Manhandling oversized gear bags across multiple time zones, white-knuckled drives on roads that would be condemned in the U.S., and language barriers that prevent ordering an edible meal without a confused series of hand gestures¿the journey to foreign lands for snowboarding’s sake is almost always an involved one. The effort of such ventures are rarely a pleasure-filled process, productively rewarding, or refreshingly relaxing. Not to discount the fact that these experiences make for lasting memories, but that’s usually only in hindsight a few months later.

While the idea itself¿documentation of exotic tours with pro riders¿is about as fresh as airport produce, this last January a trip to the Italian Alps was as close to first class as it gets.

The talent pool put together for the entourage included Wille Yli-Luoma, Joni Makinen, Chad Otterstrom, Matt Hammer, Blaise Rosenthal, Gabe Taylor, and Mitch Nelson. The “Italian Stallion” Kevin Sansalone was also supposed to come, but he got violently ill on the endlessly long flight from Vancouver. (When the local hospital laughed at his Canadian health insurance, he turned around and took the next plane home.) Although Sansalone’s absence was disappointing, it was quickly forgotten upon arrival in Milan.

Andrea Galuzzo, the overseas distributor for ThirtyTwo and M3 at the time, put this trip together in an effort to attract some of the top riders on said brands for a series of demos and freeriding throughout the country. In theory, this is supposed to bolster sales in that when the local kids see the hotshots from the magazines and videos live and in-person, they’ll run out and purchase the same gear in hopes of being just like them. While this is a tried-and-true formula, in this case it made little sense, because Andrea was knowingly on his way to dropping all of the snow lines from his business. (By a stroke of luck he’d gained the rights to distribute Harley Davidson leather goods, which is basically like winning the lottery. I’m pretty certain this is the way he looked at it, too, and like any generous soon-to-be millionaire, he was more than happy to share the wealth.) The fact that he followed through with the trip at all, knowing that he wouldn’t even be around to reap any rewards, was proof enough. His generosity, like his pockets, ran deep. The discovery of our provided transportation for the next eleven days was our first indication.

Instead of the typical minivan rental and going sardine-style, we would be traveling in our own privately chartered tour bus, complete with driver and a host of local shreds for guides. Although I’ve never been a fan of bus travel, when it’s solid gold and comfortably filled with your crew, it’s basically a rolling party. The fact that all of the gas stops were equipped with a large assortment of drink from the local vineyards, the earlier statement is by no means overstated. Besides the essential snowboarding gear like boards, boots, and gloves, the second and third most indispensable items on this trip were a corkscrew and bottle opener. The Italians are so enthusiastic about the beverages they craft that the bus driver needed little convincing to stop at a local brewery just so we could sample how the hops we’d been drinking in bottles compares to the same hops fresh from the vats. La dolce vita.

Over the next week and half we traveled to a total of four resorts (Livigno, Sestriere, Alpe di Siusi, and San Domenico) on Italy’s northernmost border. Hotels, meals, and lift tickets had all been prearranged, so other than waking up in the morning, little effort was required to do anything but just go snowboarding. Although we had scheduled appearances to adhere to, our itinerary was loosely constructed to give us the opportunity to stay longer at any one resort or cut out early in case of bad conditions (or in the case when everyone wanted to jump on a last-minute all-night train to Rome). But while the rest of thee world, including all of Europe, suffered from record-low snowfall in January, the Italian Alps were prospering with one of their best winters in years. The following pages describe in detail, as only photographs can, what transpired both on and off snow.