Far Out Places: Serendipity and Snow in The Julian Alps

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Thanks to a fresh coating of snow, Griffin Post’s skis effortlessly glided across the centuries-old cobblestone of the Monte Lussari village in Tarvisio Italy. As he moved through the alleyways, whizzing by him were medieval hotels, cafes, and curious locals who excitedly watched the unusual commotion. Soon they’d have a new subject to focus their attention on: Elyse Saugstad carving a fresh turn above their chapel. Later during the athletes’ stay, one of the rooftops would be converted into a makeshift booter, off which Robin Van Gyn would land her first double backflip. The whole scene felt larger than life and too good to be true. That’s because it was. The team wasn’t even supposed to be here in the first place. Just a few days prior they were unaware of this village’s existence and stumbled across it thanks to pure happenstance. Now they were riding snow so deep that they were practically swimming in it.

Finding Plan B:

The clock was ticking, and after nearly a week and a half in the Julian Alps of Slovenia, it was starting to appear that the TGR team would leave Europe empty-handed. With a movie segment still to film, it was imperative that they moved to Plan B. The thing was, there wasn’t really a Plan A to start with. About two weeks prior, the TGR production crew stepped off the plane to join Elyse Saugstad, Robin Van Gyn, and Griffin Post in their exploration of Slovenia’s obscure alpine terrain, a decision that was collectively made just three days before the plane left the runway in Jackson, Wyoming.

Robin Van Gyn enjoying one of the many powder stashes they found while filming in Italy. Nic Alegre Photo.

Coming here in the first place was an idea conceived by Post. Originally the team was supposed to ski in Georgia, but the trip didn’t come together. Recalling a conversation that he had with Steve Jones about the Julian Alps, Post started doing some investigating.

All that he could dig up was that most freeriders had left the zone untouched and that there was great lift infrastructure. Aside from information gained from a few phone calls with friends who had visited the area, the Julian Alps appeared to be an enigma. Jackpot. Satisfying the primary goal for Far Out, presented by REI, which was to find remote and unknown areas to explore, the team was allured by the mystery and went for it. Post says:

There’s an inherent drive that everybody has to see what’s over the next ridge and that trip really captured that.

Once tickets were hastily bought, they were on route to Europe. The first half of the trip was spent in Bled, Slovenia, which initially appeared to have everything: A gorgeous alpine lake, a castle, and no shortage of Old World charm. It was nearly perfect until they discovered they couldn’t ski where they had originally hoped. Before coming, the crew had scoped a few zones from photographs they were able to dig up. However, this information helped little because the extreme avalanche conditions made these spots far too dangerous to ride. “That was kind of a beat down—thinking that [Slovenia] was the only option that we had,” cinematographer Austin Hopkins says. They hadn’t thought of what to do if Slovenia was a bust.

Ditching Plan A, the team was forced to reconsider their options. Coming out here already was a complete dice roll and each additional day spent in Slovenia was another valuable production day lost. Panicked, Hopkins, fellow cinematographer Nick Koldenhoven, Post and Van Gyn piled into a van and drove 45 minutes across the border to scope out the Italian side of the Julian Alps. They had zero intel about what was waiting for them on the other side of the range.

Stumbling Across Tarvisio:

Like a scene from a fairytale, Elyse Saugstad drops in right above the idyllic village. Nic Alegre Photo.

“The Tarvisio segment happened randomly,” Hopkins explains. Once in Italy they bought a half day ticket at one of the nearby resorts and rode the gondola up. What they saw from that vantage point convinced them that their eyes must be deceiving them. In the distance, a hamlet straight out of Snow White was perched on the side of the mountain. Except there were no dwarves or maniacal witches, but ample amounts of snow. Enchanted by the whimsical alleyways of the tiny village, the bounty of untouched snow, and how the massive Julian Alps encapsulated them, they knew this was something unique. “Right when we got there we knew that we needed to be there,” Hopkins says.

RELATED: Hear the story behind Nic Alegre's photo from Tarvisio that was crowned "Photo of the Year" by Powder Magazine.

The next day everything was packed out of their house in Slovenia and brought to their new basecamp situated right in the tiny village known as Monte Lussari.

Van Gyn appreciating the local architecture from a higher view. Nic Alegre Photo.

Monte Lussari first became famous in the 14th century for being a sanctuary of the Virgin Mary. Pilgrims from all Italy, Slovenian, and Austria flocked to its chapel to pay homage to the shrine. Now the village attracts a new kind of pilgrims: Skiers and snowboarders looking for some of the most picturesque descents in Europe. Walking to the resort isn’t even necessary; a few of the lifts are conveniently accessible straight from the village.

After discovering Tarvisio, the next four days were spent back-to-back filming. Most of the segment was actually filmed right off of the resort in the trees. The athletes also looked to the village itself for creative inspiration. With the locals’ blessings, the buildings and streets were transformed into a winter playground. “Sometimes you go to those villages and the people who live there are really unfriendly, but everyone we met was so friendly,” Post says. “We asked if we could ski off of their roofs and they were more than happy to oblige.”

Sorry is it cool if I borrow your roof? Griffin Post pops off of one of the medieval structures they found in Monte Lussari. Nic Alegre Photo.

Not only did the locals grant them permission, but they were also eager to watch. “The locals were handing us t-shirts and just were happy to see we were enjoying it all out there,” says lead TGR Photographer Nic Alegre. “There were all these mountaintop refugios up there, and one night there was this guy playing the accordion and doing a jig inside a refugio restaurant and we all got super into it.”

The team even got the green light to ski off of one of the biggest roofs-about a 40-foot drop to a steep transition, but the avalanche danger was too high for the landing.

Cinematographer Austin Hopkins takes in the scene. He can’t wait to visit Monte Lussari again. Nic Alegre Photo.

“It was the deepest snow I’ve ever skied with a camera pack,” Hopkin says with a laugh. He remembers that despite all the weight on his back, skiing wasn’t an issue. There was so simply so much.

Beyond the incredible terrain and snow, what really made the trip was the group dynamic. The whole team pushed each other. Post, unfortunately, had to dip out before the trip had finished, leaving Saugstad and Van Gyn to feed off each others’ energy. It was a unique partnership because the two ladies each approach the mountains differently. Van Gyn is always looking to incorporate elements of freestyle, whereas Saugstad is notorious for gravitating towards the high alpine and cliffs. Van Gyn explains:

It’s different from how I ride so it’s really interesting to have that perspective

The two were able to find common ground when they built a small kicker on top of one of the rooftops. They used the makeshift feature to hone their backflipping skills. Fired up, Van Gyn decided to step things up. She had never landed a double backflip before, but the snow was so good she decided, why not? After a few burly crashes, on the 15th attempt, Van Gyn stomped the double. Cheers sounded throughout the trees in celebration. That double was simply the icing on the cake on one of our most unique production trips yet.

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