Best Laid Plans…
Photos by Mark Welsh
Words by Liam Gallagher
Nothing was going as planned. It was a pretty loose plan, but it seemed like it could work. Looser plans have panned out. We were supposed to be headed to Sarajevo, Bosnia to link up with some local heads and hunt for rails, ledges, and other places to ride boards in the streets. We were supposed to be going snowboarding in what used to be a war-zone. Sounded like some kind of adventure, right?
The plan was to meet in Munich, Germany and rally form there. We went for it, putting only partial stock in our itinerary—any more and we knew (maybe subconsciously) we could be let down. I was prepared to rethink everything, adapt and roll with the proverbial punches. Traveling for snowboarding has taught me that flexibility is a virtue.
Things fall apart. People miss flights. One day in the city turns into two, and then two and a half. It gets warm and then warmer and forecasts begin to call for rain. And then it starts raining—in the foothills at first, then all the way up to the higher elevations. Sources are saying Sarajevo's soaked.
Back to the drawing board. Bosnia's been abandoned, and reports of rain in the Alps are making us nervous. We're now just looking for the shortest line to snow.
We point it—tearing along the Autobahn at100 miles per hour, trying to make a four-hour drive in three. Wrong turns are tough to recover from at that speed, though, so we drive in circles, or really one big circle for almost eight hours. We're clueless, but smart enough to finally buy a map. It leads us to Austria, but it's raining there too. The quaint streets of St. Anton are soaked, and the drizzle is quickly turning into a downpour.
The plan is really out the window now.
Check into a hotel. Listen to the rain on the roof and against the windows and into the puddles outside. Try to keep our heads up, feign optimism, look for the bright side … and get a drink. Run into buddies—Curtis Ciszek, Zac Marben, Jake Price, and a couple other Volcommunists who have been in the area all week and seem way more stoked than we are.
"You guys should've been here yesterday—waist deep and blower!" brags Curtis.
"Been the best snowboarding of my life," gloats someone else. "It must've just warmed up like six hours ago."
Okay, assholes. We get it. Thanks. Stoked to be here, really. Waitress, 'nother round, please. Nose in pint. Drink. Think—damn it.
Our crew is a little down, but not out. How could we be? I mean despite the obvious blunders and lack of foresight (Who plans a trip to Eastern Europe in early December?), despite the wasted days and pounding rain, we're all hyped just to be out and about. This is the first international trip on Nitro's dime for both Bryan Fox and Austin Smith. And with Josh Mills rounding out the team, it's basically just a bunch of buddies on a mission.
Fox and Mills go way back, all of them have been High Cascade Snowboard Camp diggers and homies with Nitro's renaissance company men Tonino Copene and Mark Welsh for years. And MDPeople lensman Pierre Minhondo—he's impossible not to like. Yeah, the group dynamic is making up for any shortcomings in the conditions. And thank god for good company—'cause whatever gods control of the weather sure as hell aren't on our side.
Josh comes running into my room all wild-eyed and way too awake for 6:30 a.m.
"I've been up since four—jet lag's messing with me. We drove up to the mountain, and it was dumping. Twenty minutes up the road it's puking—big, fat, Mt. Baker style flakes. It's gotta be good somewhere. Let's go."
Semi-frantic now, we hustle out of the hotel and head up the mountain. Sure enough, it's heaving heavy snow. The sun's coming up by the time we get to the first resort, St. Christoph, and that's when it starts raining again—hard, big, Mt. Baker style rain drops. We couldn't get a break.
Although morale waned some, we were still surrounded by some of the world's most humbling mountains, and it was still early December—none of us had been spoiled by any epic days yet this season. So we decided to go snowboarding, in the rain, all day.
And it was shit—couldn't have been worse. The snow was stewed and soupy, and it grabbed your board, sending you starfishing down the hill. The rain splattered all over our goggles, rendering them useless two turns into the run. Our gloves dripped and then sponged, finally having to be rung out after three runs. And we wallowed in it like pigs in mud.
"This reminds be of riding at Mt. Hood," says Bryan. "Josh and I would go up every day in any conditions no matter what, just to be on the mountain. And we didn't think twice about riding in the rain. We'd wear garbage bags and sometimes go hide in the forest to stay dry. We just wanted to snowboard all the time, and that was it."
Yep, this was that.
Bryan Fox and Josh Mills are best friends. After graduating high school in Southern California, they decided they wanted to snowboard, so they moved to Mt. Hood, lived in their cars, and did just that. Eventually, they were able to make riding their boards a job. They've kept their heads down ever since and rode hard every day. Now that Bryan's on Nitro with Josh they get to travel the world together. It's a snowboard dream realized.
"Mills and I were talking about how crazy it is that we get to come to places like this together," says Bryan. "And it's all because we really committed to something. It's all about commitment."
Austin made that commitment, too. In junior high, he told his teachers he wanted to snowboard more (i.e. attend class less). After okaying it with his parents, he concocted a plan that would allow him to handle his school work and still get to shred seven days a week. He made good on scholastic commitments and graduated high school with honors. It wasn't easy, but he wanted it bad and did what it took.
"If you just fully commit to something you can always make it happen," says Austin. "I think it's a lot easier than people think."
There you go. Commit and you can't fail.
Get What's Coming
"This place is like Mt. Baker," says Austin looking out the tram window at all the thick snow that's finally falling. "Yeah, but a hundred times better," adds Curtis. Both these kids know Baker and have been steeped in the Northwest shred tradition—and both are aspiring cynics.
But it's dumping now—and hard not to be a little bit giddy about finally getting it good.
So yeah, St. Anton is kind of like Mt. Baker—except that skiers outnumber snowboarders something like 100 to one. But there're amazing high-alpine pow fields that extend into infinity, there're big powder-caked and perfectly spaced-out trees, and there're all these ravines made of walls stacked with pillows, and there's deep, deep snow. Finally.
Stoke is high. We're all riding together—just riding. We're doing some documenting, but because it's the first real powder day of the trip (and the season, for that matter), we've all agreed, although never out loud, to just shred. No packs. No stopping and scouting. No yelling back and forth trying to figure out where dude is dropping or when. Just runs—top to bottom, ducking ropes and ignoring patrollers and slashing with each other for the first time that season.
No plan. Just snowboarding.
For What It's Worth
I think it was on the fifth or sixth day that I picked up the Thrasher magazine that'd been floating around our hotel room. Flipping through it, I stopped on a story about an ill-fated skate trip. "Fail to plan and you can plan to fail," I read, and then paused.
Huh. My brain did some typical tangential wandering and eventually didn't really agree with this football coach cliché about plans and failure. It seemed a little too defeatist.
"F—k that," I even wrote in my notebook.
This little mantra really rubbed me the wrong way. Plans rarely hold up, especially plans involving snowboarding. But failed plans—or really a total lack of a plan—usually inspire situations that test your resourcefulness. It's about reacting, dealing with what you're dealt, staying loose, winging it, acting on impulse, surrendering to the cosmos, and keeping it free and easy-style. I wondered if the wank who said this ever knew the joy of involuntary improvisation. Was he so anal retentive as to have every last bowel movement penciled into the calendar? Did he hate the fun that comes with having to make do?
Turns out, it was this dude Harvey McKay, and he was actually misquoted in Thrasher. What Harv actually said was, "Failures don't plan to fail, they fail to plan." Okay, but what about those of us who might fail to plan on purpose, just to see what comes of it? Are we really destined to fail?
I don't think so.
Either way, what's even more odd is that homeboy also had another motivational speakerism that seems surprisingly poignant, considering our trip's successes, failures, and general discourse on commitment. "Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life," McKay is also credited with saying. I think Confucious might've been the first to actually utter this little nugget of wisdom…regardless, it remains good advice.
This trip and our individual pursuits of snowboarding seemed cases in point. We succeeded because we'd committed to do something we love. As far as I'm concerned, that's all the plan you ever need.