The Italian Job; Snowboarding in Olympic Italy

Words and pictures by Nat Lencioni

USA! USA! The Americans celebrate their double podium result.

It’s early Thursday morning and like most other Thursdays the alarm goes off at 5:45 am. I’m awake but slightly confused until I realize that I do this every week. I keep the light off, so as not to wake my roommate and fumble around in the dark to find the same clothes as the week before. The only variable is the number of layers I put on, which depends on the weather report from the night before. The only constant in my routine is the lucky “haven’t failed me yet” snowboard socks that follow the snowboard pants and jacket. I grab my bag, tie up the boots, grab the board and out I go into the early city streets.

Since the new year, I have been living in Torino, Italy. I’m an American student but have crossed the big pond to study abroad for the semester and indulge myself in the Italian lifestyle, and…ah yes, ride the Alps. I look forward to the weekends for traveling around Europe, but my favorite day here is Thursday, my only day off from school. All of my friends have classes on Thursdays, so it has become a bit of a ‘personal day’.  

ImageTorino, Italy, fresh on the map as the host of the Winter Olympics, is located in Northwest Italy near the border of France and Switzerland. On a clear and sunny day, you can see the 300km mountain backdrop from the city center. Only a few hours on the train gets you to some of the best alpine resorts in Europe. When I’m up and out of the house by 6am, on a bus to the main train station and on a train at 7am, I arrive at the mountains just before 9am. The train ticket is only €9.40 roundtrip and for that price you can arrive at any one of a dozen different resorts.

I have become very partial to the Olympic snowboard venue of Melezet in the town of Bardonecchia. I’m convinced that this place has it all, from free-riding to tree-riding, pipe to park. For people like me on a tight budget, the student day pass costs just €17.50 and gives you access to all that the station and its three mountains have to offer. The latest addition, the snowboard park, has a modest line of jumps, boxes, a rainbow rail, a snowboarder cross course, and the Olympic half pipe, as well as a new sound system and bar located at the bottom of the pipe.

On powder days, I ride a nice long line through the trees, as there is enough terrain to lose your way and end up outside the fence, looking for a way to get back. I also like to hit the park to go through the line of jumps and boxes – there’s always a great vibe there. It might just be the lucky Thursday charm, but every week the sun is shinning, the snow is fresh, and the air waves full of hip hop and reggae music (a nice change from the Italian music you find at the discos!). It’s also a good place to get away from the ski school, that color coordinated sea of children that sometimes causes panic attacks.

One day I decided it was time to get a half pipe lesson. It only lasted for an hour but I learned all the fundamentals I needed to get enough confidence to try it again and again and again, because I love it so much! After you get into the rhythm and find a comfortable speed, you just seem to float up the walls.

Life's a drag...catching the lift up.
My favorite part of heading over to the snow park are my memories of watching the men’s and women’s half pipe event during the Olympics. I stood along the wall of the pipe two days in a row and got to witness the Americans sweep gold and silver. The first day was the men’s event and I stood next to the silver medalist, Danny Kass’ uncle near a sign that said, ‘Kass Krew’. When he took silver I felt like I was apart of the family, celebrating with them and the life-size cardboard cut-out that his friends had brought.

The next day, the women impressed us all by showing the world how much women’s snowboarding has come along. Those two days were the epitome of what the Olympics, and especially what snowboarding is all about. There was so much pride, excitement and accomplishment in the air, it was unforgettable. I felt so fortunate to just be there, taking it all in.

Now when I go to the snow park and ride in the half pipe I can take a look back at the empty grandstands that were once packed full with international fans and flags. I can stand at the bottom of the pipe and remember when the medal winners were announced and the riders were celebrating. I understand during these moments of reminiscing why I come back to Melezet and Bardonecchia each Thursday even when I have all the Alps in my reach.

That vibe on those Olympic days and the feeling in the air is what the Olympics can do to a person. But was it the Olympics or was it just the snowboarding? I’m not exactly sure, but whatever it is, it keeps me coming back each Thursday to do what makes me feel the most alive.  

ImageNatalie Lencioni is a 22 year old snowboarder from Wheaton, Illinois, and a recent graduate of the University of Iowa. She is currently living in Torino, Italy, having recently discovered life in the mountains.