Partywars

Last week the yearly installment of Stylewars rollicked drunkenly up through the snow-laden streets of Falls Creek to the Snowdrift Lodge, and I was fortunate enough to secure a berth in the party house. Stylewars is not quite the same since the glory years in at Silverski, and this year it was dealt even harsher cards with Thredbo’s MTV SnowJam cutting it two days shorter, and then four days of whiteouts and blizzards. Reuben and Matto had built some excellent and photogenic features over on Ruined Castle: a 70 foot step-down jump into an 80 foot true-table/step-down jump, alongside the big wall-ride, 40 foot down rail, and raised gap-to-butter box. Take a look at the photos that were snapped on Sunday here. There was perhaps a slight, short weather-window late Monday afternoon, but for basically the whole event window the low clouds swirled and the snow fell…hard.

So no competition could be held out in Ruined Castle, and the only snowboarding action for Stylewars was a two-hour rail jam practice session, and then the short Wednesday night “28 Stairs” rail jam held under puking, dumping snow.

So with the weather not cooperating, take a guess as to what 50 or so pro-riders, photographers, videographers, journalists, judges and organisers did for four days cooped up in a hotel? I think Ryan Tiene’s Facebook status said it best : “big week in falls did 4 runs in 4 days and drank way 2 much!

The lazy days were spent forlornly looking at the falling snow which cancelled the comp, then amping up to take some free pow laps through the trees on slow-running, wind-affected chairlifts, then coming back inside when your face became too frozen and getting into the swing of the nightly music and parties…and maybe finishing it off with a sneaky late-night spa. A lot of the crew entered the Room of Doom where feverish games of the Devil’s Dice were running continuously, forcing the unlucky roller to smash down shots of some sort of evil spirit or another. Before even many of the crew had arrived on the Sunday night, the Devil’s Dice had taken its toll, forcing the eviction of several drunken riders from the pub, leaving one knocked out when his head was used to open the front door, and another with a police warning for smashing a beer bottle and threatening to use it on the offending meat-head bouncer. Demon drink indeed! Others got off more lightly, but still paid the price for choosing alcohol over snowboarding. Tuesday night was Dane Tiene’s 21st birthday, and we all threw in some money to get a special show from Albury. We all waited patiently in the Snowdrift’s lounge while the boys played dice, but while the wait was too much for some, eventually the devilish weather even put a stop to these extra-curricular shenanigans, closing the road from Albury with too much snow! So it was off to the pub again…

Fortunately, as an elder statesmen, I took it a little easier, but still managed to get into trouble, ollie-ing over a snow bank on the home trail and failing to notice a branch up above, smashing my head and requiring 5 stitches down in the medical centre. Feeling a little dazed, and with the craziest snowfalls I have ever seen in Australia falling on Wednesday, I gave the 28 Stairs rail jam a miss. Officially, 54cm of snow fell at Falls that Wednesday, the biggest since 1993, and when I went to get my car out Thursday it was almost totally buried by the more-than-a-metre of fresh that had fallen since Sunday. It took over two hours to dig my car out and get chains on – not great when you’ve been told to keep your stitches dry and to not exert yourself too much.

But all was salvaged when I returned to Falls Creek for the weekend for a perfectly sunny couple of days to shoot the re-opened big jumps with the local park crew rippers, NSW’s Clint Allan and Jye Kearney, and skiers Russ Henshaw and Johnno Lipsker. It was five hours of shooting out in the park, getting multiple angles for photos to be saved for magazine publication. The chopper even hovered over the park for a while with snapper Alex Roberts poking out the door, making it seem like the Stylewars of old: sunny skies, music blaring and the boys throwing down on big jumps while the rotor-wash of the heli whipped snow off the jump. I can’t wait till next year…

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.