September? Yeah, that seems like an appropriate time to write about what we did in January! It was bloody good fun though, as snowboarding always is. This time, off in the frozen north of Sweden, in the town of Åre. Whilst only about half way up the landmass of Sweden, it’s definitely the furthest north I’ve ever been, and its latitude helps to explain its snow-cover. Unfortunately it’s got a little circle over the “A”, which I can’t figure out how to type without copy & pasting, so if it doesn’t appear in the rest of this post, that’ll be why. Sheer laziness.
Back in the dawn of 2009 we were lucky enough to have a week of mucking about in the snow “we” being Richie, Hilary (plus their new baby), Helen & Johan, Marty, Mark, and the Swedish Crew – Anna, Goran, Per, Rita, Jojo, Bjorn. There were 13 though… oh yeah, and me.
Getting there seemed the biggest challenge for some of our party… well, one of our party. Young Mark, having elected to interpret my instruction of “meet at Heathrow at 6am” as “leave your house at 6am to head to Heathrow”, made it in time for checkin, and managed to collect his ticket from the nice company rep we’d left it with near the desk, however the airline staff wouldn’t check him in for the flight because the laminate on his passport was peeling. Opting for a quick bit of pritt-stick D.I.Y. on it and returning to checkin with it looking good-as-new, the same woman recognised him and threatened to call the cops on him for passport tampering. Leaving the airport in short order seemed sensible, so we wondered if we’d be seeing Mark (our flight to Ostersund airport was a charter flight, and as one of the world’s less-popular destinations you’re not overwhelmed with options to get you there). He proved his resourcefulness though by finding a cheap flight to Trondheim in Norway and then getting a train across into Are: final analysis was that he only missed a day of snowboarding! Clever bugger…
Last 3 days of boarding weren’t so good – penultimate day temperature crept above zero and snow got slushy. Apparently. I’d spat dummy from previous day, where Marty & I spent 2 hours wading out of thigh-deep powder. Final day back to -2, so slush froze into ice, and all you could hear was the sound of edge grinding against hard ice. The other 4 days were magnificent though!
We stayed in 2 apartments around the town square, and only a short walk from the base of the ski area (piste map here). Typical programme for the day would be have breakfast together, head out to the snowfields & split up to check out whichever area you fancy, then head back to the apartment about 4pm for relaxing. We designated teams of 2 or 3 to do the catering each night, meaning a nice cheap & varied menu. Finally, a few card games before passing out in bed and repeating it all the following day.
On the topic of food – Marty, Mark & I were the designated chefs one night, and the end result was one chef (me) with two (capable) assistants. There seemed to be an air of trepidation about the apartments that night, but reassurance went around that my cooking hadn’t actually killed anyone to date. We needed a little help with the shopping, as my conversational Swedish is a little deficient: we took Goran along, who did a standup job of interpreting my requirements into what you would find in a Swedish supermarket. The only point at which we became stuck was when I was looking for corn (kernels, tinned), and he thought I said “quorn” (which seemed feasible, as we were making one vegetarian dish as well).
Snowboarding in Sweden’s slightly different to our experiences in the Alps – the hills are smaller, with the snow being largely a product of the latitude rather than the altitude. Consequently there’s no need to haul people thousands of feet up the slope for the sliding back down to happen, so the lifts are mainly T-bar and some chairlifts, rather than the great big gondolas. T-bars aren’t my favourite thing ever (although moreso than button lifts), so my itinerary would mainly be from the top of one chairlift to the base of the next one along, then from the top of that over to wherever’s next most useful – sort of longish tracking runs rather than several repeated downhill sections. Marty – whose balance appears immeasurably better than mine – improved his boarding immensely, and pretty well owned that skifield after a couple of days. And of course as usual Richie’s just a complete maniac.
The one exception to our general progress was the day Marty & I followed the Swedes across towards the Bjornenomradet area (38 on piste map), up that (lengthy) T-bar, then down the sadelvagen to the bottom of 39, whereupon we’d mount another T-bar to the top. One of the unfortunate weather artefacts of our trip was strong winds on the upper slopes, and this became readily apparent one we’d left the line of tree cover on the second lift. Between Marty and I we present a reasonable surface to any prevailing breeze – him from being quite tall, and I also present quite a surface. We were blown from side to side of the T-bar run, shaking unsteadily all the while, then Marty let fly with his telltale exclamation of “Awww HELL-DIDDLY-DING-DONG-CRAP!” and executed what can only be described as a windmill dismount. This disrupted my centre of balance too (which was largely me using him as a stabilising outrigger), and through a process I don’t fully recall I found myself being dragged backwards up the T-bar run by the scrotum. Having sworn loudly several times and then dismounted similarly, we had a short but educational session on the difference between nice, packed, piste snow, and powder. For 2 sweaty, exhausting hours.
Other than that – good bit of progress on the ol’ boarding… managed to ride switch for a few runs; gave the Goliath (pictured here) a bit of a punishing. Additionally if I’m going to reminisce comprehensively about the experience, it’s also worth mentioning that conveniently while I was away the whole “Morris Dancing will be extinct within 20 years” controversy kicked off, and a flurry of phonecalls directed themselves towards me, leaving me in the unique position of having to give interviews about morris dancing while knee-deep in snow halfway up a Swedish mountain. Plus my photo appeared in The Sun.
Top company, good snow – a belated but heartfelt thanks to all involved!
Incidentally, I know in the post’s title I promised “Taxi Slap”. I’ve no idea what it is, but we saw that on a sign at the airport as well. Naturally, capturing an image of it for historical accuracy. Please enjoy with me now.