Stories "off the slopes"
Deep powder tracks
Discover the most beautiful lines in Zillertal during the Ride & Shoot Days together with professional snowboarder Werni Stock and photographer Tom Klocker at the Hintertux Glacier. The adventure begins where the pistes end …
"Would you like some Zwebm?", asks Werni with his eternal grin on his face. As he hands us a handful of raisins. Learned something new, linguistically at least. We're sitting at a snack area with a five-star panorama, beyond the 3,000-metre mark; behind us lies a short but sweaty muscle-powered ascent, in front of us: a magnificent view of the giant Zillertal glaciers, from the Großer Möseler to the Olperer. And one of those "Never End" type untracked powder slopes, with a lake at the very bottom, whose grace could easily make it a Norwegian fiord. "We won't be out of the mountains so quickly", comments Werni dryly on the scene, but not without a hint of pride in his voice. It doesn't get any more Zillertal than this – neither the panorama nor the people. We're travelling together with Werni Stock, professional snowboarder from Tux. Along with him is another who knows the area inside out: Tom Klocker from Mayrhofen, a professional photographer and Instagram legend with a following that exceeds the population of Austria's capital. With the first gondola, we're off to the top.
Together we're trying to track down the best powder – sorry, pow! – that can be found on the vast Hintertux Glacier. We leave the inviting pistes to the left behind; for the motivated ladies Lisa and Anna Maria and the author of these lines, "Ride & Shoot" is the only thing on the programme today. Ride for freeride, shoot for photoshoot – Werni is in charge of the former, Tom the latter. Today is all about the turns and the lines, we want the perfect freeride descent, we want the flow. And, in this life, you won't get a better chance at finding an untracked slope than with two local heroes. They practically grew up on the Hintertux Glacier and know every possible variation here. And there are lots of them. Because of the altitude, you can find good powder conditions for most of the season, as long as you know where to look. Something they want to share as of this season, the Ride & Shoot Days are entering their first round. "We want to take people along for the day and show them how much fun we have when we shoot. Because the bigger the fun factor, the better the results – call it my secret formula," Tom says about the idea.
It starts off with constant "Griaß di" and "Servus" as we go through the lower station – of course the guys know every lift operator by name. You can find Werni up here almost every day in winter, and always with incredible enthusiasm and never-ending good spirits. Ever since he first stood on a snowboard, it was clear to him: This is his world. The really big kickers did it to him, at the legendary Air&Style Contest in Innsbruck he stood on the podium, his freestyle videos are a feast for the eyes. He finished a special one recently, called "Local Surroundings" and was filmed almost exclusively in Zillertal. "When somebody asks me what the highlight of my career has been so far, I have to say: this video. To be able to show the beauty of my homeland is worth more to me than success in a contest. But of course my success at Air&Style was also a very special moment…", he says.
And freeriding, for Werni and Tom it's not just a pastime, it's their life. Like Werni, Tom used to be a pro rider too, they got to know each other twenty years ago as young snowboarders in what was then a very manageable scene in the valley. But for the last few years Tom has instead been focusing on the visual: Shooting instead of shredding. On all of his journeys, he always had his camera with him, and he picked up tips along the way from the pros at the worldwide contests. Then he tore his ACL, the forced break from sports finally kicked-off his photography career. "At first we just called him 'Sunrise Tom'. He was a little over-motivated and almost every day at sunrise he was already on some summit for his photo", Werni adds. And then enthusiastically states: "How cool is it that your best friend is also a famous photographer?" On a casual day, they'll come out with two or three shots that would be suitable for a magazine cover or Instagram.
But in the backcountry, absolute trust in your buddy counts even more than friendship. In addition to the appropriate equipment such as an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe, freeriding requires, above all, considerable know-how. Safety training with a mountain guide is another essential part of the Ride & Shoot Days. "You really have to be able to rely on each other one hundred per cent", says Tom. "When shooting as well as riding." One key advantage is that Tom carries his years of professional snowboarding knowledge with him just as reliably as his camera backpack and telephoto lens. When it comes time to build an oversized kicker, for example, he knows exactly how to shape it to the terrain. Because he could jump it himself. We strap into our boards and get ready for the descent. A long descent: Way, way below us, the waters of the Schlegeis reservoir, the goal of our freeride mission, beckon to us with their turquoise glow. With a shout we dive into the big, endless white, and, after the first few turns, it's clear what drives Werni and Tom, why they search for this feeling over and over again: There's simply nothing better than that one, perfect powder turn.
Images: Tom Klocker & Simon Schöpf and text: Simon Schöpf
Zillertal magazine Winter 2020/21
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