Snowboard B.A.S.E. in Norway

Norway

Dave Barlia planed on making a snowboard BASE jump off Kjerag for a long time. He was the first person to make a snowboard cliff jump in ‘96 over Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland from approximately 1,500 feet over the valley. The altitude in Norway over the landing area is 3,000 feet. It would be the highest snowboard jump ever made. Patrick De Gayardon ventured to Norway in ‘97 for snowboard jumps and jumps in the wing suit he designed for a slow fall rate and maximum tracking distance.

Two film crews flew with us to Norway. Mike Hatchet of Standard films, who had planned the event with Dave, sent two cinematographers, Tom Day and Mat Small with Tom in charge of the production. The second crew was from the Gurin Company in Hollywood. They came to record Dave’s world record jump from the higher peek at Kjerag. In all, there were fifteen of us. Todd Shoebothem of Basic Research came as rigger and safety. Stein Edvaresan, president of the Norwegian BASE association, was our local liaison who helped coordinate climbers to rap in cameramen, the helicopter and crew, a place to stay, and so on.

On Wednesday the 11th of March, we flew from Los Angeles to Amsterdam connecting to Stavanger. We spent the night there and traveled by ferry to Lysefjorden the following morning. Dave and Todd partied in Stavanger until 4 am. I slept from 8pm until 10am (fifteen hours straight).

The crew from the world record show video taped early in the morning and during the ferry trip. They were about the hardest working documentary crew I’d seen, burning miles of videotape on every detail of the journey. That was only the beginning, they didn’t let up from start to finish. We learned that their specialty was filming wild and dangerous animals for "When Animals Attack". They were hard core.

Friday, March 13, we made it to Lysefjorden where we stayed in a house filled with bunk beds. The village is remote, located at the end of a beautiful fjord (a long waterway leading from the ocean deep into the mountains). It was stunning, otherworldly. There was one convenience store that opened from 11am till 1pm but most of our supplies had to come from Stavanger.

Saturday, weather was fair with high clouds. Tom opted to pass hoping for sunnier conditions. But the pressure was on for the world record show and my time was limited, so that afternoon a helicopter was flown in on a prayer that Sunday would be jumpable. On Sunday, conditions were good.

Kjerag is about 3,000 feet tall from take off to the landing area. There are a variety of launch points, some that were perfect for a snowboard launch. There’s a ledge that sticks out 1,500 feet below, so soon after exit, you have to track to gain altitude. The further you track, the more altitude. Peering over the edge was an eerie feeling. Todd would just walk right up to it without a rig to throw snowballs off to check wind conditions. I had to crawl flat on my belly to be anywhere near the edge. Todd pushed on my leg and a wave of panic shook through me. I’m looking at 3000' of space and he jolts my leg. Woke me up like a dark cup of coffee.

There were a bunch of us on top. Climbers set up ropes for the cameramen, Dave and Todd worked on the launch ramp, the producer and those of us with cameras prepped gear. We were all buzzing with nervous energy. Around an hour later, we were ready. Todd took off first to be the wind dummy and to radio a report to Dave and me upon landing. He also served as a practice target for the cameramen.

I was next. My objective was to ski off the cliff wearing a 35mm camera framing Dave from start to deployment. To practice, I’d gone skiing for a day on a pair of skis I’d cut down to two feet long. They were horrible on snow, but I got more or less used to them and they were super easy to fly on a skydive. I didn’t want to cut away skis after launch as that would definitely cause a jerk in my shot, so short skis were the solution. I also wanted to wear my camera suit to be more in my own element as soon as I’d clear the edge.

Standing on top of Kjerag, I felt eerily under prepped. If you could have drawn some of my blood at the moment it would have been like a hit of speed. I turned my tiny skis toward the edge and started my wobbly descent. It was spectacular! Dave reminded me to lean forward on exit because the tendency is to fall backward after a ski launch. I leaned forward for a smooth launch. It felt perfect and I could see that I was in perfect position on exit to film Dave, had he been in front of me. I think it was my eighth ever BASE jump. I’m not a real BASE enthusiast, but the cliff was way big, and the rush, my god, it’s spectacular!

Dave’s exit was about a minute behind my landing. He took off with a cool looking rail grab and went into freefall. The rail grab caused him to tumble forward, which is normal. He recovered, but then started to tumble forward again. His reaction was to quickly cut away the board and track. Skysurfers have to cut away boards on occasion, but few have dealt with cutting away a board thirty feet or so away from a rock wall and about 500 feet or so above a ledge. It was spooky to watch, but Dave landed in a more or less normal state of mind ready for another try.

So we headed back up. The helicopter pilot was very efficient and our flights to the top took all of maybe three minutes. The second jump was like the first with Todd going before us, me next, this time wearing a chest mounted 16mm camera pointed down to film my launch and tiny skis (not much of a shot), and then Dave with all cameras trained. Between production companies, there were two cameramen roped to the edge of the cliffs, two cameras on board the helicopter, a POV camera set up next to the launch point and sometimes a camera at the landing area or all the way across the fjord with a super long zoom lens. The coverage was good. Dave made the world record jump. I made an unofficial one of my own. Highest ski jump with 35mm cameras and so on. Not too shabby. The guys from the record production company were ecstatic, their story was shot. We stayed on to shoot more for Standard films and to get my POVs.

Last jump of the day. Finally, I was standing ready to follow Dave off the cliff for that shot I’d spent days training to get. It started to snow, weather was dictating a close to our shooting. The count down started. One minute, thirty seconds. Dave asked how I was doing. Ready to go. Ten Nine Eight....... three two one. Dave pushed off and I followed for a smooth launch. His exit was smooth, clean and away he went as my skis sunk into the soft snow sending me into a face plant. I hadn’t skied more than a foot before falling. Camera still running, I wanted to get up and chase after Dave, but it was too late. I’d have been a mile behind. I just sat there breathing for a moment, turned off the camera and unclipped my helmet. It was a bust.

Dave must have felt bad for me. Conditions were getting worse, but he grabbed his second rig and flew up for another jump. I stayed geared up waiting for another try. But then it started to snow hard and the ramp was getting too soft for my short skis. We decided I’d launch from a point close by on his exit. Creeping up to a steeply angled ledge is almost scarier than launching on skis. When I had my position, Dave started his approach and I timed my exit to match his launch. It was a good shot, but my lens quickly covered with snow. End of the day. I had very little.

I knew in the big picture I was blessed. I was upset, but healthy. So many of the projects I’d done turned out golden. Somehow, I saw the trip as a failure that needed to happen sometime.

So the guys from the world record show wrapped. Thankfully, Tom Day decided Standard Films needed more footage, that the helicopter should stay. That next day was cloudy, as was the following, and the following day for an entire week. Our helicopter eventually had to leave for another project raising new questions. Do we stick out the weather? Can we afford to ferry in another helicopter? What was our budget, where would we find money to continue? We decided that a skeleton crew would stay. Tom, Mat, Me, Dave, Todd, and Stein. Todd stayed in part to help things go smoothly should a good day come along, and also to pack for me. And the days passed, low clouds, raining, snowing. A few local kids would drop by to play soccer in the afternoons, and we watched subtitled action videos all day that a local woman dropped by to help us pass the time. Weather reports were bad and worse. Our contest was to see who could hold out with no shower and no shave the longest. I won.

Our trip had to end. Eight days had passed and the weather looked grim. Even Stein was forced to leave for other work. Again, on a prayer, we ferried in another helicopter. The pilot agreed to stay with us until conditions changed or another job came up. The very next morning conditions were nice. A bit windy with high clouds, but promising. I took off in the support boat with equipment. Helicopter loads started first thing with the rest of the guys. Only an hour or so later, Dave was ready for another jump.

He and Todd did a bunch of snowball test drops to check wind and finally determined conditions were acceptable. And so he launched. All seemed well until deployment. A quick 90 degree turn sent him racing downwind along the side of the cliff. It took him a moment to sort things out, and then his canopy entirely collapsed which he again sorted out. It seemed he might not make it to the landing area and the only outs were into the fjord and icy waters. I ran to the boat. But he got forward penetration and made it to the DZ. On the next jump, I went to my peek just to the side of the snowboard ramp. The peek now was covered with ice and I had to find small bits of dry rock for any traction. Mat was roped in close by and couldn’t even watch. It was so tedious getting to that edge. And then Dave would call off the jump at the last second if conditions weren’t perfect and I’d have to creep away from the edge. That was more eerie than flicking because if I’d slip on the climb up, I’d for sure slide down to and over the edge and there was so much ice. But I didn’t fall, and managed to time a couple of good exits for some nice shots. The wait for perfect conditions ate up most of the day and by the third jump, the day was over. I still didn’t have the ski follow shot.

There were more discussions that evening. Tom and Mat pretty much had their shots nailed down. Both shoot skiing and snow boarding and they were on their game right out the gate. I was still behind the curve not only in my camera work, but as a BASE jumper. I needed another day to go home satisfied. And so, our pilot stayed, and another chopper was flown in. And on this final day, we got weather from heaven. Mostly clear skies, winds calm. On the very first jump of the day, Dave and I set up for my skiing angle. The ramp was in good condition and our launch was great. I managed to hold the shot through the launch, and in freefall, and best of all, the camera was running. That was a moment - I could hear the echoes of my own yahoos from clear across the fjord.

And so the story goes. We did another ski follow off that I tumbled on just after launch, then Dave and Todd did a two way that I followed off for a cool shot, and we were done. Film is a funny thing, better than video, but with no instant replay. We had to wait to see our stuff. It was hard not to smile, though, on the journey home. The production had gone well.