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.
Our medium-to-slow speed internet has been out and running even slower for about 10 days now (and only just got changed over to super fast ADSL2+ with a different provider) so I haven’t had time to check out the video of our June Mountain trip. You’ve probably already seen it in your Facebook Newsfeed or on snowboardermag.com.au or transfermag.com. But if not, (and if you have fast internet) take a look…
Fellow Falls Creeker, Jeremy Richardson of Ollipop Films has put together a pretty rad edit of our day and a half riding there. He certainly got a lot of content filmed! And if you check it out, you’ll see me in the back and fore grounds snaking photos, and also getting a little riding cameo in the park. Yeeewwww!! haha.
And one funny thing I noticed about the vid is the angry, pissed-off look on Darragh’s face when he stomps his (final) switch frontside boardslide. Normally a rider is stoked, and pretty much “claims” with a joyous fist-pump when they stomp a tech trick, but because of the general annoying crowd, overall disorganisation, early painful slams and problems “getting the shot” on earlier stomps, by this stage Darragh had well and truly had enough. He just wanted to get it done and get the hell out of there. And I think he was taking some of his anger out on me. It’s all good though – we kissed and made up. And got a great photo to boot.
For the last three years, every time that I’ve been at June Mountain I can’t help but think about doing a photo shoot on the stair-set leading up to the access chairlift. It looks so inviting, sitting all there alone with three high round down-bars and 24 or so cheesegrater stairs. Almost all the rails around Tahoe are wooden (which severely limits the tricks that can be done) and have all been shot on many times before. I think I remember Kevin Jones or someone hitting the June stairs back in the day when Mammoth (and June) were taking some of the shine from Tahoe and Whistler in the old Mack Dawg vids. This rail is certainly legit!
I’ve mentioned shooting on the rail a few times to a few guys, but it’s three hours away from Tahoe, and needs a fair bit of snow for the in and out-runs. Enter Reuben Cameron and Sam Pofley. Reubs is probably my oldest snow mate, and I would have met him back when he was a Falls Creek park monkey.
He’s progressed to become Falls’ chief park builder, and after a couple of seasons at June Mtn, he’s also taken on that role there. Yankee Sam did a couple of seasons at Falls, showing Reuben the ropes, poached him to June and just this last season took over the organisational role for the freestyle park program. So when I finally found a project and a rider who wanted to come to June I called up Reubs to see if he could help, and he promised to not only smooth it over, but even use his Kat to build the take-off and landing!
Darragh Walsh was pumped (but a little nervous) to get a shot on the rail, and I roped in his Destyn Via teammate, Cohen Davies, to come along and get a different shot. All was planned…and then I got a call from Reuben saying that it was all cool to go ahead, but that another crew wanted to shoot on the rail so we would be combining shoots. No problem…until I heard that the other riders would be none other than super-pro Eddie Wall and wunderkind Tyler Flanagan! Talk about pressure on the Aussie boys to get the goods.
So packing the car Tuesday morning we set off, picking up Olliepop Films’ Jeremy Richardson on the way, and arrived in June’s carpark (complete with redneck truck and guard dog) by lunch. The guys have an awesome Taco Tuesday in place for Spring, with cheap beers and tacos besides the halfpipe and quarterpipe – and you don’t have to even hike the pipe or catch a chair – the maintenance guys tow you back to the top behind a sled! Awesome. It certainly was the place to be on a warm and sunny Spring day and there was a big Aussie and Hotham crew enjoying the good times, including my good mate, Mike D. Mike’s a salty old character (literally, as he spends half his life out at sea working on big ships) who’s been a big part of Hotham Boardriders for many a year, but who loves nothing more than to boost massive out the top of a halfpipe…and he’s always great for a crazy story or laugh. After the arvo shred it was time to celebrate with a couple of cold ones (check out Mike’s stoke with his fridge’s beer dispenser!), a recovery spa, then some good times down at the Auld Dubliner pub in town.
We all woke a bit foggy-headed, except Cohen and Darragh who took it easy to be in the best shape for their meeting with Eddie and Tyler, and headed back to June to get a few shots in the park. Once you’re up the mountain and off the super-slow access lift, June is a great place to shred a fun park without any crowds and hit some unique and cool-looking features. Cohen even found a new way use the top of his board to slide park features. We got a couple of nice shots and Jeremy filmed a bunch of park laps for Destyn Via…but the big challenge of later in the evening was never far from the guy’s minds.
Finally we headed down the hill when the lifts closed, grabbed some food and came back to find one kat shaping the in-run and take-off, and Sam dumping piles of snow in the car-park for the landing. Sure beats shovelling! However I was surprised to see such a huge crew on site – there seemed to be about 30 people stuffing around, getting in the way, arms waving, busy yelling and looking like they were there for business. No site of Eddie Wall though, unfortunately. I guess we weren’t cool enough for Video Hyper Shred. As time wore on and the sun dropped down it looked good to go and a heap of guys started hitting the middle rail and left rail (I’m not not sure why you would bother, though). It was an absolute shit show. Everyone was acting as if they were the most important person there without any consideration for all the other guys. There were 2 other photogs, and I counted at least 6 video cameras. Tyler Flanagan did some steezy boardslides, and Darragh and Cohen stepped up straight away, but all the other riders were less impressive. But it was such a weird vibe – there was no central organisation or order, and dudes were getting in shot, getting in each other’s way and causing lots of angst.
Cohen stomped his nose press before even the sun went down and I had one shot in the bag, but Darragh was trying to get a much more difficult switch front board – much harder than all the 50-50’s, boardslides and front boards the Yanks and Euros were attempting. There was one loudmouth fat photog who I’ve seen around Mammoth and June a lot before – he had all the gear, including a big strobe setup…but clearly no idea how to use it. One flash just isn’t enough to get a decent shot, no matter how powerful it is (I jusy had 3 small Canon Speedlights), and he must have moved the flash 10 times and done test shots 10 times for each location. We were all on edge as wind storms blew through and covered everything in dust, straining to hear the call of “All clear?’ and “Dropping!”. Then as Darragh stomped his trick the fat boy got in my way, and another time one flash failed to go off. It was a complete shemozzle, and we just wanted to get the fuck out of there and get back home. Darragh was banged up, but I coaxed him into going back up the hill a couple more times…and he kicked a goal straight through the sticks, stomped that switch front board and with a sigh of relief high-fived the crowd. I was happy with the shot, and happier to be getting out of there and heading home to Tahoe. Job done.
It was a short day-and-a-half road trip to June Mountain…but I’ll never have to walk up those access stairs ever again and wonder “what if…?” It was well worth the drive and the shit-show surrounding the rail, and it was a bonus to get a couple more shots in the park too. Thanks again to Reuben and Sam for organising everything for us – I think you guys should be happy with the published results. Cheers, boys.