Matt and Jake have offered to chip in and help fill you in on our training week, so take a seat; this one’s a little more abstract than usual…
Day 2: Halnefjorden
Wind: 15 knots
As the moon hit Australia, the sun hit the little cabin by the lake, awakening all to the sweet sound of cross country skiers outside the window.
Yesterday was the intro, today was full frontal hot launch for all participants. The wind was wet and wild and so were the spectators. The spot was reading 60 – 70 on the naughtyometer and conditions were ripe as a soft yellow banana. After setting the kites up dead downwind, kites got flying with only hot launches accepted. It wasn’t long before the speedometer hit mach 47 and, with at least 4 sonic booms, ripcords had to be pulled.
In a more honest universe, Alex and Prodge set to building the day’s shelter. Plans for the world’s tastiest igloo were soon abandoned for the world’s squarest snow hole. Still, it provided a perfect shelter for the day’s riding.
Progress: Within 20 minutes, Jake and Oli were cranking upwind on skis. Matt and Nathan had a little more trouble on snowboards; poor visibility and changing terrain made it very hard to orient yourself and choose the appropriate tack.
After a couple of hours, Nathan had worked his way about a kilometre downwind. The rest of the gang were getting pretty competent, making good use of the long shallow slopes on each tack. Lino, the resident photographer for the group set up in front of a sweet roller, where jackpot Jake and two season Matty locked in for a sensual session of air time. Like Maverick and Ice Man, competition was raw but love was shared, with the common ground being that both involved sent it into space.
Day 3: Ørteren
Wind: 15-20 knots, with some serious lulls.
One small step for man, one giant leap for Team Gillespie’s chances for podium places at Red Bull Ragnarok. The team headed out to Ørteren, arguably the most famous spot in the area. A host of tall, rolling hills surround a vast lake which makes for a great variety of flat terrain, fun little features, and downhill. It was the perfect training ground for this group.
The wind was up and the whole team was fully juiced on everything from the 6 to the 12. Even Lino got stuck in, managing to nail the basics in no time at all. (This in some way made up for the fact that he wrote off the quadcopter on it’s first flight. Word to the wise; watch out for updrafts.)
Alex hired an expedition sled for the day which made the support crew’s day dramatically more exciting, and made for some cool GoPro footage. Towing it was super easy, and got us thinking about longer journeys at some point in the future.
Ben took Jake and Oli exploring some of the steeper terrain and both managed a few solid downhill runs, chasing their kites down the line like born wave riders. Being decent skiers must have helped but their kite skills were definitely improving. Meanwhile, Matt had moved onto an LEI and was having trouble adjusting to the less spontaneous relaunch, and Nathan was focusing on covering as many miles as possible. Sam started pushing her limits on the features at the edge of the lake and had a sweet time.
Day 4: Ustaoset
Wind: 15 knots in the morning, 35 in the afternoon. Gusty.
Day 4 was a little tougher for our intrepid crew. Conditions meant that the road beyond Haugastøl was closed with no convoy running, so we could ride either at Geilo (which would have cost us £10 for a lift pass or 30 mins for a hike) or Ustaoset, a lake between Geilo and Haugastøl. We opted for the easy option and promptly got lost between the car park and the lake.
Having found the spot, 6s and 8s were the order of the day. Conditions were tough – very little snow on the lake meant hard landings and gusty wind meant even speed runs weren't very satisfying. This was also the least exciting of the spots we went to with very little in the way of terrain to explore, but the group were able to get some good tacking practice in during the morning at least. Over lunch, Ben was eyeing up the broken ice at the edge of the lake for a potential photo op, but after launching an 8 and then a 6 and not being able to stand still with either, the group packed down the kites and Jake and Matt let loose on their skis and snowboard for the camera for a bit.
That evening, Ben and Alex met with a local kiter who, in addition to having a spare ticket for the Ragnarok, happened to suggest that Geilo would be glorious for an evening session. Not satisfied with the day's antics, kit was thrown into the cars in a desperate rush and the team set out once more. After a short drive and a long hike, the boys (Sam and Nathan hadn't made the cut) found some wind and some power line free space and managed to get out.
The strong winds from the morning had gone nowhere and just 30 minutes of nervous, grass-dodging, gust-managing kiting later, and Oli had had enough. Matt meanwhile was following Ben and Alex upwind, in an effort to get around the power lines and head for the top of the ski lift. With darkness coming on and the wind picking up however, Alex decided it was wise to put his fifth line to the test. Ben stuck around to make sure the pack down went okay. Despite his good intentions though, he ended up crashing his kite onto Alex’s skis, involuntarily hot launching and sent one of them whirling inches from Alex's head.
Fortunately, Alex managed to avoid death by ski. He set Ben's kite straight and then rushed over to help Matt who was frantically patting himself on the head, making good use of the landing signal he'd learnt in snowkite basics volume 1.
Adamant he wasn’t skiing home, Ben managed to keep his kite in the air while Matt and Alex packed away, and then all three made their way downwind (and fortunately downhill) to meet the rest of the gang as the sun set.
All in all, probably the most nerve wracking day so far!
Day 5: Orteren
Wind: 0-15 knots
A quiet day today due to the lack of wind. The 12 got a lot of use, as did the bigger LEIs. The wind teased all day, enough that a few trips up the mountains were attempted but only with limited success. It wasn’t long before the team were calling it a day completely and amusing themselves with other booter banter.
Day 6: Orteren
Wind: 15-25 knots
The day before the race! After five short days, this was the last chance for any additional training. The spots were a load busier, with competitors arriving for the race, and a few of the pros were spotted getting warmed up. Unfortunately, visibility was awful which made the conditions somewhat intimidating for the new guys, as did the fact that Ruben Lenten was hucking it off the top of the mountain at Lægreid, the spot opposite. Despite appearances though, the wind was perfect for the first part of the day and Ben was able to have a great session on skis, really getting comfortable before race day.
In the afternoon, the guys got their first real taste of powered up conditions. This was good practice though and most of the gang felt ready to take on a downwinder to the far edge of the lake. The wind continued to pick up en route to about 30 knots, which was enough to mean the end of the day for most of the kiters. A few stayed out on small LEIs but we were reassured to see even the locals behaving pretty conservatively in those conditions.
So that was that. The end of training, and home to pack up for the big race…
Day 7: Race Day, Laegreid
Wind: 45 knots
Visibility: White out
Oh my goodness. Waking up at 6am and checking the wind made me feel a little sick. After the previous day's experience I was a little nervous that we'd have too much wind, and it looked like my worst fears were being realised. I knew everyone was keen to race and we had the right size kites, but I was all too aware of everyone's inexperience, especially with safety systems and high wind. Anyway, they all seemed cheerfully oblivious, and there was always the chance of the race being pushed back a day, so we made our way to Haugastøl for race briefing.
Once there, we learned that the race was being put back by an hour, but was indeed going ahead. Not the news I was hoping for but D-Day was always going to arrive eventually. To better prepare ourselves, we snapped pictures of the course and went to load our kit onto the bus.
Lægreid was grey and windy when we arrived and word from the skidoos was that the wind was variable all over the course. I handed out 6s, took an 8 for myself, and gave Matt the 10m LEI which he'd gotten pretty used to. Alex took a 9, and Sam took her 7.5.
We set up and kited a little to kill time, at which point the marshals came round to announce a further delay. This happened a couple of times, and by the time the race finally started it was clear why – at 1.30pm the sky was completely clear, the whole course was visible and the wind was (as we were to find out) 20 knots at most on any part of the course.
The start of the race was absolutely spectacular, as the pictures show. The pack split pretty quickly into two fleets, with the high performance racing foils out in front, and everyone else behind. A nice cross wind tack to the first gate made for a comfortable start, followed by a more challenging downwind and uphill section to gate two. At this point the conservative kite choice made things a bit tough. Luckily the guys had all heard of kite loops and weren't afraid to get stuck in. Nathan counted 12 (that's right, 12) kite loops to get up the hill, which meant his strings were well tangled.
Holding your line through gate two meant sending it off a nice big cliff. Those brave enough could either send it, and fly to the bottom of the hill, or take it slow and ride through the super steep section with extreme caution. The alternative was to head downwind and find a gentler route down, before rejoining the main fleet en route to gate three.
As the most experienced member of the group, I took the safe route. Alex and Matt went for it, while Sam and the rest of the boys went entirely the wrong direction and ended up halfway to gate four, meaning they were well delayed before finally reaching gate three.
The journey was worth it though because in the leg from gate three to four was one of the most exciting downhill sections of the race. Coupled with a downwind, even the new members were able to pick up some speed and put in some big, sweeping turns.
The leg from four to five was the most arduous. A four kilometer stretch directly upwind made for a monster slog and is where we spent most of our lap. Even at our most tired though, it was impossible to ignore the feeling that comes from the freedom that this sport offers, especially when the fear of being abandoned miles from safety is removed.
Alex and I were the only ones to complete this leg and go on to finish our first lap. I managed it in 1hr 30 and Alex in 1hr 50. After that, we both decided the wind was too light, and our chances of doing the full five laps too slim, to bother carrying on. Instead, I changed up to my 13 and had a sweet time learning to backroll on skis. Lino got back out as well and made some good progress. At around 7pm, as the sun started to set, we were sure that the cold, barren Nordic Gods had taken the others.
Then suddenly, like Gandalf in Fangorn Forest and Andy Dufrense bursting out of the sewer tank in Shawshank, Sam, then Matt, then Jake, Oli, and Nathan appeared in the distance aboard a vessel commonly known as a skidoo, only not as naked as the day they were born. I was worried they might have been frustrated at not making it the full lap, and at having kites too small for the wind, but it was clear as soon as they got back that the sense of adventure and the progress they had made far outweighed any feelings of disappointment. There were some real challenges in terms of using the kite which they figured out along the way; an impressive feat given their really very minimal experience.
So as the adventure had drawn to a close, the competition over, the juiciness of mach 17 finished for another season, we reflect back on what can only be described as a fully ‘lit’ journey. From the struggle of knowing our lefts and rights, to fully juiced up hot launches, to the energy supplied by quik lauch naughtyometer hitting at least 99 richters, we thank you Norway. You may take our lives but you will always have our freedom and yes, we will see you again. But not yet. Not yet.
Pre race words: Jake and Two-season Matty.
All the rest: Ben Gillespie