Once a year nestled deep in the charming village of La Clusaz in the French Alpes, Snow Avant Premier brings over 1000 snowboarders together from the European scene to test snowboards, bindings, outerwear and other gear for the upcoming season.
Here at S2AS we love any opportunity to get on some snow and chat with likeminded people so naturally we hopped on a plane to check out the hype for 2017's new products.
Arriving in Geneva, Switzerland and during our transfer we realized that the weather was pretty miserable but we didn't let the rain stop us from getting out there as soon as we hit the resort.
Arriving at the exhibitor stands at around 12:30pm, we grabbed our passes and badges and went straight to the stands to pick out our first board of the day to test.
Picking our first boards
I picked out the new Lib Tech Skate Banana, which by the way this year has a wicked graphic. I paired it up with Lib Tech's new binding system including modular base plates with interchangeable flex. They come in 3 flex ratings and it's kind of like having mini snowboards under your feet. I dropped in the flexiest ones to match the playful pop of the Banana and headed up the mountain.
The conditions weren't ideal but the classic combo of flex and rocker kept a smile on my face from top to bottom. Lib Tech's Magne-Traction technology with a serrated knife-like edge kept my edge glued to the piste and made initiating turns on a full rocker board much easier.
Next I paired up a Gnu Head Space with Union Contact bindings. Having not ridden this board before I didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised when it was just as poppy as the Skate Banana and seemed to have a lot of character with it's modern art style graphic which turned some heads. For a camber board it was incredibly easy to jib and butter around the piste. It ate up the terrain and cut well into side hits. The new Contacts felt very stable and held my boots tight, providing support on my ankle while maintaining comfort with their nice thick padding on both straps. The highbacks were wide and gave me a great platform to initiate my heel edge and were very comfortable with a good amount of flex.
Next up was a personal favourite of mine as I'm into strange techy boards. At the Ride stand I opted for the new 2017 Helix with Ride Rodeo Bindings. Firstly, the bindings were super stable and held my boots really tight which is something I really appreciate. I like my boots incredibly flexible but I also want my heel to feel locked in while I have all the movement at my disposal above the ankle. These bindings delivered.
The Helix itself had a beautiful colourway in blueish turquoise and black. Similar to last year it has an intriguing shape and asymmetric style. It sports a ridiculously aggressive heel edge and standard toe edge designed to help you keep that heel in place on those traverses. I do always find that I'm naturally more confident on my toes so having that more aggressive turn-in on the heels makes me feel like a much more well-rounded snowboarder. Frontside spins on this board are epic. It's a medium flex board and it's great for all mountain riding, freestyle, carving and more. ''But what about riding switch?!'' I can hear you thinking already. I rode this board switch for over half a run and had no problems with it whatsoever, it's clearly designed as a directional board, I don't know how they've accomplished it but it rides plenty stable in switch.
Waking up early to get up on the first lifts we went down to get some breakfast at the hotel restaurant. While battering the croissants we noticed 2 flashes of lighting at the top of the piste. Not a good sign! Nevertheless we made our way back to the exhibitor stands and went about getting our first board for the day. Nope, too stormy and windy, lifts closed for the day. No worries though, I grabbed a Nitro Aterlife 153cm board with Nitro Zero Bindings and took the button lift up to the bunny slope where I jibbed around on some small boxes that were left up on the side of the run. Great fun, super poppy. Bindings were solid and kept my heels right in the back of the boot.
I then tried the Nitro Cinema which was even more fun and flexy than the previous board (same bindings). Gave it the beans on the button lift, there were some small features out on the right hand side; a small rainbow box, an ollie-on battleship box and a wedge box. The board was great on these features and did exactly what it was designed for. After trying a side hit onto the piste and making sure I was satisfied, I took the board back.
No time is wasted on these tests, if you can't ride, you network. We spent the afternoon chatting and rubbing shoulders with other friendly reps and fellow snowboarders in the industry. I tried out some very tasteful 686 jackets with gore tex and pads that warmed crucial parts of my body which was great considering my own jacket was still damp from the day before!
Some stands decided to pack down after we found out the lifts were not due to reopen. Half of their tents nearly blew away in a freak, out of the blue gale/blizzard that lasted a good few minutes. The weather clearly wasn't co-operating with our plans to ride today!
After socialising we retired back to the hotel for a well-needed dip in the pool followed by an absolutely perfect French fillet steak in a nearby restaurant. You can't beat a french fillet steak.
In short this was without a doubt the best day of the week. The relentless torrents of rain had broken and we got a huge dump of snow overnight.
This is what we woke up to:
On the way up to the exhibition stands, La Clusaz was in full snow clearing mode. Two inches of snow is enough to shut England down but up here they have all the kit required to make sure that roadways are clear.
Arriving at the stands everything looked completely different when iced with snow, it was beautiful. The weather was cold but luckily Dakine was on hand with hot waffles! In addition they were giving new gloves out for your old gloves.
I grabbed a K2 Fastplant with K2 Lien bindings and headed up the piste with Ollie, who grabbed a Never Summer Snowtrooper. The snow was still dumping up top and the visibility was pretty poor but nothing was going to get in the way of us shredding up the fresh powder from the day before. Angelo had managed to grab a lift from the lads at Ride and got 3 runs in already!
The Fastplant was everything I expected; poppy, fun and playful. After popping some cheeky backside 180s off the freshly made moguls we tried some powder slashes and a bit of carving at the bottom where the snow wasn't as deep. Stunning board with a visible core. I later found out that the Fastplant comes with a 5 year core warranty. That's right, if you snap the core on the Fastplant within 5 years of buying it, they'll warranty it. That's confidence!
The K2 Lien binding was something that I personally loved. This binding fit my UK9 Nike Vapens perfectly due to their 'Perfect Fit' technology. The toe strap has 2 fully adjustable sections that don't ride up the boot, the adjustments were completely screwless and allowed for quick on-the-fly adjustments of the toe and ankle strap via a clip system that was designed to be popped up and down. It really surprised me how easy and safe the system was and how secure the binding felt.
When we got down to the bottom we had heard that Angelo had rode over a rock and managed to completely destroy a Bataleon board!
Wanting to try some new boards I swapped out again for the board I'd been looking forward to riding in these conditions since I got on the plane: the Never Summer Proto Type Two. After a friendly chat with the reps at the Never Summer stand I grabbed some of the new Union Atlas bindings from the Capita stand, popped them on the board and made my way up the bubble.
I decided to get the 158 due to the conditions even though I normally ride a 155 and it handled the powder so well. The shape of the Proto Type Two lent itself perfectly to what I wanted. The rocker in the centre combined with the camber on the nose and tail allowed me to float through the powdery top sections with ease and carve up the piste when required. Incredible board that I was very sad to return.
For the final runs of the day I went to the Capita stand and picked myself out a Capita Ultrafear with Union Force bindings. beautiful graphic on the board and great bindings with comfortable ankle straps. We headed up a different lift this time to the right and at the top we decided to follow some French skiiers off piste. Best decision ever, the powder was untracked in some areas and we rode for about an hour and a half through trees and down drop-offs as high as 8 feet.
We rode a little too deep under the lift and had to hike up so we could ride under the cables to get back to the show but it was totally worth it.
(Ollie's POV from behind his Capita DOA)
The test was probably one of the best experiences of my life and the last run of the 3rd day was probably the best run I've had so far. Hooning it through powder, trees and drops was the most fun I've had on a snowboard.
Having the opportunity to go out and test these boards was great so thanks to Capita, Ride, K2, Never Summer, Lib Tech, Union, Bataleon, 686, Deeluxe, Baw Bags, Dakine, Stance and Dragon for letting us test their gear!