As I’m being dragged up a treacherously icy, steep, T-bar in the Swiss Alps, imagining slipping off the plastic handle and sliding into a large glacial crevasse, never to be seen from again, German Nitro teamrider Guido Drexel is telling me in near perfect English what makes the company so great to ride for: “Nitro is like a big family,” he says, calmly and effortlessly riding up the slope next to me.
Indeed, if Nitro is a big family, it was family reunion time in Europe last week. For the last four years, Nitro Snowboards has been gathering its team for a summer camp/photo session. And each year the event has gotten bigger and more extravagant.
This year, held at Saas Fee, Switzerland, the family reunion evolved to a full-on summer camp with three weeks of sessions following the team week. Many of Nitro’s pro riders were scheduled to stay on for coaching campers after the first week.
The attendance for the team week would total more than 250 riders, Nitro staff, distributors, photographers, filmers, journalists, and campers from around the world by the week’s end for the culmination of the camp, which included a huge party and a rare performance by the Nitro band. During the week, the schedule included snowboarding, a soccer tournament, skateboarding, hiking, mountain biking, product testing, team meetings, parties, and plenty of late-night decadence.
Most of the U.S. and Canadian riders and staff such as Shin Campos, Tonino Copene, Etienne Gilbert, Rube Goldberg, Tyeson Carmody, and Lane Knack got into Saas Fee a day early to get acclimated to the time and altitude. Everyone arrived with interesting stories of planes, trains, and bus adventures spanning two continents. The trips lasted anywhere from 24 to 48 hours long and included a serious lack of sleep. Some involved missed connections, but as seasoned world travelers, everyone arrived eventually. Lukas Huffman spent a night in Zurich, Switzerland, but stumbled on a big rock music festival and reportedly took part in a great party.
Nitro Camp headquarters was located at the Ambassador Hotel on one side of Saas Fee. The town sits at the end of a long, spectacular valley in the Swiss Alps, ringed on three sides by glacier-covered mountains. Some of the highest mountains in Switzerland tower over Saas Fee, with Dom peak topping out at 4,545 meters.
Since it was summertime, the whole valley was lush and green, and only the highest altitudes were snowcapped. It was hard to believe we were going snowboarding.
The camp itself was held at the top of the Allalin peak, at about 3,500 meters (10,500 feet), and the air was noticeably thin when trying to hike the pipe or just hanging on to the T-bar that accesses the snow field.
Getting to the top entailed an arduous journey, starting with a peaceful fifteen-minute walk up the valley through a field to the gondola building, then riding the Felskinn gondola up 1,000 meters to a mid station. At the midway point, everyone had to transfer to an underground rail car that tunneled another 500 meters up to the incredible glacier-covered snowfield. From there it was a short walk to a catwalk, a ride down to a T-bar, a drag up the T-bar, and then a short trip down to the camp area. The whole adventure took approximately one hour from hotel to camp.
The action on the glacier was mellow the first day. The sun was shining bright with clear blue skies, the snow was soft, slushy, and slow, and the views of surrounding jagged peaks with hanging, cracked glaciers were surreal. At the bottom of the snowfield sat an old gondola car with big speakers blasting a mix of Euro hip hop/reggae/dub. Most riders were just hanging out, watching the action, and rapping with each other.
Down the center of the snowfield sat a badly melted pipe, with three big kickers on one side and a quarterpipe/potential big hip at the bottom of the line. On the other side of the pipe were three medium-sized kickers and a pole hit at the bottomm. The pole hit looked like an impromptu addition and ended up being where most of the action was the first day as riders tried to ride up a snow ramp, then ollied the last ten feet to tap the top.
Most ended their riding session around 2:00 p.m., and headed back down the hill for naps, skateboard sessions, shopping in town (it took about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other), and then an early dinner. Over the first dinner, Nitro Co-owner Sepp Ardelt welcomed everyone to camp, and said the first big welcome party/meeting would be the next afternoon.
After some quiet time following dinner, people began congregating at the Ambassador hotel’s bar, and then headed out to Pop Corn, the unofficial party spot in town where the rowdy drinking crew ended up each night and, for some, into the next morning.
Log back on to www.transworldsnowboarding.com tomorrow for more action from the Nitro Team Camp, including a recap of the soccer tournament, a turn for the worse in the weather, and how the Americans tried to celebrate July 4th in Switzerland.