To Slovakia - 6th Place at Jasna FWQ 4*

From Norway I travelled pretty much straight to Slovakia, with a day stopover in Vienna at Austrian Snowboard chick, Manuela Mandels place. 

It was a fairly multi-cultural few days actually, to come from wealthy country like Norway to the less wealthy Slovakia was a pretty interesting experience. The two places are very different to one another. 
I also spent a day as a tourist in Vienna on the way, checking out some of the cities famous sites. Vienna is a pretty awesome place to visit, The 1st district, which is at the centre of the city is full of big, important and rather old buildings. The place has an incredible feeling of age and history, which can only be topped by the Natural History Museum, which is full of much older and much more historic stuff. I spent about half a day in there...
Vienna is pretty different to both Slovakia and Norway so that added in another contrast along the way. 

Aside from getting #DadBodDeep in history and culture I also went skiing. 
The purpose of the journey was to compete at the FWQ 4* event at Jasna In Slovakia. 

The venue drops right off a wind stripped ridge from the top gondola station and heads down through ice caked cliffs to the basin below. The terrain there is sick and I really want to go back to explore more of it! 

The weather and the snow conditions reminded me very much skiing in NZ, which made us Kiwis feel right at home.
This was the biggest group of Kiwis I have ever been a part of since I have been competing internationally. 
We had Hank Bilous (10th Ski Men), Maria Kuzma (2nd Sb Women), Roland Morley-Brown (7th Sb Men) and Anna Smoothy (1st Ski Women) riding while Dion Newport, Neil Williman and Hayden Sedden were spread across the two judging panels. 
It was so good having everyone there. 

This comp was a perfect example of knowing what I wanted to ski as soon as I saw the face. 
I spotted this steep tight technical section into a big air at the end of the Venue, and Immediately knew it was true love. 

The tricky part was deciding on a top section, and in the end I went for a pretty straight forward approach so that I could focus on the main feature. 

I placed 6th overall which I am stoked with, although I back slapped my last cliff pretty badly in all I am really happy with the way I skied. There are a few things I would do differently, but they aren't as major. Besides I would be confused if I got the the bottom of a run feeling like it was perfect!

After Jasna I am now sitting at 5th on the Qualifier tour and 49th in the world, including FWT riders. This could change quite a bit over the rest of the season as there are still two more 4* comps and a few 3* to go. So I will need to get some more good results if I want to maintain my ranking. 

If you listen to the audio at the end of the POV clip below, you will notice that having a beard is not a ticket to manliness if you still still squeal like a child when you're excited.

It was amazing to see Anna Smoothy shred her way into first place for Womans Ski, she skied with speed and purpose, the best I have seen her ride recently.
In fact the Womans Ski category was a real stand out, there are some talented chicks rising through the ranks of the FWQ and I am keen to watch them throw down in the future. 

I am back in Champoluc for the next week until Nendaz Freeride in Switzerland, and we finally have snow here!!

This is a screen grab of my first cliff, unfortunately the live feed controller switched cameras too late and mostly missed it, it is pretty hard to make out in the video. 

This is a screen grab of my first cliff, unfortunately the live feed controller switched cameras too late and mostly missed it, it is pretty hard to make out in the video. 

When I left the judging spot to head up for my run, I decided to take a run through the trees to practice my high speed short turns in preparation for the tight section in my run. 
Part way down I managed to shoulder check a small tree and as a result lost control and blasted off a mogul high speed into a bunch of bigger trees. 
On the way through I snapped the one in the picture below with the top of my boot and my knee. I am pretty lucky that it was already dead because it only hurt a lot, and didn't actually damage anything. 
I went straight through it into the trees below. They didn't snap and they also hurt a lot. 
It was a pretty great way to prep for my run.
10/10 would crash into trees again. 

holding the other part of the dead tree I snapped.

holding the other part of the dead tree I snapped.

This is where I stopped. 

This is where I stopped. 

We came across this tall dude in Liptovsky Mikulas. He was suuuuuper tall. And he had sick slippers.

We came across this tall dude in Liptovsky Mikulas. He was suuuuuper tall. And he had sick slippers.

I think this dude noticed me missing the shot of his rad truck...

I think this dude noticed me missing the shot of his rad truck...

the view from the top

the view from the top

Results Ski Men

Results Ski Men

For the post comp Dion Newport organised the first ever Dion Newport Invitational Grand Prix at the gocart place down in Liptovsky Mikulas, The DNIGP, it was loose. 

The DNIDUIGP

The DNIDUIGP


In a Galaxy, Norway Way Away

Loving the sogndal Pow, rocking my Scott LCG goggles and Scott Symbol Helmet. Photo: Tijntje Vuijk

Loving the sogndal Pow, rocking my Scott LCG goggles and Scott Symbol Helmet.
Photo: Tijntje Vuijk

At the end of the last European winter I travelled to Norway to compete at the Roldal Freeride FWQ4*, it was my first season back after injury so it was worth it to get another under the belt, but being so late in the season and so far away I figured it would be a fair while before I ever went back.
It turns out Norway has more to offer for big mountain than I had realised and this season to prove that point they put on an FWQ 4* in Sogndal, which is a University town at the top of a fjord just inland from the west coast, about 5 hours north of Roldal and 7:30 from Oslo by bus.

A map showing relative locations of Oslo, Sogndal and Roldal. This is not the actual route I took, I went by bus direct from Oslo to Sogndal and back. About a 7 hour trip. 

A map showing relative locations of Oslo, Sogndal and Roldal. This is not the actual route I took, I went by bus direct from Oslo to Sogndal and back. About a 7 hour trip. 

I was in Norway since last Wednesday and the comp was scheduled for last Friday.
Unfortunately due to bad weather and the resulting high avalanche danger in all venue options the competition day did not happen. 

Even still this was the most well organised comp I have ever been to, we were constantly being updated with concise riders meetings with detailed descriptions of snow pack and weather charts topped by well written emails well in advance of any changes, which allowed everyone to stay focused on picking lines and preparing mentally.
Plus there were free waffles... 

This was a model performance from the organisers and a far cry from the seriously poor effort put forward by the folks in charge at the Les Arcs 4* a couple of weeks ago. 

For me the highlight of the show was the Mini-Ski booter session they put on in place of the comp. It was run in a local dudes back yard in the middle of town, to the sound of Norwegian commentary from a ski jumping competition. Kiwi young gun Hank Bilous was there in his shorts and bath robe chucking hammers and I managed to stick the first back flip of the night, after a few failed attempts. 

-As seen below, Mini Skis are little plastic snow blades that you strap to your street shoes, so those who know me will understand my excitement when it was announced-

MIni-Skis. The peak of on snow performance hardware.

MIni-Skis. The peak of on snow performance hardware.

The snow storm continued through the weekend as predicted and as sort of a "Sorry for being a dick with the weather" from Mother Nature, our travels were rewarded with a beaut of a powder day on Sunday, our final day in Sogndal. 
We had an awesome time skiing some of the best pillows I have seen in Europe while doing laps off the back side of the ski resort. The gladed face runs down to the highway where you catch a ski bus back to the resort, to do it all over again!

So even with another cancelled FWQ event to add to the list, the trip to Norway finished well!

I am now on my way to the next FWQ 4* in Slovakia via Vienna. The comp is scheduled to run on Friday 26th February.  

Sogndal Side country laps - Photo: Manuela Mandl

Sogndal Side country laps - Photo: Manuela Mandl

Songdal Side Country Pillows. Last lap of the day. Photo: Paul de Groot 

Songdal Side Country Pillows. Last lap of the day. Photo: Paul de Groot 

Les Arcs 4* and Verbier

This is the cliff I undershot. I landed just short on the last section of rocks.

This is the cliff I undershot. I landed just short on the last section of rocks.

Last weekend I competed in the first FWQ 4* event of the season at Les Arcs in France. 

Since competing in the 3 competitions of the Verbier freeride week a couple weeks prior I was feeling pretty good, even after a week and a half of skiing on piste in Italy due to a significant lack of snow and very warm temps which meant skiing off trail was more like sneaking through a mine field.

Conditions at champoluc were pretty rough while I was there.

Conditions at champoluc were pretty rough while I was there.

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Before we arrived conditions at Les Arcs were a little sharky although still much better than at Champoluc, as an added bonus it snowed a bunch the night before the comp and I was able to fit in some high energy warm up laps between inspection and my run. Doing a bunch of back flips and intentionally flat landings put me in a really good head space and I was fizzing at the top of the venue, excited to ski my run. I have realised that a good warm up is the key to me feeling confident on comp day.

My run was to be a technical section leading into a pretty big air at the top of the venue with a long jump lower down and some small poppers on the way.
I never made it past the first big air because I had slightly the wrong angle going off a small rock directly above and had to put an unwanted turn right on the edge to get the right take off but in doing so I lost all my speed.
I went for it anyway thinking I was good but failed to recognise a small shelf right at the foot of the wall. I landed on rocks only a couple metres short of the snow and dive rolled into the deep snow in the landing. 
I was totally fine and my skis only had a few core shots to show for it. 

It was pretty frustrating because the mistake that caused it was so small off a feature that was not totally necessary. 

The cliff with the red crosses is the big cliff referred to. The lowest x is where I was hoping to land and the one just above is where I actually landed. the top x is the take off.

The cliff with the red crosses is the big cliff referred to. The lowest x is where I was hoping to land and the one just above is where I actually landed. the top x is the take off.

I had a sick day solo shredding Les Arcs the next day which made up for it. 
So the trip became made for really good training. 

This weekend I was supposed to be competing at the Axamer lizum FWQ 3* in Austria, but it was postponed a few days ago due to lack of snow in the venue. 
It is pretty disappointing, and cancellation due to lack of snow is turning out to be a common theme in Europe this season, its not so bad though because the pay off was getting to spend a whole week in Verbier skiing powder and training drops and flips instead of the 2 day stop over I had planned on my way up to Austria. 

As well as Axamer being postponed, 3 of the other events I was planning to do have been cancelled, Hochfugen 4*, La Clusaz 4* and the Verbier 3*.

Tomorrow I will leave Verbier and start the journey up to Norway for the FWQ 4* in Sogndal happening next on Friday 19th Feb. 

 

a bit of fun at bruson last week

a bit of fun at bruson last week

Pow Day at La Thuile in italy

Pow Day at La Thuile in italy

Finding the fun stuff at Champoluc

Finding the fun stuff at Champoluc

 

While I was in Champoluc we had a day where we toured up to ski an awesome couloir between Gressoney and Alagna, it was a fun mission and good to get up high where the off piste was skiable. I didn't have any of my own touring gear so I was skiing on a borrowed setup, but it worked out pretty well!

There are a couple of photos below.

we skied the awesome tight couloir between those two hefty cliffs. it was one of the coolest lines I have ever skied!

we skied the awesome tight couloir between those two hefty cliffs. it was one of the coolest lines I have ever skied!

Looking down into the top of the couloir from the photo above

Looking down into the top of the couloir from the photo above

Joel riding another cool line in Gressoney

Joel riding another cool line in Gressoney

Pow day at La Thuile, Photo: Joel Burman 

Pow day at La Thuile, Photo: Joel Burman 


Week one in Europe, Mad Pow and Verbier Freeride week

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When I left NZ most of Europe was still looking pretty brown. I don’t usually check the forecast before I head over because I figure it makes no difference; I’d rather just turn up. Usually though, I find out from word of mouth or from a friends Facebook post about either Epic pow or epic grass skiing. This year it was grass skiing, by from Kiwi freerider Michael Norrie 

Shenanigans #nordicans #fitforthelongrun #nosnownoproblem

Posted by Michael Norrie on Monday, December 28, 2015

With an image of earth tones in my mind I got to packing, thinking that I might have an advantage this year with my extensive “all terrain” training in NZ at the end of winter 


However due to a storm that started about the day I left NZ, my advantage seems to be swiftly disappearing. 

This week is Verbier Freeride week, and my plan was to arrive in town, ski for 3 days and go straight into the two 2 star events starting last Monday as a warm up for the season finishing with the 3* this weekend. 

Both events were moved over to Bruson and pushed back to Wednesday and Friday to be run on the same venue the JR comp used the previous weekend. This was because of poor visibility caused by the storm that was just nuking its guts out as well as a dangerously unstable snow pack up on the venues at Verbier that resulted from the sudden mass of new snow. 

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The venue we skied was pretty bare of features and cliffs in the middle of the run with a small amount of more exposed terrain on either boundary. Most of the field went for the fall line option of hitting rollers, wind lips and small rocks at speed and sending tricks off everything.
 
In the first event the light was up and down and I skied a one hit line in the exposure on the edge of the venue, which was fun but not particularly gnarly and placed me in 11th.

In the second 2 star event the sun was out all day and people stepped up the level of tricks and boosted the speed. I was hungry for something a little more exciting that my first attempt so I switched to the other edge of the venue and took a similar approach choosing technical steep and exposed rather than nearly everyone else who chose to mainline high speed with tricks.

Me having some fun after the comp practising spinning off drops. Photo by Charlotte Percle

Me having some fun after the comp practising spinning off drops. Photo by Charlotte Percle

I skied fast and fluid with a gap at the top and nice double in the middle and was able to pick up 3rd place, right behind fellow Kiwi shredder Hank Bilous in second whose run included a box of frosted flakes strapped to his backpack, a 360 and a cork seven.

The winner was Max Vaquin whose run I didn’t see but I hear was really impressive with a high speed approach and back to back front flips followed by a humongous backflip off a wind lip to finish. 

The podium 

The podium 

Although I would have loved to ski a bigger venue, this one forced a bit of creativity into the mix which made things quite interesting. I am happy with how things went and I am planning to step things up more in the weeks to come, starting with the Verbier 3* happening tomorrow. 

3 comps and a bunch of insane powder in my first week is an awesome start to the season!

The Bronze 

The Bronze 


The Long Jump

Far out, time really books it along when you're closing in on a cross globe journey. 

Winter, Spring, Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer. I guess its pretty weird having 6 seasons in a year, but I like it a lot!

After my favourite NZ winter in memory, spring settled in and I found myself working at the Airshed Trampoline centre in Wanaka as a check in/safety manager and trampoline coach. 
https://www.facebook.com/theairshed/?fref=ts
That all came from an opportunity presented to me to do an 8 day coaching course through winter. It was cool to be able to take the teaching skills learned as a ski instructor and apply it to a different sport, I have improved my tramp game a tonne with a bunch of new stunts and It has been great fun teaching beginner progression tramp lessons to kids and adults.

I have also been doing lots of running, biking, swimming, gym, slack lining and paddle boarding, among other warm weather activities, with my first half marathon and a triathlon in the mix. So I am feeling pretty fit and ready to get after it. 

Dad and me at the end of the Queenstown Half Marathon

Dad and me at the end of the Queenstown Half Marathon

I am currently sitting at gate 10 in Auckland international airport, waiting to board my long haul flight to Europe!

After landing on the 7th of Jan I will head to Verbier where I will compete in the Verbier Freeride week a couple of days later. The week is made up of two 2* events and one 3*. My plan is to use it as a warm up, more for mental preparation so that I am feeling head strong when my first 4* at Hochfugen comes around about 2 weeks later on Jan 29th. 

From there I will hit more comps bringing my season to 9 stops in total, these include:

Les Arcs 4*, France - Feb 6th - 7th
Jasna 4*, Slovakia - Feb 24th - 28th
Nendaz Freeride 4*, Switzerland - Mar 11th - 16th
Chandolin 3*, Switzerland - Mar 19th - 20th
Obergurgl 4*, Austria - April 9th - 12th

After the last comp I will head straight home to NZ on April 15th.

It is now almost two years after injury and my knee is feeling solid! I am definitely excited about this season, it will be full on with comps and travel and I am really looking to push myself to see how close I can get to qualifying for the Freeride World Tour. 

Bring it. 

A video posted by Sam Lee (@sam_ibex_lee) on

Love me some slack lining! Photo - Hannah Rasmussen

Love me some slack lining! Photo - Hannah Rasmussen

Photo - Hannah Rasmussen 

Photo - Hannah Rasmussen 

Boxing Day Boating with my sick as heck snap back with the neck flap

Boxing Day Boating with my sick as heck snap back with the neck flap

waterski 1.jpg
paddling into the night earlier in spring, it was fully dark by the time we finished. The moon was even out. 

paddling into the night earlier in spring, it was fully dark by the time we finished. The moon was even out. 

Scott and I paddled down the Clutha from the red bridge to Maori point and finished in the dark.

Scott and I paddled down the Clutha from the red bridge to Maori point and finished in the dark.

West cost camping trip in spring. Sea side sunsets are beautiful things. 

West cost camping trip in spring. Sea side sunsets are beautiful things. 

 

I have been doing a bit more carving this spring as well, the pictures below are of pieces I made recently. 

Xmas present for Mum

Xmas present for Mum

I only carved the stone in this one, the ring was missing its bit so I made a replacement!

I only carved the stone in this one, the ring was missing its bit so I made a replacement!

Frank

Frank

As well as that I made myself a standing desk! the cure for a sore back. I have never made anything significant out of wood on my own before so the process was a lot of fun and it turned out far better than I expected!

As well as that I made myself a standing desk! the cure for a sore back. I have never made anything significant out of wood on my own before so the process was a lot of fun and it turned out far better than I expected!

See below for cloud porn.


2nd Place in the NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain FWQ 3*

On Friday I finished 2nd place in the finals of the NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain!
A way better result than I was expecting!
It was the first time since injury that I set out with the plan to shoot for a top five finish. I went into the comp feeling about 95% recovered, so I figured I could have a bit of fun!

The snow was great and the level of skiing was really high. People were going for it attempting some big airs and equally big tricks with more people sticking their runs than usual.
Sebastien Varlet took out 1st after skiing a charger line with a very big last air and Hank Bilous sent it to the moon off a drop that I haven't seen anyone ski before to reel in 3rd place. 
 
With some dangerously last minute changes to my line while standing in the start gate, I opted for quick and technical with a bunch of little airs at the top and a tight fast double through the middle leading into a reasonable air at the bottom. 
It all came together super smoothly and I managed to finish a totally clean run.

This result has been a massive confidence booster moving between the rehab phase of my northern winter and the send it phase planned for Jan 2016. 
It's pretty damn satisfying to be at this point after the last 17 months of hard work.
It is cool to have a good result, especially for the sponsors and supporters who have helped me through this uncertain period. 

Check out the event video below:

On Board With Scott NZ

Some cool news!

Scott NZ have jumped on board as a new addition to my sponsors!

I am stoked to be working with Scott, their kit is rad!
They are going to be hooking me up with helmets, goggles, poles and protective gear.
Currently I am using a Symbol helmet and the LCG Goggles pictured below. 

Starting up relations with a new company is exciting and I am sure this will lead on to good things. 

Scott Wintersport NZ Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/scottwintersportnz

Scott Homepage - http://www.scott-sports.com/us/en/

Scott Symbol Helmet with MIPS Tech. 

First Impression of the Symbol is the adjustably of fit and vent system is cool. 

Scott LCG Goggle 

I think these goggles look super cool and I am a big fan of the super quick lens change slider system; Its much easier than bra clips...

Full on in NZ

With the best start to a Wanaka season since I can remember I am right back into Regular winter life. As it turns out I picked the right year to be injured as 2014 seemed like a pretty average season for Freeride. 
It's so awesome to be skiing in NZ, even after only missing one season I feel like its been for ever. My knee is feeling really strong and stable so I am stoked!

I am ski instructing full time at Cardrona again as well as training towards my Level 3 Ski Instructor certification, so I have been busy. 
Its good to be fully stacked again after a full but relatively cruisy last year. 
I have only had a small amount of time to ski outside of my ride breaks at work (which I have been making the most of) but all the skiing I have done has been awesome fun!
A lot of lines have been on at Cardrona this year that aren't often skiable, including some tight stuff down the Valley View chutes, which is exciting. 
I was even able to fit in an early season ski tour out the back of Cardrona!

The NZ Open Big Mountain FWQ 3* is coming in hot with only a month to go.
I have been invited through to the final day, which is pretty rad!
I am really looking forward to skiing this comp again, it is a classic and hopefully with the early snow we will have some new stuff to play around with. 

Last weekend Icebreaker took all of their snow sport ambassadors including myself on an overnighter up the top of Lake Wakatipu at Mt Nicholas Station, which is one of their Merino wool suppliers. 
It was great learning about the process of farming Merinos as well as the journey the wool takes from sheep to shirt. 
We also had a sneak peak into some of the new range for next year and its safe to say there is some rad new gear coming out!
I also managed to get my shoes wet more than once and I have splinters and prickles in my hands, so that is a great indicator of a good adventure!

This year Head has brought back the Monster range. 
I have been riding the Monster 108 this season and I am thoroughly impressed with how it skis. 
The 108 is a total beast, stiff as balls, 25 meter radius, full camber with only a slight early rise and a flat tail to top it all off. One person I talked to described them as battleships, which I think is about right! These things will charge through everything. 

Treble Cone Opening Day, Photo by Keith Stubbs at 360queenstown-wanaka

Treble Cone Opening Day, Photo by Keith Stubbs at 360queenstown-wanaka

Tight stuff behind Cardrona

Tight stuff behind Cardrona

Balance practice on a narrow metal bar at Mt Nicolas Station during the Icebreaker Getaway

Balance practice on a narrow metal bar at Mt Nicolas Station during the Icebreaker Getaway

Roldal 4*, The wettest comp ever.

Last week I was in Norway competing in the Roldal Freeride 4*. 

It was a pretty outrageous comp, we spent most of the week waiting around for the weather to clear enough for us to run with 4 venue changes by the time we finished.

On Saturday they decided to bite the bullet and run the comp despite the weather. 
It rained all day and was coming down hard a lot of the time. 
The venue was moved to a new face just below the level of the ski field on the premise that it was better to run in the rain in small terrain than not at all. 

We were all asked to hike up at the same time which meant people at the end of the field like me, 78, were hanging around for 4 or 5 hours. 
Luckily there was a little old shack to keep us out of the rain, it had no front door or glass in the windows so it was still pretty draughty. It sounds like we were lucky not to fall through the rotten floor, plus they didn't even have Wifi. 
I was well prepared for the wait with ample food supplies and my vintage Hemingway for some light pre comp reading in the attic. 

A bunch of the French/Swiss guys spent a good hour or so attempting to build a fire in the old hearth out of assorted scraps of chip board and other pieces of wood that had fallen off the ol' shack. They managed to get it going for 5 or 10 minutes, but in the process they totally smoked the place out and I think we probably all have lung cancer now. 

I still got bored and went walking in the rain on multiple occasions. So I didn't stay dry for long. 

The snow was as sticky as anything I have ever skied, so even just riding took a fair amount of concentration. 

I kind of planned my top section badly and the double I was expecting to roll off was more of a 4 meter gap to a boulder, so I stopped and had to basically walk around the top of the rock I was on and drop in from a more manageable location, I was docked heavily for that.

The rest of the run went well, although still pretty conservative, mostly due to me being nervous about getting twisted up in the heavy snow. 
I did hit a couple of drops though and finished in 20th. 

At the bottom I was fully soaked, my jacket and pants were wet through to my Icebreaker base layers. I could have probably survived a month off the water in my gloves alone.  

Aside from the waiting around for hours I thought it was a fun day due to the silliness of the situation. I will have fond memories of my time in Norway. 

On one of our down days a bunch of us drove half an hour to Odda for some sight seeing.
We came across an abandoned factory and some amazing waterfalls along the way, and in the spirit of adventure we set off on a mission to get up on one of the falls. We found a dirt road which passed just above the top and bushwhacked down to the edge to throw stones off.

It was a great trip and I hope I will be able to return to Norway one day.  

I am heading back to New Zealand today after what I would consider to be about as successful a post knee injury season as I could have hoped for. My knee is still hurting but far less than day one and I can't wait to return to Europe next year buff as heck and ready to send it properly!

Kitzsteinhorn 3* 8th place

At the start of the week I travelled back down to Verbier from Austria after competing in the Kitzsteinhorn 3*. 

It was cool to be in Austria again, I spent a short amount of time up there last year for the Hochfugen 4*, but I didn't really get to see that much of the place as I was sort of just in and out for the comp. 

This year I was able to appreciate the place a lot more with less stress about travel and staying alive working off what I learned from last year as well as the advice from others, Cheers for that! Between Obergurgl and Kitzsteinhorn I took a day trip to Kennelbach to visit the Head factory. It was really good to finally meet the guys who are helping me out, after talking by email for so long!

I am really happy with the way things went on comp day. 
4 comps in and I was still running with my plan of skiing safe, but I was able to find an interesting line that I really enjoyed riding.
Although I hesitated a lot on my last air, the rest of my run was clean and relatively smooth and I placed 8th out of a field of 31. I am really happy with my result as I wasn’t actually expecting or even planning to place in the top ten. 

This result is exactly what I needed, I am now sitting on 1080 points which should already be enough to gain entrance for 4* comps next year. With Roldal and the NZ open still to come before Next Euro winter I will have a bit more freedom to play around!

This leg of the journey was especially cool.
I was staying with Birgit Ertl who also let me use her car to get to the comp, so I saw a bunch more of the area just by driving an hour to and from the mountain. Her car is called Blitzi, which apparently means "little lightning" and he is about 3 meters long and 100% yellow with a LOVE bumper sticker. She stores it in her spare room and you carry it around in a leather satchel. 
To get it going you just stand behind and breathe out. 
Blitzi is actually a champ though!

This is Blitzi, what a monster!

This is Blitzi, what a monster!

Having a sit down rave with 6 people in the back of a friend’s station wagon (pimped to the chin for sleeping) was another highlight. We dubbed it the Passat Party and it is safe to say the official comp after party paled in comparison!

-Photo: The Passat Party-

Comp number 5 and the final comp of my season will be the Roldal 4* in Norway, I haven’t decided how I will approach it yet, but I will be nearly 11 months post op, so my knee should be strong enough to push a little harder.
I will see how the next couple of weeks go before I set my sights on any goals in particular.

The photos below were taken near the lake in Zell Am See after the comp

Results

Results

Obergurgl comp update

Over the weekend I competed in comp number 3 of my return, The Open Faces 4* at Obergurgl, Austria. Home of the famous “Fabi Lentsch Airliner” run.

I turned up with the continued plan of skiing safe and sure, but it ended up being far more conservative than I had in mind. 

I chose a fun line with a few small drops and a technical section at the bottom.
The comp day started out sunny and all of the women were able to finish in good conditions, but by the time the men started the clouds were beginning to come in. 

After about 20 guys had dropped the viz disappeared and I guess the comp went on hold. We sat around at the top of the venue for what felt like close to an hour waiting for things to get moving again. 

Eventually the comp restarted and from then on it would go between no definition and light on a whim. 

I dropped in only a few from the end and managed to catch it at its dimmest. 
The snow had also changed a lot and become quite heavy, especially low down.
On another day I might have been able to deal with the conditions, but at this stage in my comeback it just was too difficult.

Overall my run was pretty disappointing. I decided to take it easy through the tech section and then basically decided I didn't want to take the risk of airing anything into difficult snow with no definition so I skipped my last air and pretty much didn't leave the ground during the run. 

It felt pretty lame, but in some ways I am glad I didn't risk it for that particular biscuit. 

Due to the amount of crashes and mistakes from others a slow run on my feet was able to scrape up 20th place, which is still a valuable result seeing as the long game is to gather enough points to qualify for 4* comps next year when I am ready to go for it. 

On a much more positive note, I went skiing on Monday at Hochfugen with fellow Head skier Jochen Mesle who showed me some cool spots. 
We hiked a small face a few times and scored some banger turns!

I finally decided I was over skiing cautiously and stamped out a wind lip and sent my first 4 backflips of the season. The first was a total failure, the second was a big back slap which to my surprise hurt my knee less than expected, the third was small but solid and the last was just generally whack. That one hurt. 

Crashing a few time got me amped up and I went and charged around for a while and crashed a few more times finishing the day with this amazing unintentional high speed reverse scorpion.
Everything still hurts, so all in all I consider it to be a totally successful day!


Nendaz Freeride 4* - 12 month milestone

Last weekend I competed at the Nendaz Freeride 4* in Switzerland. 
It was the most significant milestone so far as it was my crash on the qualifier day of this event 12 months ago that set this whole process of injury, recovery and milestones in action. 

Standing at the top of the Qualifier day I was nervous. Surprisingly I was less affected by the memory of a year ago than I imagined I would be.
Same as at Chandolin I skied a straightforward and reasonably mellow line and although I hesitated on my last air I took everything to my feet clean and safe. 
It was enough to qualify me into the finals in 18th place. 

To make it to finals day with a mellow run in the comp that blew my knee was a big deal to me. 

On day two I picked a run with more features and bigger drops than I have attempted in a comp so far this season, but I skied it really safe and gave myself a lot of room to hesitate on take off, I wanted to make absolutely sure I would be landing square, as landing back seat still hurts enough that it is hard to hold on to any mistakes.

I had a boat load of fun and finished my run clean with the exception of missing my last cliff as a result of taking the previous drop on the wrong angle. My knee was hurting at the end and it is still pretty tender 2 days post comp, so I am definitely skiing at my limit. 
I only scored a 54, which is about right considering how safely I skied and how gnarly the other guys were getting! It still put me in 16th place overall (second 16th in two comps).

Finals Results

Finals Results

I am really happy with how I did considering my plan for the season has been to ski safe and attempt to gather enough points to re qualify for 4* events next year, which I am on track to achieve. 

At the end of my run the only thing I could think about was the line I want to ski next year. At that point I made a commitment to be in the gym a whole lot so that by the end of the year I will be as strong as an Ox!

Even though I am not totally recovered, landing both my qualifier and final day runs with only one mistake makes me feel like I have beaten the bastard and that things can only improve. 
My performance at Nendaz was already a big step up from Chandolin so I am unbelievably excited for the day that I can send a full noise run in competition!



Chandolin FWQ 3*, Successful First Comp Of The Season

Early morning moon fall at Chandolin, One of the perks of waking up at 5am!

Early morning moon fall at Chandolin, One of the perks of waking up at 5am!

Here is an update on my comp at Chandolin 3* this weekend passed. 

Being my first competition since injury last march my plan was to take it relatively easy and try to ski a run that would put me in the middle of the pack. 
I figured it would be best to use it as a no pressure practice to get my head back into comp mode and to see how my knee would hold up. 

Day one went badly, I got a little too ambitious and tried to ski a more technical line than I probably should have, which resulted in a couple of small falls and a lot of hesitation. 
Even still I managed to place 26th out of 46 on the day. Which I was happy with considering I how poorly I felt I skied. 

Day two was much more successful. 
I learned a lot from day one and chose to stick to the original plan and picked a fun relatively uncomplicated line that I knew I would have fun skiing.
The plan worked and I nailed my run clean.
It was enough to put me in 11th place. A far better result than I was aiming for!

My combined scores gave me an overall placing of 16th of 46. Again, much better than expected!

All in all I consider this to be a successful first comp and I am happy with my result. I am excited to be back competing again even though its not full throttle yet. I really enjoy the whole process of competing and can wait until Im back to 100% again. 

Next comp is the Nendaz Freeride 4* this weekend. This was the comp I blew my knee at last year, so It will be exactly 12 months since my injury.  It seems like that should feel like more of a big deal to me, but its no more intimidating at this point than Chandolin was, so I am positive it will work fine!

The day one and two venues at Chandolin. my lines are drawn in RED. 

Closing In On Comp One

Photo: Thijs Kennis

Photo: Thijs Kennis

6 weeks since I arrived in Europe; 9 months post surgery.

Things are continuing to improve week to week, but it is certainly a journey full of turbulence. 
I seem to be on a "three steps forward, one step back" kind of  programme. As in, I ski four days in a row, each day better than the last, take a down day and then the next 2 or 3 days might be filled with patella tendon pain which limits progress, I have had some amazing days though and its all going in the right direction. 

Because of the unpredictability of pain, it has been more difficult to set the "little goals" in comparison to rehabing in Wanaka, which was very structured with a solid fitness schedule that I lived my life by.

Even still, there is nothing I'd rather be doing! 

I have continued to hit the gym a couple of times a week and I have been spinning on a stationary bike a lot, as well as stretching, icing and using a foam roller every day. So I am still doing a fair amount even with the occasional setbacks. 

I guess the sore days make the great days even more memorable, and I am still 100% committed to getting back to my past level of skiing. 

I had initially planned to compete at Pitztal in Austria last weekend, but the previous weeks hard, variable snow conditions proved to be challenging with a tender knee. I realised I wasn't quite ready and that it would be more beneficial to stay in Verbier and ski the coming storm. It turned out to be a good move and I took some significant steps forward. 

My first comp will now be at Chandolin this coming weekend. 
I am definitely nervous, but I am going to turn up ready to compete and see how I feel on the day, hopefully I will be feeling awesome!

In summary things are continuing on the right track and I am having a bunch of fun. But it is harder than I expected it would be after an unexpectedly positive 8 months of dry land rehab in NZ.

Here is my most recent video, this will give you a good idea of the level I am at now. 

A video posted by Sam Lee (@sam_ibex_lee) on

 

I don't know if you noticed, but I am a fan of sun sets. 
 

2 Weeks Passed

I have been in Verbier for just over two weeks now and things are going really well. 
Since day one things have been improving rapidly and I am now at the point where I can ski anywhere I want. 
I have been jumping of small stuff for about a week now and each day I try to step it up a little more. 
This is the biggest I have dropped so far:

A video posted by Sam Lee (@samibexlee) on

Since I am feeling really comfortable with skiing off piste in general, I have been riding more with guys who are sending big cliffs and throwing flips. 
Watching them from the sidelines is both frustrating and inspiring. 
I so badly want to be skiing the same lines as these guys and in a way that is the perfect motivation to make sure I do this right so that I can eventually be back to falling of tall rocks!

Looking out over Chamonix from the FWT spectators zone

Looking out over Chamonix from the FWT spectators zone

I also went over and watched the first stop of the FWT at Chamonix last weekend, it was an awesome show and something I am really please I was able to do. It was another big motivator for getting back to 100%, I think immediately after the comp I was a bit overwhelmed by the level of skiing compared to my current level. But after a couple more days of skiing I thought back to day one and realised that my improvement has been significant after only 2 weeks on snow. That set me back on the right track.

Little goals. 

Bruson snow day

We got absolutely slammed with snow this past week. 
As well as the high avalanche danger It has been cloudy a lot of the time, so we spent a few days riding in the trees at Bruson, which is just over the other side of the valley from Verbier. 

Bruson is great, especially once you start to learn your way around the mountain. I haven't really skied trees since Ive been back on snow, so that was another achievement.
I was happy to find I could really go for it in the soft stuff, so yet another best day of the season to add on to my growing list. 

As well as skiing I am still trying to keep up a couple of gym sessions a week. I often go and spin on a stationary bike for 20 minutes after a hard day skiing to loosen everything up for the following day. 

The video below is a compilation of a bunch of the activities I was able to do in Wanaka in preparation for skiing in Europe. Doing things like paddle boarding and flips off the bridge were all valuable in getting my head back into the mode of thinking fast and testing my balance and spatial awareness. I think it was a vital part in regaining the confidence to return to big mountain. 

Getting totally immersed in the local produce. 

Getting totally immersed in the local produce. 

Riding the storm, filming with Lachlan in Flégère, Chamonix. Photo: Lachlan Humphreys 

Riding the storm, filming with Lachlan in Flégère, Chamonix. Photo: Lachlan Humphreys 

Mt Blanc, with a cloud for a hat. 

Mt Blanc, with a cloud for a hat. 

What is that thing?

What is that thing?

Snow in Le Chable
The Aiguille Du Midi from outside out accommodation in Verbier. 

The Aiguille Du Midi from outside out accommodation in Verbier. 

Bruson Team Shred

Bruson Team Shred

The Head Cyclic 115

The Head Cyclic 115

Rainball?

Rainball?



Back on Track

After an interesting year of injury, surgery and recovery I am finally back into the northern hemisphere winter.

My first day back in the mountains at Verbier had its ups and downs but aside from some front of the knee pain everything works!

I soon remembered how hard it is to ski fat, long radius big mountain comp skis on icy groomer runs, so I decided to try my luck just off the side of the trails and it proved to be much nicer! Day two on my new easier turning Head Cyclics was even better, more pow, more runs, less pain and a big grin at the end of the day. Which just got bigger on day three. 

Day 2 In Verbier

q.jpg

Nine months of rehab seems like a long time when you are lying in a hospital bed post op, with tubes in your knee, still hallucinating slightly from the anaesthetic and eating club sandwiches. But like everything, it comes and it goes without so much as break for tea and biscuits.

I already knew time flies when you are having fun. Surprisingly time flies just as fast when you are fully occupied on anything. And I was. Setting and completing goals from day one. At first it was the little challenges that kept me motivated, even more than the main goal of getting back to skiing and competing. I always felt like I was winning, because I was doing new stuff every week.  

I have spent the better part of a year largely separated from ordinary life, mostly keeping to myself focusing only on training and rehabilitation. I feel I put in as much work as I could have. I was lucky though. I was living at home so I had nothing to distract me from my strict training programme.

A video posted by Sam Lee (@samibexlee) on

The combination of being a bit of a hermit and being forced to move slow meant I had a lot of time to watch the world do its thing. After physio or gym sessions, I would often drive down to the lake and watch the sun set at all the different places behind the mountains. I can still picture in my head how the sun’s path across the sky changes in angle over the seasons. 2014 was a good year for sunsets.

I have been on the go all my life and this period of inactivity has seriously reinforced my love of being highly active and using my body. After the early months with only relatively light weight indoor exercises to break up the day, all I wanted to do was go for a run or ride my bike or do something to get my heart racing. So when I finally started walking without crutches, swimming and biking on the road I realised how extraordinarily positive an impact exercise and activity have on my mental state and general wellbeing.

So strangely there are a lot of positives that come out of an obvious bad situation.

Being excited by the little things was the best way to approach it for me, and this is how I will continue all the way up to my first 4* comp, at Nendaz, mid-March. I will be training at Verbier for the next few weeks. And then doing a warm up no pressure 2* comp at Pitztal, followed by a full dress rehearsal 3* comp at Chandolin. Then the rehab is complete.

Kitchener Paddle Mission Jan


Drift POV Cams

Drift Ghost -S HD and its lil bro Stealth 2 HD 

Drift Ghost -S HD and its lil bro Stealth 2 HD 

The last couple of weeks have been pretty exciting, I had my 6 month sign of for my knee and I picked up a new sponsor!

I have been using a Drift POV cam for a while now and it has served me well. Just about all of my edits to date have been made using it. I initially bought Drift because I prefer the low profile side mount to the the unicorn-esque top of the helmet look that some other companies go with. 

Don't get me wrong, unicorns are totally metal, and so are narwhals for that matter...  Its just that, I'm not one...

So anyway after a few years of using their cams, Drift have decided to hook me up with sponsorship!  
Which is awesome, because I have come to love my cam!

I am really excited to get back on snow and start filming some gnar, but until then I will be looking for other things to fill up my SD cards!

Check out this sweet crash I had in a comp in Andorra this year!

I was one of the ten riders to go through to the finals at the El Dorado Freeride FWQ 4* event in Andorra. Then I had a big ol ragdoll and some how managed to not roll of a big dirty rock wall. Instead I skirted the edge of it and only landed on a few rocks, luckily I was all wrapped up in POC protective gear. The POV clip was filmed on my Drift HD camera. The second clip shows how close I was to the cliff. 

Andorra Crash

Andorra Crash


Fixed

8 and a half months have passed since I busted up my knee and it has been 6 months since I had my ACL operation. It has been a long time coming but finally I can say my knee is fixed!

I have just come back from Auckland where I had my final MRI/Surgeon meeting and everything is perfect. My ACL graft is holding strong and my meniscus is looking great! While I was up there Les Mills http://www.lesmills.co.nz/ were kind enough to hook me up with access to their gym, which made it easy to keep on track with my program. 

The day after my sign off I went over to Snow Planet and had a good old fashion carve on some Head Rallys!
It was my first time on skis since I injured myself in March and it was almost like I had never left. I had this feeling it might not work, but it was great! A massive confidence boost for my return to snow in Jan. 

On top of that I am getting close to being back to normal in terms of overall strength and fitness. I am far stronger on a bike than I have ever been in my life and am probably stronger in the gym than I was at this time last year. The only thing that is lagging behind is my running, but even that is picking up by the week!

By the time I leave for Europe I expect to be stronger and fitter than ever before. 

Even though I am past the 6 month point, I am still not 100%. My right leg is still slightly smaller than my left, it's only a couple cm off but it will come soon enough with more work!

With the biggest milestone of my rehab to date achieved, I am setting my sights on getting back to skiing in Europe on the 16th of January. From that point on I will be working towards my first comp at Chandolin on the 7th of March.

In the last two weeks leading up to the six month point I have continued to make noticeable improvements.

I have finally pushed my road bike length to 70Kms, I did it in 2:40 which is pretty quick, at least for me.

I have also SUP paddled the Clutha from Albert Town to the Red Bridge at Luggate. That was about an hour and a half standing on the board with a few rapids with no troubles, and I am hoping to do a couple of hike in paddle out missions over the next few weeks.

I have also just taken up surfing at the river wave in Hawea!
I picked up this awesome Lime 5.6 foam surf board from SUP Centre http://supcentre.co.nz/ in Auckland and I have been throwing myself at the wave for the last couple of evenings. 
Because the days are so long now, we finished at 10pm both nights!!

Getting closer to Adventure mode

Since my last rehab update things have continued to go smoothly. I have booked my flights to Europe for Jan 14 and as you can imagine this has got me excited!

A pretty big milestone was getting back onto a SUP and paddling from  the top of the Clutha River down to the Albert Town Bridge, it was about 45/55 mins on the board and it felt excellent! I had no troubles manoeuvring and balancing and I am planning to attempt Albert Town Bridge to Red Bridge (Luggate) sometime this week.

As well as this I have been back to some very light running. 

All of this feels like a significant step towards getting back to full adventure mode.

I also went and hung out at the Ski Industry Trade Show in Queenstown the other week. I was there with Allsports, the NZ distributor for Head, Marmot and Gu. It was cool to get involved, especially as I was able to have a look at some of the New Head ski range for next year, another thing that has me excited for January!

Thats me doing a flip in Verbier! Poster Photo By : Nils Johansson

Thats me doing a flip in Verbier! Poster Photo By : Nils Johansson

On top of that everything else is going well. Biking has become more of a recreation for me now, where as in past years it has always felt more like a chore necessary to go skiing. 

Getting enjoyment out of training is really important to me as that usually makes it easier to work hard. 
The longest ride I have done post op is now 55km and I intend to push that to 65km in the next couple of weeks. 

I think having little goals like adding 5km on to my bike each week has allowed me to stay motivated in working towards my end goal because the satisfaction of achieving each goal makes the time feel well spent. 

My Gym Program continues to get harder, with more weight and more reps and I can see the results of that.

Again, I am happy with my progress and really positive about getting back on snow!

Getting ready to paddle for the first time. You know its adventure time when the Icebreaker Oasis long Sleeve comes out!

Getting ready to paddle for the first time. You know its adventure time when the Icebreaker Oasis long Sleeve comes out!

Blood Moon

Blood Moon

My Eye through a macro lens

My Eye through a macro lens

Jackson Bay

Jackson Bay

Wanaka storms

Wanaka storms

Black Peak

Black Peak


The Quest Continues

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of the judging panel at the NZ Open Big Mountain event, definitely the highlight of the last couple of months!
I was one of the three panel judges that sit under the head judge, Dion Newport.
I judged both the qualifier and finals day and in the process I learned a lot about the sport from a judges perspective. I think being able to pick apart each competitors runs objectively and without the emotional attachment and personal bias that comes with competing was an important insight. I would encourage anyone given the opportunity to judge a comp to take it and learn from it. 

The thing that impressed me most about the open this year was the amount of new, creative lines picked by the riders. The last couple of years have produced a lot of "same old" lines, so it was great to see some new thinking come in to an old venue. She's still got some life in er yet!

Correct sun protection equipment is required for judging. "Sunblock you say? In NZ we don't even wear an Ozone layer!"

 

--Rehab Progress--

I am now roughly 3 months post ACL operation and things are looking really good. 

Over the last few weeks my strength, balance and mobility have significantly improved. I am finally getting to the point where I feel good walking around, my limp is nearly gone and I have found I spend less time stressing over every step.

I am working hard to get the old leg hinge back to 100%. I hit the gym 6 days a week and the sessions are ramping up sharply. I'm usually a bit sore the next day, which is a good sign! Also I road bike about 30 km 3 times a week and I get some laps in at the pool.

I'm still doing 2 physio sessions a week and the exercises are way more advanced. Two weeks ago I was onto a slackline and at the start of this week I started getting back in to some agility and jumping, which has now moved up to skipping and skipping rope as well as stationary and one legged jumping.

These are the most exciting things to happen in my recovery since I was able to ride my bike again and its got me even more motivated to keep at it. 

And I'm even playing the odd game of disk golf, using my bike to get around the course. Its great fun and adds in a bit more light exercise to the program.

 

 

Sorry I've neglected you, Babe. <3 <3 <3 I thought it was about time did something special for the old girl, seeing as we haven't really seen much of each other lately.

As I said earlier, sun protection was necessary. "The briefcase wasn't mine officer, I was just looking after it for a guy..."