Czech it out: The extra photos…

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.

Do the Dew!

What a difference a week makes in the mountains. Last Monday I left a Melbourne warmed by winter sun and made it up to Falls Creek for the usual shenanigans of a Big Cup Monday at The Man Hotel. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent shredding the pristine Falls parks under sunny skies, and snapping a couple of shots of the local boys hitting the new jumps in Ruined Castle. All the forecasts were calling for storms to head our way, and we were fortunate to get a good day of riding in on Wednesday…but by Thursday the cloud, fog and damp had set in and I made a quick trip home to dry out before heading up to Mt Buller on Friday night.

I was back at Buller for the Dew Hut Jam, which was back on busy Bourke Street, but with more invited teams and a new big water tank feature this year. Mt Buller always manages to roll out the welcome mat for the comps…well, yes and no. I had thought that the weather for the 2009 Mtn Dew Hut Jam couldn’t get any worse – but I was wrong! Yep, it was the worst weather I have ever had to shoot in: thick dense fog obscuring the sun during the day, dampness soaking all surfaces, and then by night howling winds knocking over flash stands, seemingly thicker fog and more and more misty rain.

I was up at Buller to shoot for Aust-NZ Snowboarder’s website, and you can check out the Mtn Dew Hut Jam press release with a couple photos from their assigned photog and video here. And to compare the full gallery of shots taken by Rory, who was employed by Mtn Dew for the weekend, take a look here.

I had set up three Canon Speedlight flashes (because they are easier to transport and set up than my huge Elinchrom Ranger, and usually do the job for night shooting) with one behind the main jump, one yellow-cellophaned one to the left by the water tank, and a green one to the right by the rail (I wanted some Mountain Dew-type colours in the photos). But with the cold sapping the power of the 4xAA batteries, and the dampness soaking all electrical surfaces it was a little hit or miss to get all flashes firing at once. However, this actually created some interesting outcomes and some variety to the shots. And for the very brief moments that the fog cleared the photos came out pretty cool I think. But for the last half of the night session there was basically no break in the fog, despite the wind, and I spent more time watching and chatting on the sidelines than shooting. But I’m happy with the results, even if in tough conditions like this it’s easy to miss out on capturing a killer shot of the winning team and riders.

And of course the partying at Buller was second to none – the Hoo Har is always fun, even more so when it’s a chance to catch up with a bunch of snowboard mates you haven’t seen for a while. But the walk back up the hill to my media billet was torture! Mt Buller really is some freak-of-nature microclimate, being the first mountain that the warm, damp Southern Ocean air hits, getting forced up into the cold, high altitude as storms head north east. A storm front was on its way to the Aussie Alps, and every mountain was on the receiving end of some horrible weather on Saturday before the snow started falling that night. However, Buller has a monopoly on being the only place where you can simultaneously be smashed by a tropical-strength monsoonal rain downpour, mixed with some sort of half-ice-half-rain precipitation that somehow falls as liquid yet freezes upon you instantly, as well howling winds, and blinding fog. Walking home was like being caught on some gigantic satanic Slurpee machine. And so the headache I had when I got home was definitely not from the beers, but from the ice freezing my brain!

But I awoke late the next day to a sea of white out the window where a few hours before had been dirt, grass and asphalt! The snow had finally come to the High Country, and as I write it is still continuing…so a trip back to Falls to make the most of it will certainly be on the cards soon.

UPDATE 6/8/10: Transworld Snowboarding have put up some of the photos on their website. It’s not a feature, just a news item, but it’s still nice to get shots published on their site again. Check it here.

First Falls Photos

All attempts at alliteration…might have run their course, but I can’t promise to warehouse the word wizardry just yet! Finally, some decent snowfalls hit the Aussie Alps mid last week, dumping over a foot of fresh to complement the good work that has been done by snow makers making the most of clear night skies and cold temperatures. I had been waiting for this first decent snowfall before I made my way up the Hume Highway on a four-hour trek to Falls Creek, but I wasn’t expecting for my first snow trip to be in the middle of July, more than a month after the official opening of the season. However, it was worth the wait!

I stayed overnight at a motel in Wangaratta (complete with a defunct dollar bed massager and cling-wrapped cup and saucer – for freshness of course!), driving through the foggy winter morning ’til the white mountain peaks were visible in the Kiewa Valley on Friday. I timed my run to perfection, arriving to a full ski-in-ski-out village, clear blue skies, no wind…and two new small jumps in the Drovers Dream Beginners Terrain Park. My two days at Falls Creek were great, catching up with friends, getting the feeling back in the legs, and testing out my new Nitro Team Gullwing 159 board and Raiden Phantom bindings. I even had a couple of laps with The Bear Bristow and Jason Currie and his new Nitro-3CS collaboration Swindle 155 on Saturday. Somehow Jason managed to colour-co-ordinate his outerwear to his board’s base graphic. Take note, kids – that’s how the pro’s do it! Just like Travis Rice. And Mikey Rosalky was back at Falls during his university holidays, getting some backside rodeos on lock before he heads back for a semester of Law and Science.

Mat Galina was also back from Canada working in Falls’ parks, and managed to find a new feature to shoot that was a bit more reminiscent of surfing than snowboarding. It was quite difficult to know how to best light the spray of water with the limited infra-red flash triggers. In the shot I have put up, Mat’s bow wave blocked out the signal to one of the flashes. A couple other shots that I’m saving worked out better, but I’d also like to go back and get more creative with radio-triggered flashes and with more time to experiment.

So take a look at the shots from 2 days at Falls Creek…and if you hunt around the web, you will probably see some other shots of mine from the same trip. See the shots on Aust-NZ Snowboarder here.