This was no familiar domestic jaunt-obviously. After a weird little dinner of pasta and wine, the Lufthansa flight attendants came through the aisles with a bottle of red in one hand and cognac in the other. I took both, of course-extra, for the long journey ahead, and a spite to my liver for the reckoning. Europe here I come. But will I make it back?

Jesse and Lukas Huffman, Shin Campos and Mark Reilly, Tonino Copene, Chris Currier, and countless European riders were camped out at the foot of the ZÅgspitze glacier in Garmisch, Germany, raising hell at the annual Nitro summer camp. I met Mark Gallup and a few other late comers at the airport in Munich and made a B-line for the mountains.

The first night went to shit. It all started in a bar called Peaches. Spirits ran high with the Nitro boys-we were in good company. Seth Neary slurred, “When in Rome … ” and we adjusted like, fast. Highlights from the first night included Reilly pulling the sleeves off the shirts of everyone in the bar-including the stiff German bartenders. And as the night wore on, it got ugly.I awoke in a dark haze, certain I’d discover badness: knocked-out teeth, empty wallet, or a missing passport-something. What I found instead was that my sheets looked like the site of a violent stabbing. There in my bed, a dusty bottle of port, drained.

Our first day on the glacier was decent with fantastic views when the clouds broke. The approach took two tram rides, one up and one down to get to the park. It consisted of six or so kickers, a spine, and two halfpipes-small ones, frankly. Jesse Huffman threw himself switch-footed off the hip-spine. Giacomo Kratter launched off the big booter and rode like a hellion in the pipes-antics from the young Italian were even wilder late at night.

Upon returning from the hill, a full assessment of the previous night’s debauchery had been made. Broken locks, broken glass, trays of cold cuts decorating hallways, and bulk shellfish thawing in a bathtub were our high crimes-it was indeed ugly. Hotel housekeeping came upon the mess in my room and would settle for nothing less than my immediate removal. Sweet.

Day Two
What I really crave is the actual ride, but my distaste of all that is peculiar to snowboarding and the accompanying quest to understand it in no way lessens my urge to possess the knowledge. The Nitro team is a varied group-different backgrounds, strengths, and styles. There are plenty of stupid jokes, partying, aerials on the hill, hotels, bad flights, strip joints, and all the other shit that goes along with this game, but the really interesting part of the story is the motivation behind it all. The clock ticks so f-king loud, I hear it like a scream from inside my head. What are we doing?

For two straight days we awoke to the sound of pouring rain. It pounded hard on the straight, flat streets. Computer dial-up problems forbade Internet use, the eight-hour time difference screwed with my head on phone calls. It felt like the trip hadn’t even started. Finally, the rain stopped, and with a call to Gallup, we encouraged the troops to check out a gorge called Parnatchklamm.

Snowboarders are often hard to motivate, especially if they can’t remember how they got to bed the night before-but we got out there. A short hike brought us into the mouth of a rugged ravine. Hand-dug tunnels wind through the rock walls cut by the river-water rushing by below and dripping from overhead. It was a half-mile past the Olympic stadium, where the Nordic jumps stand sealed in time since the Winter Games of 1978. Gallup and I hiked up through the mist and came to a turnaround that looped back over the ravine and ended up on a hillside pasture that looked straight out of The Sound Of Music. We sat at a little biergarten and had a warm one, the only way they serve them in Germany. A short down hike brought us past a few farmhouses with chickens, ducks, and goats-all along the way, neatly stacked woodpiles.

Day FivBR>Central Africa is deep in the rainy season, which will flood the countryside for months. Palestinians and Israelis battle for the sandy Gaza strip. In South America drug lords bomb each other in macho territorial feuds. And here I sit, waiting for the sun to come out in Germany so I can return home and tell the world how cool snowboarding is. Whoa, a little heavy there. Too much CNN maybe. If only there were porn channels in this place, I’d be all set.

The following day, we rode the train out of Banhof station, and it rolled slowly up through Grainau and Eisbee to the glacier. The tram ride took riders way up to the peaks where summer sun was baking the snowpack. Blooming wildflowers down in the valley, a 360 view of sharp, rocky ranges, and a mild breeze made for a good start to the day. Unfortunately, breakfast here could kill a man. Schnitzel this.

Reilly threw underflip sevens, and Jesse whipped McTwists off the hip, and corked Cab fives off a straight jump. A boiling Jacuzzi sat at the bottom of the pipe and live DJs pumped out beats. In the afternoon, our posse pulled up beach chairs to face the jumps and heckled each other and the riders. Lukas and Shin donned crazy doo-rags-jackets, hoodies, anything to block the burning Alpine sunrays. The elevation: roughly 9,000 feet. Eating lunch from the on-site grill and reapplying sunscreen kept us busy. Reilly and Jesse Huffman stole the show with sizable, smooth spins, while the majority of the Euros hucked for glory and landed nothing. One cool thing, though-there were the groups of Euros charging one jump in a line and hitting it six or seven in a row, nearly colliding in midair.

Day Seven
Shin Campos and Lukas Huffman are both injured. It seems impossible for Jesse Huffman to lighten up. Mark Reilly dances with the liquid devil every night and rides harder the next day-only our genetic link to primates can explain this power. Trying to gleen the subtle meaning, if there is any, of this mission, has proven formidable. Is there something beyond the obvious?

Our last night in Garmisch was interesting. Gallup and I hung out with a group of internationals-drinking Czech brews and talking about our respective countries. These were guys from Norway, Sweden, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Canada, and the States-maybe a few other countries. We talked about exchange rates, gas prices, the Czechoslovakian split, but more so about snowboarding-which will forever grow boring just before its time to head to the party. Nitro planned a rager at a seedy underground club, and as it was our last night at camp, electricity buzzed in the air-heads were hyper to party. Good thing we took a taxi. Our ride to the club was the first sign that it would be a crazy night-our cab driver, a homebred Bavarian, with a handlebar moustache and lederhosen, drove his S-class Benz like he stole it.

After the dust settled in the greasy dawn, our crew hit the road-taking an incredible ride down from Germany and quickly crossing the border into Austria. Speeding through the scenic mountain towns of Seefeld and Innsbruck, we reached a town called Seis am Schlern, in northern Italy. The views are breathtaking on the fringes of the Tyrolean mountains. There’s not an acre of flat ground anywhere in sight-majestic granite peaks rise up from the lowest visible point in steep, stark juts-highways cling to the hillsides and snow caps the peaks. Houses are hundreds of years old. Sunsets are surreal.

Several days of chilling in Lago Di Garda, Italy wrapped up our European invasion. The lake is famous for windsurfing and peopled with German blowboarders, and fishermen. Reaching the lake took a mellow drive through wine country, where vineyards and olive groves color the roadsides and sweeten the air. Nitro Italy distributor and Lake Garda local Edo, acted as the tour guide during our stay.

We rallied the van up a winding mountain road to visit a WWI defense bunker built into the mountainside. During the battles between Austria and Italy on the lake, bombing left hundreds of Italian soldiers dead. Edo explained that a blown ambush led to the capture and eventual strangling of fifteen unlucky Austrian soldiers in the compound basement. The dark, dank granite bunker was lit only by holes in the bedrock and the crumbling foundation.

No one would go down the stairs to the prisoner cells. Gallup peeled through rolls of film and crept around in tunnels and low passageways. Edo freaked us all out with tales of torture and death. Hollow echoes boomed throughout, and down in the bunker it was creepy cold. For several years during the war, hundreds of soldiers holed up there.

After a few days of visiting castles, dining on hearty Italian cuisine, and general tourist activities, we had to split. Another stint in the van delivered our group back to Munich on the eve of our departure. The ride was a quiet blur as the sense of heading home set in. Another night in a strange hotel, and a hundred-mile-an-hour cab ride to the airport brought us back to where we began.

Day Ten
The work of pro snowboarders shares something with hunters and gamblers-following a trace, with results always subject to chance. Getting the job done has no sequence and no system. Success is a product of luck and experience. The balance, a mix of long-term dedication and immediate shock-like stimuli-a landed trick, a safe recovery, a caught train, a guess that turns out right. This majesty of chance is a metaphor for life itself-the thrill of the hunt and its mysterious rewards are the means and the end entwined.During the battles between Austria and Italy on the lake, bombing left hundreds of Italian soldiers dead. Edo explained that a blown ambush led to the capture and eventual strangling of fifteen unlucky Austrian soldiers in the compound basement. The dark, dank granite bunker was lit only by holes in the bedrock and the crumbling foundation.

No one would go down the stairs to the prisoner cells. Gallup peeled through rolls of film and crept around in tunnels and low passageways. Edo freaked us all out with tales of torture and death. Hollow echoes boomed throughout, and down in the bunker it was creepy cold. For several years during the war, hundreds of soldiers holed up there.

After a few days of visiting castles, dining on hearty Italian cuisine, and general tourist activities, we had to split. Another stint in the van delivered our group back to Munich on the eve of our departure. The ride was a quiet blur as the sense of heading home set in. Another night in a strange hotel, and a hundred-mile-an-hour cab ride to the airport brought us back to where we began.

Day Ten
The work of pro snowboarders shares something with hunters and gamblers-following a trace, with results always subject to chance. Getting the job done has no sequence and no system. Success is a product of luck and experience. The balance, a mix of long-term dedication and immediate shock-like stimuli-a landed trick, a safe recovery, a caught train, a guess that turns out right. This majesty of chance is a metaphor for life itself-the thrill of the hunt and its mysterious rewards are the means and the end entwined.