Those of our readers who also follow us on our social media accounts probably will have noticed we have been on a number of adventures the passed few weeks. First of all we would love to share all that we did during two particularly memorable trips, and while doing so take the time to tell you about what and why we have been working with outdoor brands on these trips.

This first post is about our participation in the Bergans Freeride Experience that took place in Kleinwalsertal, Austria. As part of a very cool project we are working on with Bergans of Norway, we were invited to attend this event.

If you would like to know more about this project, why we are working with Bergans of Norway, skip to the end of this post.

Photo: Sophie Cousin

This event was organized for the first time by Freerider Sanne de Jong. We had met Sanne in Holland for the first chapter of our project and already knew her as a very friendly, accommodating and positive person. And quite the trooper; two days earlier she had been rear-ended in her car waiting at a stoplight, and yet she was here with us, a bit doped on painkillers, but ready to go. #bikkel as we say in Holland.

I had arrived 1,5 days before the beginning of the event, and after having half a day riding on slopes and practicing slightly ridiculous forward roles in thick fogs, I spent the second beautiful day just collecting as many shots of nature I could get. And I realized how lovely it can be to be alone on the mountain, making your own choices going where you want to go, as fast or slow as feels good. And just being able to hard carve empty wide groomers, feeling all that power of the mountain in your legs as you front side a low snow-sniffing turn…its just one of the best feelings there are. Blue skies above, and a sea of clouds seperating this high mountain world with the valleys below. And as I shot through those clouds, hardly seeing ten meters ahead, but keeping the throttle opened up, the feeling changed from an almost happy hysterical to a slightly scary form of exhilaration.

It’s not about you and your own ego only: it’s about connecting with nature, with people around you.

The day the Bergans Freeride Experience began brought blue skies al around: from the Riezlern village we could see the mountainside basking in the snow. The group of 26 participants were divided up in 4 groups and each assigned to a local mountain guide The first day would be about hiking from the lifts to powder slopes and I attached myself (together with the Event Photographer, the amazing Sophie Cousin) to the all-snowboard group.

Photo: Sophie Cousin

We managed to hit some amazing descents but also struggled at times with difficult conditions on a number of faces, hard icy snow, packed underneath a layer (not too thick unfortunately) of three day old snow. But more than the snow, what I found difficult was the dynamic in the group. Where normally you would pack snowboarders together and have a relaxed kind of fun, supporting each other and really doing the ride together, there were a couple of the group members who seemed to have eyes only on their own lines. Without the patience of respect to wait for others who perhaps weren’t as proficient as they were, or who had to take time setting up a shot or a photograph and pack up expensive equipement without getting snow everywhere.

Measuring the worth of their day on the number of runs they could squeeze into the time allotted. I was surprised and disappointed (and a bit mad) by that. And I feel I want to make the point here because that is not, as far as I am concerned, what freeriding is al about, or for that matter, being in the mountains is about. It’s not about you and your own ego only: it’s about connecting with nature, with people around you. Because when push comes to shove you all need each other up there.

There was an amazing sense of camaraderie and thankfulness to be there together.

The next day, fortunately, brought exactly that. Sophie and I joined a second group, this time skiërs and we turned our attention to back country ski touring. Skinning up the mountain through an amazing landscape which the locals called the Gottesacker (field or garden of God), and finding some untouched first track powder runs. There was an amazing sense of camaraderie and thankfulness to be there together. At the end we had to traverse out of a valley that descended only slightly and had many little uphill sections: and where skiers can easily keep up their speed, I, on my (quite unresponsive) split board found myself dead in the snow, ploughing through waist deep snowbanks and killing myself to keep up with the group. Who never, at any moment made me feel bad, unwelcome, slow or guilty of anything. Quite the contrary, they helped in any way they could, understanding the route was far from ideal for a snowboarder, and appreciating the effort I was doing. They pushed and pulled me along when necessary and made sure I didn’t get “lost in misery” as the Flemish say.

Photo: Sophie Cousin

This adventure destroyed the last bit of energy I had, and must have ruptured quite a number of alveoli in my lungs; I feel I am still, three weeks later, not up to my normal lung capacity. Adding to a nasty fall I took on my shoulder while shooting a follow cam sequence (occupational hazard) and the fact that I had enough footage for the video I was making (check it out here) I decided not to go on a third day back country hike/skinning session. I stuck to the slopes of the resort with two other less fit participants and had a blast, as would be expected.

That was my Bergans Freeride Experience, really understanding what free riding is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I also had time to reflect on the passed days; to understand and appreciate my own limitations, to look at how I reacted to the various moments of conflict, external as wel as internal. And how clear it became that the mountains have the tendency to cut a way a lot of the bullshit. They confront you with yourself and force us to depend on others. Receiving and accepting help can be quite a difficult thing to do at times. Doing so with grace is even more difficult. Not meeting yourself up about your own “weakness” the last part of a trilogy or so it seems.

Photo: Sophie Cousin

That was my Bergans Freeride Experience, really understanding what free riding is, the good, the bad and the ugly. It has enriched my life and has brought me new friends from very unexpected quarters. I feel very thankful for that.

As for my experience with the Bergans jacket and pants I wore all weekend: you can read that in the upcoming review.

Working with Bergans of Norway

The reason for us to work on this project is twofold: first of all, we try to give the very best advice we can give about what outdoor or actions sports gear will best fit your particular needs when you go out to enjoy nature and the sporting activity you are doing. That means trying to find out everything there is to know about a wide array of gear, testing and reviewing as much gear as we can get our hands on. And last but not least understanding the idea’s behind products: why are they made the way they are made, what are they supposed to do? This means getting close to brands, asking them about their idea’s and understanding the purpose of their products.

And the brands respect us in our editorial freedom to look at the brand and the products in an impartial and objective way, to tell our readers about it from our own point of view.

Photo: Sophie Cousin

And this brings in the second reason: brands really want to explain their ideas and their purpose: when they tell this story themselves, it is advertising. In working with us, this story is told through our particular “lens”, we add our nuance to it, our opinions and experiences. More and more brands are seeing the value in this, and are interested in opening up to us, talking to us, and are helping us, also financially, to tell our story, about their brand. Obviously there is an interest in it for them, as there is for us. And we believe we also help you, our readers, by being able to take more time to bring you the in depth information we think will help you.

It is a very cool way to work together, in which we really try to understand what they are doing, and look at this with respect. And the brands respect us in our editorial freedom to look at the brand and the products in an impartial and objective way, to tell our readers about it from our own point of view.

Ok, so that is exactly what we have been doing with Bergans of Norway: we wanted to get to know the brand from the “inside-out” talking to their people, listening to the history, the heritage of which they are very proud, using their products so that we can experience first hand if they deliver on their promises. And an amazing part of this journey we did together was the Bergans Freeride Experience.

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Mark Stokmans
Sinds mijn jongste jeugd ben ik een zeer actief sporter in heel veel verschillende sporten: begonnen met honkbal, tennis en paardrijden later nog hockey, voetbal, hardlopen en aikido. Daarnaast sinds twaalf jaar oud into actionsports: als eerste windsurfen, later klimmen, skaten, snowboarden, mountainbiken. Gek ook op video's maken van action sports. Verder al sinds 1990 werkzaam in de sport, en sportmarketing eerste bij de Judobond en tot eind 2016 bij NOC*NSF. Naast GearLimits in het dagelijks leven part-time werkzaam bij digitaal bureau Infocaster.

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