Its so hard to describe the feeling, the way something can go so wrong one day and then so right the next; How one day you can be a million miles from your dream and the next day be knocking on the door of where you want to be in your life.
This is exactly what happened to me in Verbier Freeride Week in January 2015. When I think back to the week I have to laugh at how stupid I have been and how I am one of those unfortunate people, some call them clumsy, some call them crazy- I am both. The competition “week” was pushed into a two day streak of competitions, this was most advantageous due to the weather. Jess, Jackie and myself were all settled into our hotel right next to the base cable car in Verbier, getting to bed Sunday night ready to be refreshed for Monday, the big day, my first day competing in a massive, globally recognised Freeride comp. However looking back, and a full season of competitions later, I would advice “newbies” there is not a lot you can do to truly prepare for the sheer terror of being in that position for the first time, but maybe you are made of stronger stuff.
On the Monday, I awoke at the crack on dawn to a beautful swiss alpine day, the weather was crisp and there was excitement in the air, or well at least there should have been had anyone been awake!- I set off to the cable car in ample time getting ready for morning registration. Upon arrival, I was dismayed to find NO ONE, not a soul, you could see the sad little tumble weeds drift past; Was I in the wrong place? Had they told me the wrong time? – I must be too late. . . . WRONG! Actually I was an hour to early, this is okay you may say, better than too late, well I guess. I scampered off to the hotel to enjoy breakfast with my girles (who I am eternally grateful to for joining me, I literally could not have coped without them). However after a delicious and nutritious breakfast- the staple of every riders day, I realised I lost my bib. My bib for gods sake, personalised with my number, my identifier. Cool, great, I may as well just give up now.
I will say this, the organisers of the Freeride World Qualifier Series and all the volunteers are the nicest most kind people I have the pleasure to meet. Luckily when I explained what a mess of a morning I had had so far (This was after a panicked half hour of searching the mean streets of Verbier for the bib) they joked that of course the only British contestant would be the one to cause the most trouble! Promptly I was issued with a blank bib and ushered to the cable car to make my way to the view point. I wouldn’t call my previous mistakes of the day challenges, I would call a challenge what was to come. The view point was simply accessed over a rather long 400m traverse over hard pack snow and a lot of rock, with my legs as jelly and my heart pounding like I had never felt before, it took the best part of a hour, luckily to reach the view point, dropping height wasn’t an issue, so wiping the sweat from my brow and turning on the charm offensive I made it to the view point to where the competitors awaited.
I am immensely glad that within the series, it has been said by many, the Snowboard Women category, it the nicest, most friendly in the Series. Those girls couldn’t have made me feel more at ease if they had tried. Dees, Marie, Tiffonie and Daniela and the rest reminded me why I was there, to meet and ride with awesome individuals. We chatted about the face and bonded like we were just hanging around our local bar, it was awesome. Being number 42 it was time to make my way to the start point. This is probably a good time to say, comparatively to what I would experience in the season, the face was gentle at about 35′, the snowcover was great and the cliffs had solid take off’s and landings. Dees and I made it to Tortin and to the start of the traverse to the start point, I think she was right in doing so but after around 30 minutes of me struggling along the traverse, she left to the start point. I wont give you the full blow by blow on my disaster but I missed the traverse 3 times, which meant going around back to the cable car and up again 3 TIMES! When I finally managed to make it to the Transceiver check point and the guy said, “yeh, you kinda missed you mark and you will have to wait until the final run now, also did you see that girl get stuck on the cliff, she was there for ages trying to climb up man, it was so hard to watch, she gave up in the end”, to which I responded “yeh, that must have been awful for her”- it was me, if that wasn’t clear already.
Upon arrival at the top, through her sheer selflessness, Dees also missed her start slot, I must mention we remain good friends and she is a wonderful gorgeous girl and a killer rider, one that if you ever get the chance to meet, consider yourself lucky; as we say in Yorkshire, she is a top lass! Dees, myself and the final Ski competitors waited anxiously at the top, I looked down and peered over what looked to me, the biggest most looming drop of my life, it was about 4 m, I am such a loser! When the FWQ guy shouts the words “Rider ready?- 3, 2, 1, DROP IN”, one of two things can happen, your survival instinct kicks in, its fight or flight or you make like a Danish Tourist and flop down the mountain in a move I like to call “the dead fish”. I did the latter. Safe to say that day I came a deserving last. . . . .
I will be honest, I cried, I cried a lot, I cried like a little baby child, Jess and Jackie consoled me like only 2 best mates can, yet nothing would make me understand how I had let myself down so. I could do this, I can do this, so why did I fail so epically. The girls assured me, I literally couldn’t do any worse the next day, there was only up from the literal rock bottom I had hit. The next morning was like a different life, they say a new day brings new light and this could not have been more accurate. I arrived on time, I made it to the view point without a struggle and happy to be reunited with the other riders, everyone in high spirits to see the face. It was a beauty. The photo doesn’t do it justice, it was awesome, Big cliffs, Rocks and boulders, Fresh fluffy dry snow, the sun and shade ratio on this face was perfect, conditions like only the big man himself could make! I was ready, nothing that day could change my positive notion, I wish I could save that feeling and remind myself of it when I’m sad. Making my way to the top and merrily over the traverse to the start point I was reminded by the mountains I need to do more cadio! When I reached the top, I looked down at the face and the feeling of euphoria began in my feet and travelled up my body to my heart and through my veins, the feeling of anticipation for everyone was tangible. This time when the ski dude shouted “Number 46, Rider ready?” I could do anything else but turn the music up loud and steady myself for what I knew would be the ride of my life. When he screamed, “3, 2, 1- Drop in” I shocked myself with the aggression in which I departed. The run is a bit of a blur now, the adrenaline does something to you, it blinds you to fear and trepidation, it shows you the only thing to focus on is the thrill of the ride, and my god was that a thrill.
When you get to the bottom, the only way I can describe it, is like when you come out of a big final exam at school or university, everyone is asking you what you put for question 2 or how you think it went, its almost a little toxic, you doubt yourself and you think you have made crucial mistakes, how could you let yourself down in this way. I thought for my own sanity it was best to get down the mountain and meet the girls for a well earned beer.
There is nothing in the world better than that beer at the end of a powder day, You’ve climbed, you’ve hiked, you’ve panicked and your pushed yourself to the limit. It could have been totally flat, they may have even served it at room temperature and charged me 20chf to boot, but that beer was the best I had ever drunk.
After a few of those end of day beers, the girls and I went to the results ceremony. I was sure I wasn’t going to get that all important while card entry to the 3* on the Sunday, I was sure I would not have ranked but at this point I was quite sure, everyone back home was right; maybe I wasn’t ready, perhaps their doubts were correct, I just wasn’t good enough, determination can only get you so far. But, and its a big old but, when they began calling the names and reading the results I had decided I had done so appallingly they were not even going to call my name. When the dude said the words “well, this is a shock but she deserves it coming last yesterday to such a fantastic place, we are delighted to say the winner is ANGELICA SYKES”, he did say from Germany but I can take that, being from Germany would rock but Jackie duely corrected him as I was in fact Team GBR not Team GER, as shocking as it was a British girl from Leeds had won.
I have been through a lot growing up, I had never and still to this day don’t feel good enough, sometimes I feel I never will be pretty enough, strong enough, fast enough or skilled enough but in that moment, that perfect moment with tears streaming downing my now beetroot red face, I knew that I had a future with this incredible sport. I could proudly stand next to these people. There riders, man oh man are they good, the best freeriders in Europe and I can only hope I earned their respect in the same way they have mine. It was the best day of my life.
I know it only gets better if life when you let it, I am surely open to the experience. The season of competing after that went from the mad to the plain bonkers, I went to Nendaz Freerider Fest? What was that all about, I came 8th but I still went and I still did what I could then. However like I keep saying, I know now what is required of me to keep winning or at least making podium, I have experienced 2*, 3* and 4* and next winter I am going to smash it for Team GBR; I know this because only the few truly gifted individuals make it in their first season, to them I wish them the best, but for me, I’m ready to roll my thermal sleaves up and MAKE it happen for me.