Words by Chad Perrin, Jones Snowboards Global Brand Director
Jones has been part of the Mt. Baker Splitfest event since the beginning, and it has given us great insight on the pure organic stoke these gatherings bring to participants. Taking this experience to the next level, we had been looking for the right time and location to take the framework from the Baker event and translate it into a Jones distributor “splitfest” in the EU. What would work? How large did it need to be? What would be the ideal location? All of these questions needed to be answered before committing to an event.
We spoke to a few Euro media contacts and got ideas about Chamonix, the Pyrenees, and the Dolomites, but nothing stood out. We also knew that timing was crucial. We’ve always wanted our distributors to host a splitfest, yet only our Norwegian partner has pulled it off so far. So, we knew this first event had to be basic: no big sponsor support, no large raffle to raise money for the local avi center, etc. Our goal was to simply inspire our distributors and their retailers to host similar events within their territories and to help build awareness about the endless snowboarding options a splitboard can deliver. Thus, the decision was made to host the event after ISPO in the mountains outside of Innsbruck, Austria, for Jones distributors, retailers, and a few select media friends.
Before October, we had never heard of the Lizumer Hutte in the Watten region outside of Innsbruck. It was a suggestion from Jones Snowboards rider, Mitch Toelderer. He‘d never been there either, but heard good reports on the zone from others. After discovering the Lizumer Hutte could house up to 120 guests up 2,000 meters in the Alps, we thought it sounded like the perfect place.
About the region and the Lizumer Hutte
Located inside the Lizum boundaries in the Wattental valley is a mountain hut, which is located within a military installation, high in the mountains. The Lizumer Hutte (2,019 m) was renovated in 2006/07 by the Hall Alpine Club. The hut lies at the intersection of several international long-distance hiking trails: the Via Alpina, Eagle Way, Munich-Venice Dream Path, Olympia Way – Garmisch-Innsbruck-Cortina, Central Alpine Way No.02A, and Glungezerans Geier Way No. 315.
The Wattentaler Lizum is a base for walks and ski tours in the surrounding ring of mountains that offer relatively gentle, but sometimes avalanche-prone slopes. The area is used for professional, year-round alpine training due to its numerous descents (depending on the snow conditions) and summits for both civil and military use. During military exercises, walking in the region is sometimes restricted. On firing days, hikers must pass the checkpoints and leave the out-of-bounds area by 8:45 a.m.
The Journey “In”
Our crew included Jeremy Jones, our guide Klaus Zwirner, Bryce and Tyler Kloster of Karakoram, Jones team riders Bibi Pekarek and Mitch Tolderer, Jones German rep Morritz Grotepass, and myself—all packed into a sardine can.
After driving 12K on a narrow, windy, and icy road, we were met with a military gate similar to that of an old border crossing back before the EU was in existence. We parked in the lot next to the entrance and called the “taxi”—a retrofitted, all-wheel-drive rig that fits eight comfortably with gear. Our driver, which I’m pretty sure was drunk, rallied the vehicle the additional 8k of icy, winding road in the dead of night. By the way, he’s a jokester. Every so often he would prank us, saying in Austrian that we need to get out and push. At times, he would slide around corners, putting you almost on top of the person next to you, and vice versa. It was clearly evident this guy has been doing this for a long time, as it takes time and skill to navigate this road like he did. A little freaked out but impressed with his driving skills, we arrived to the Lizumer around 7:30 PM.
Once there, we met up with our Italian, Czech, and Netherland distributors. At this point our crew was almost complete, minus a few media friends on their way up the road to the Lizumer. In total we had a group of around 32 people at our little shindig in the alps. Anton Nigg, the Hutte Boss of Lizumer, was there freely pouring a consistent flurry of schnapps…aka “Alpine Tequila.” He is a sturdy character who has plenty of stories to tell.
We ate a great meal, enjoyed some beers and began setting up boards and bindings with the Kloster twins. Klaus, Jeremy…everyone, was anticipating the next day’s bounty, hoping for a great day filled with awesome pow and bottomless turns. Some slept well and some were too busy thinking about riding the next day to sleep.
Day 1 of Touring
With everyone well fed, geared up and ready to go, Jeremy and Klaus did a quick intro on what the day’s objectives were going to be. Since most of the crew was somewhat new, Jeremy and Klaus decided a warm-up run, aka Hollywood Bowl, 200 meters above the hutte would be a good starting point. Given the cloudy conditions, staying near anchors amongst trees was a good choice. The first tour took all of 25 minutes to get to the top. Everyone changed over and one by one we dropped in on our first run, a short hit with a lot of landscape, mushrooms and banks that was a perfect “warm up” for everyone. High fives were slapped and the sound of pure stoke was in the air. This was the official kick off of the “Split-Together”- a convergence of like-minded people who share a passion for seeking pow and lines.
We journeyed back the top of Hollywood Bowl, however this time we dropped skier’s right of our previous lines. It was little more wind-blown and crusty at the top, but once you dropped 20 meters below, it opened up into and sweeping bowl of deep champagne pow that funneled into a creek bed with a fairly easy exit onto a road. We gathered with our motley crew of pow lovers, lined up all our decks, and noticed that 95% of the boards were Jones boards. Pretty epic. It was at this point Jeremy and Klaus started seeking other objectives. They decided we were going to tour over to another ridge adjacent to where we were, that had more vertical, but was still sheltered in the trees. Also, not fully knowing everyone’s skill level we wanted to keep it fairly manageable and tight, as it was a large group. Some of the group decided they wanted to keep shredding this stash, so part of our group disbanded and we made our way to the new objective.
The ridgeline Klaus pointed out was just above the tree line. The tour was cut and dry and he would break trail for our group. Thanks Klaus! After just a few kick turns and some sidehilling, we made it to the top. Winds were coming straight down the ridge, snow was moving in, but that did not falter our desires to schralp what was below us. With the harsh weather, it seemed like everyone’s change over time was faster. No one wanted cold skins or fingers. We were prepped and ready to go, so Mitch took the honor of dropping first. We all followed suit and bombed down what was to be the best run of the day in an untouched pow field. Loud amped up cheers echoed through the treed terrain. A high level of stoke was in the air. Most of us funneled into an avalanche fence, which led to a road directly below.
We all walked up the road a few hundred meters and found a great zone of pillow lines and slasher spots in a treed section. With a great pitch and solid features, we all dropped in with hoots and hollers all the way to the bottom. The run was a blast. It had a good angle and a bunch of mushroom tops to ollie off of into perfect, blower pow. We reached the bottom that concluded at a river basin. We skinned back up to the top. Some of us went all the way back up to the ridge, some did the lower run again, and some retreated back to the Lizumer to warm up.
In typical Austrian fashion, once all returned to the hut, we indulged in an awesome dinner, drank beer and schnapps and enjoyed great story telling about the level of fun the day had rewarded us with.
Day 2 of Touring
Waking up at 6am in my bunk, I looked out the picture frame window in front of me and couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw a pink hue glowing off the top of one of the surrounding peaks indicating it was a bluebird day! I woke up all the guys in my quarter. We got ready, ate breakfast, and jumped in our gear within 45 minutes. The immediate plan was to hit one of the nearby peaks, so we gathered the troops and headed in the direction of our first target. On our way up, it seemed that it was going to be an epic bluebird day. As we climbed higher, we noticed the clouds starting to set in and by the time our whole group gathered it was grey and snowing. At this point, Klaus and Jeremy decided we should head over to the ridge that we rode the day before, only we should go higher up and descend more to the skiers left.
After some skiing, touring, and side-hilling we made it to the top of the ridge, and as Murphy’s law would have it, the skies cleared and remained clear the rest of the day. What laid in front of us was a sugary coated pow field chock full of rad features. It was the type of full- throttle run many of us were looking for. Mitch took the honors, then the rest of us descended to what was a great first run for the day. The lower part of the run was an epic collection of some of the raddest pillow lines I’ve ever experienced. I called it the “Arcade”, because it was like being in a video game where you could effortlessly bounce from one pillow to another. You couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably in this zone because it was that much fun.
Once through the pillow section, we came to the road. We crossed it and descended upon the same run as on day one. Pillows, trees and killer slasher pockets were everywhere, all the way to the river basin. Once the group collected, it was decided that we needed a river-crossing mission to get to the goods on the other side. This was an interesting part of the day….Klaus went on a mission to find a suitable water crossing. From our point of view it was no deeper than six inches at most points, with shallower sections all over, and nothing too wide. After much pondering, many of us decided to just cross on our own terms. Jeremy in classic “get ‘er done” style decided to jump in full ski mode across a narrow section of the creek. In one big move, he leaps across, total daffy form, and gets to the other side with minimal damage. The photo taken of this move is nothing short of classic. We all made it across the river, no evil forces chasing us.
The next leg was a solid 1,500-foot climb from river to alpine. Did I mention how beautiful this place is? In its most simple form, this area is just amazingly picturesque with peaks that jut up 360 degrees around you. There are endless manageable, snow-filled riding options. Upon this climb we came to an open pasture, built into the hillside, which serves as a cattle farm during the warmer seasons. During the summer, it must be lush with plant life for goats and cattle to graze. We continued past the farmhouse. It was a consistent solid pitch through the trees with tons of room for quality turns. This route was ridiculously loaded with options. It was a blank canvas of sorts, just waiting for some good brush strokes.
We got just a few hundred meters above the tree line and transitioned over to get ready to ride some wind formed waves. Jeremy dropped in full heat-seeker style and found a frontside wall full of slashers ripe for the picking. The rest of the crew dropped in over the blank canvas. The high quality snow made for some amazing turns all the way to the valley floor. The echoes of more cheers reverberated through the trees. The military people stationed in the area must have heard our roars loud and clear. After regrouping at the bottom, part of the crew decided to take another go of the same route and descend down. The rest of us decided to make our way back to the ridgeline from run one and hit a lower, untouched portion of a powder field we toured past on the first day.
We all skinned back, some of us a little worse for the wear, but all worth it. We congregated, drank beers, ate, and shared photos and stories of the day. As night fell upon us, we started to disband one group at a time into the alpine taxis to make our way back home. This marked the end of the best event to date put together as a company.
All in all we had around 32 individuals, all interconnected in some way through Jones Snowboards. The best part? We ended up making more friends and tightening the already strong bonds we had with our distributors, retailers and media. We could not have done this without the help of Mitch, Klaus and of course our great host, Anton Nigg.
The End Result
The Lizumer trip was a one-of-a-kind experience. Each person left with great memories and a understanding of the limitless options that splitboarding offers and how it harmonizes one with nature. The trip brought a lot of peace to our busy lives, and we were certainly happy to be a part of it. It was really special that Jeremy was there leading the charge. His calm personality and laid-back attitude made it easy for everyone to feel confident and have a good time. The group was able to witness firsthand his leadership ability in the field, great attitude, and amazing judgment on safety and finding the goods!
We are returning next year, same format and maybe a few more people!