image: elina sirparanta /elinaphoto.com
with Michael “Bird” Shaffer, Nathan Wallace, Ben Briggs, Ross Hewitt, Minna Riihimaki and more…
by Nathan Wallace production
photo: Luca Loro – www.myskisnapshots.com
by Nathan Wallace
the black crows furtis poles and a fake twin Tourist
The month of May, apart from lilies and and spring skiing, is for a small group of strange people, synonymous with the Gumball 3000. The Gumball is an international car rally, made up of eccentric and usually very powerful cars, driven by equally eccentric people, often with undeniably bad taste.
Fortunately we can sometimes find a little finesse at the heart of the Gumball 3000. If that is possible, it’s not the Swedish skier Jon Olsson we’re talking about, though he’s a regular participant of the Gumball, but our black crows Japanese ambassador, Mai Ikuzawa, a member of the well-named black crows freak nest.
Here are a few images of Mai and her co-pilote Miss Barattieri San Pietro with their machine in true black crow colours : a Chevrolet 1957 Bel Air, amidst the Gumball horde with black crows logos on various radiator grilles. Asphalt, sweat, driving, breakdowns and a lot of junk food. Once upon a time in the west of a wild world.
Fiche technique en VO:
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Street Rod.
396CI V8, dyno’d at 475 hp and 555lbft of torque in 1999, BDS 671 blower,
2- 4 bbl dual feed 780 cfm Holley carburetors, 4 speed m-22 Muncie transmission,
power steering, RWD, power brakes, 9″ rear end, 3.70 gears, 24 gallon ATL fuel cell…
Crowned ”Ambassadors of the Gumball”!
They broke down at least EIGHT times:
- Power failure from alternator to battery. Lost lights too.
- Replace alternator and rewire.
- Flywheel broken, and push-start car everytime for 3,000 miles!
- Broken power-steering and water-pump belt.
- Tyre blow-out at 90mph on the Interstate due to delamination and broke the quarter panel and right-rear fender.
- Broke the alternator bracket due to aggressive steering!
- Alternator not pulling power again, blown fuse so hard-wired.
- Overheating engine through Death Valley.
- Overheating pilots through Death Valley with no aircon…
The 2012 rally ran from New York City to Los Angeles, via Toronto, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas. The rally was held from May 25-31. The rally included stops at Niagara Falls, Indianapolis 500, Windsor, Ontario, Detroit, St Louis, Route 66, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. Oui EVE!
Karta & Spoon!
We drove most of the night, exhausted, but excited to go skiing in some good snow. It was the month of February, and in spite of a winter which had lived up to all our expectations, we still wanted more… powder which we were happy to go searching for on foot or with our touring skis, alone and far away from the crowds. We wanted to rediscover the mountains. Today, I much prefer one beautiful line which I’ve climbed for than making laps in the resort.
To start with, we were looking to immerse ourselves in nature, hoping to escape from the people, the noise and the fast pace of a standard existence. Then there’s always the search for a line, one we haven’t yet skied, one that we have to go looking for in a wild hidden valley deep in the mountains, with a poignant beauty. We were chasing a dream, a face or a couloir in perfect snow, a magical place waiting to be discovered.
Mikey Hovey comes from Jackson Hole in Wyoming, a genuine ski bum, travelling to ski. He’s been travelling with black crows for the last two winters. We met on the haute route (Chamonix / Zermatt), and I suggested he come to the Dolomites with me, so he telephoned his girlfriend back in the States and said he’d be back a week later than expected…
From San Martino, in the Dolomites, the best way to access the stunning couloirs is to take the Rosetta gondola, which takes you to the edge of “l’altiplano” at 2800m. I’ve been exploring these mountains for over 10 years now, and I’d never seen such good snow conditions for steep skiing. The weather looked to be on our side, with cold sunny weather every day, and the north faces were perfect for steep skiing.
The “Pale” couloir drops you straight into the grandiose atmosphere of the “Pales” (San Martino range). Once at the top of the lift, we stuck our skins on and set off, our progression was slow, I was maybe a bit tired but above all happy to be showing this place to a friend, enjoying the beauty of our surroundings and the warm late afternoon light. I don’t know why skiing gives me such a feeling of happiness and contentment, but I could see exactly the same thing in Mikey’s eyes.
The next three days were filled good surprises and we skied either alone or with some of the local riders. I was happy to revisit the classic descents of San Martino in great conditions and share it with Mikey. During one of the many long climbs, he told me, with a certain pride, that he hadn’t gone more than one day without skiing this winter. His passion and motivation were contagious. He explained how he painstakingly earned his money in the summer to be free to ski all winter.
We set off at dawn and returned late at the end of each day, our faces burnt by the sun, our gloves and socks stinking from the effort, so we’d light the old wood burner and put them to dry with our skins ready for the next day. Polvo, my cat, who had seen this strange guy arrive in his territory, had also fallen for his charm and I watched, surprised, as he rubbed against his legs when we arrived home.
On the fourth day, my friend Leo, who wasn’t working the next day, came with us for another day of ski mountaineering which marked a turning point in our trip. From the summit of “Fradusta” from where we planned to ski the cold snow of the north side and enjoy the 360 degree view of the Dolomites, I was scanning the surroundings with my binoculars when a stunning line and aesthetic couloir in the Val Canali caught my attention. Leo assured me that as far as he knew it had never been skied… at least not in the last 30 years. The run we skied that day was almost directly facing this beautiful couloir.
That evening, we went and made some enquiries with the local guides who all confirmed that this couloir had never been skied. The alarm on my telephone rang at 4.45am, and at 6am we were in the car park wondering if Leo was coming or not. He arrived a little late (punctuality not being a common trait in Italy)…We then quickly checked our material, I had a hand drill and a few cams in case we needed them as well as lots of slings, Leo had some pitons and a good selection of stoppers. He had decided to leave his crampons and ice axes at home though.
The climb up throught the woods was pleasant and we made a little detour to have a quick look at the exit of the couloir, see how the snow quality looked and check the length of the rappel at the end of the couloir for a bit of moral support. As we made our way around the other side of the mountain to reach the entrance to the couloir, I was thinking about the hidden part of the couloir, wondering how steep it really was and how the snow would be, I had a few apprehensions, I speculated about our chances of success, so much that the climb flew by…I had said to the others that if the snow was bad or if I had the slightest doubt, then I’d turn around with no regrets. Waiting for the right conditions, and knowing how to recognise and anticipate them is part of ski mountaineering. I was the first to arrive at the narrow entrance, and after making my way carefully to the edge, I let out a cry of joy, scaring Mikey who thought I’d fallen. The snow at the top was perfect, and even if it became harder in the lower section, it was a magical descent.
We made two rappels and I insisted on the boys roping up for a very steep section in the middle which they wanted to ski, but it was pretty sketchy. Once I’d finished coiling the rope, I wrapped my arms around Leo and Mikey, we held each other, happy and tired and all keen to go and drink a few beers to help bring the adrenaline levels down.
This trip taught us to never stop searching. It made us aware of the richness of our passion, built on friendship, experience and sharing. Even if one day you find exactly what you’re looking for and lady luck is on your side, the quest doesn’t stop there.