I've never been the kind of cat to stray too far from home. I leave the Loops often, but I never end up further away than a reasonable distance to drive my truck. I've also never felt warm with the idea of riding in a proper competition. I've never been to Europe. Never thought much about traveling. Haven't even left the country aside from driving across the Yukon/Alaska border. I guess I've just always been content with hanging out at home. But I started feeling a bit of an itch early this year. Like I should break out of my typical routine and reconsider my extensive list of "never have I ever's." When a certain invitation popped up in my inbox this spring I made it official. I packed my bags and kissed goodbye the familiar green-gold summer sway, climbed aboard a plane and began my travel to the Chatel Mountain Style in France.
As I exited the aircraft in Geneva it quickly started setting in that I was on the other side of the world and far away from my comfort zone. Voices rumbled around me and not a single sound made sense while I walked a hallway of flamboyant wrist watch advertisements. If it weren't for chasing Graham and Kurt around the airport I would have spent a solid day finding my way to the baggage claim. Luckily they lead me to our friend Nico, who picked us up for the glorious drive from Geneva to Chatel. I was awestruck cruising along the lake of what apeared to be the richest city in the world and the whole drive I was mesmorized by the views. Gigantic fountains blasted hundreds of feet above the lake and stone buildings still stood tall hundreds of years after their construction. The architecture appeared extravagant and the countryside smelled carefree. I was breathing in the thrill of travel and blown away by this exciting new world to discover.
Arriving in Chatel we didn't waste much time settling in. It was straight to "The Face" where the contest course was ready for our initial inspection. On the course I met the event organizer, Sebi Giraldi, as well as a few of his crew members such as Remi and Ben Walker. Even at our initial introduction it was evident that a passion for riding bikes ran vivid in their veins and they were pleased to have us as guests in their park. Chatel was their master piece and they were eager to share with us. That same eagerness followed us back into the village and into the famous Popeye's bar where the locals welcomed us over tall glasses of Hoegaarden and taller tales of the trails we'd soon get to ride. The spirit of Chatel felt alive and wild in everyone I met that night and my fear of being far from home was soon to fade.
The following morning came with sunny skies and the realization of just how great my crew would be for that week in the Port Du Soleil. I was living in a classic french chalet with Brandon and Aggy, as well as Cory and Aron from Freeride Films. Entertaining would prove to be an understatement while traveling with this particular cast of characters, our trip was already a comedic blast before we'd even built our bikes or gone for breakfast. We also had the pleasure of a few Chatel locals named Will Walker and Matt Wragg working sort of like our wing-men for the week. They played the roll of camera men, tour guides and friends as they carted us back and forth along the narrow winding road to the park each day. I was among old friends and new friends and my adventure to France was already shaping up just the way I'd hoped it would.
In the days leading up to the contest the weather wasn't exactly working in our favor. This meant we wouldn't spend much time riding the Mountain Style course, but we would spend a lot of time soaking up everything else Chatel had to offer. During the day we rode mud ruts and wet roots regardless of the rain and skitched through the mountains on quick little euro rental cars. At night we cruised the village for dinner and drinks while admiring the local entertainment under a sky of thunder and lightening. All was well in Chatel, but this sketchy weather meant the contest would soon be rushed and potentially even rained out. Our official practice day was consumed by storm and our qualifying day washed halfway past as we waited on the course to dry. When things finally came round to riding condition it was late in the afternoon and our practice sessions were short. The forecast for the forthcoming evening didn't seem so good, so our limited time of practice was followed quickly by a single scored run labeled as a qualifier. And just in case the weather should do as it threatened to, the run should be treated as if it were the finals.
I'm not sure how everyone else felt that sunny evening on The Face, but I was about as nervous as it gets. The entire week leading up to the contest was low key and laid back as I casually consumed Chatel without any worry of the contest. But suddenly on my chairlift ride to the top of the course, everything felt as if it was bubbling down to one small moment. One short, unprepared lap down the nastiest track I'd ever touched my tires to. The evening sun was shining and the wind was howling. It was hard to stand up straight and flag poles bent over sideways as we were presented with the start list. This was a new definition of game time that I was completely unfamiliar with.
One by one I watched my friends descend The Face. Some successfully nailed a succession of first attempts that put them high on the score sheet while some exploded in their quest for the same. I was last on the list of riders to drop and I wasn't too sure if that meant more or less pressure for me. Either way, it seemed stressful. As all the others riders disappeared to the bottom that stress was slowly fading. I was having fun watching everyone's runs and couldn't believe I was a part of the event. Eventually I was left at the top beside Zink and Strait. Zink destroyed the course with burly tricks and Straight blasted to the bottom faster and cleaner than anyone else on the hill. Once my time came to drop in the wind seemed to have relaxed into a mellow sky and it sort of felt like I was just dropping in for a chill lap by myself. The course was still a huge challenge, but before I knew it I had sailed sideways over the bottom jump into a roaring crowd and sea of smiling faces.
Blasting into the finish area I immediately felt proud of myself. Proud for taking a big chance, for trying something new, for scaring the piss out of myself and for having fun while doing it all. Even though the finals ended up being rained out the following day I didn't feel any regrets. I had the time of my life in Chatel and made it out in one piece with a decent placing. As my trip came to an end I felt as if I'd seen everything I needed to see, but like I could spend a lot more time living the relaxed lifestyle that I was invited to take part in. The whole long plane ride home I couldn't sleep. I sat awake sifting through movies and bearing a smirk in anticipation of what might lay around the next corner, already thinking of my next trip to Chatel.