy of ANZ Snowboarder Magazine to read the story!
Here is a video by Jeremy Richardson of Ollie Pop Films who accompanied us on the trip…take a look and you might spot me dancing like an idiot to shoo away some bothersome pigeons.
And for all her assistance, I’d like to to thank Jana Soukalová from Czech Tourism– it was a great trip made all the easier by her.