the Australian Mountains
By Charles Chepregi
all started in June 1999 with e-mail from a production company in Sydney,
Australia. "Charles, would you be interested in doing a commercial
with your Snowfer on the snowy mountains of Australia in September?"
All expenses will be paid plus getting paid. I thought, "Would
I be interested? I can't wait to do it." Getting paid for having
fun sounded good to me.
The flight from Toronto was booked for Sept. 13. After 20 hours of flying
in the dark and going through 14 hours of time difference, I was tired
but excited to arrive. Going through the routine custom check, I started
looking for my contact person. He wasn't difficult to spot - a limousine
driver holding up a Snowfer sign. The 85 degree temperature felt really
good, but I couldn't help but wonder where I was going to snow sail
Being driven around the city in a luxury limousine. I noticed a nice
clean city with unique architecture, palm trees and beautiful landscape.
There were signs everywhere that the city was preparing for the 2000
Summer Olympics. Inside my hotel room, a welcome card and a schedule
was waiting for me. I had time for a quick shower. Then Peter, the production
runner for the company, picked me up and took me to the studio. After
a quick introduction to the crew, I tried on the wardrobe, then went
to the rigging area where they do all the necessary preparation for
the commercial shoot. Here I met Philippe and Aaron, two local Australian
windsurfers hired to snowsail with me. After double checking our equipment,
they loaded it onto a trailer for the five-hour drive south to Cooma.
I was hoping to see some Kangaroos on the way down but unfortunately
the ony one I saw used to be a Kangaroo until
it was run over by a car.
When we reached The Charlotte Pass Resort, I was nervous. I didn't think
I would be able to sail anywhere here. There were so many rocks with
no open area or flat surfaces. After checking in and unloading the trailer,
we settled in the chalet's main bar and had a nice, cold beer. It was
a real treat. Outside the window, the ski lifts where still working
and some committed snowboarders were trying to maneuver around the rocks
with what little snow was left. I listened to the weather forecast and
was assured that anything could happen in this place. The good news
was a strong front was approaching very fast and could dump some snow
if the temperature was cold enough. Unfortunately the temperature was
way into the plus side. Later the front arrived, dumping heavy rain
in a way I haven't seen very often. The little snow we had turned into
slush and faded away fast. I was tired and
disappointed so I went to bed early.
The next day at sunrise I opened the curtains, looked out the window
and could not believe what I saw. It was like Christmas overnight. The
temperature had dropped and the rain turned into six inches of snow
covering the mountain. I went on a skidoo ride to find suitable areas
We rigged quickly. Philippe said that he hadn't windsurfed for more
than a year and had not done any jumps on the water yet. Aaron was a
committed wave sailor, doing loops with confidence. Before I had any
chance to say something, they took off with smiles on their faces that
showed that they were completely sold on snow sailing. With less than
an hour's practice, we built some ramps for jumping and did surprisingly
big air. Philipped, who had never jumped before, was right up there
with us. Later he admitted that he had jumped on a snowboard but never
on a windsurfer.
From this point everything went better than we expected. The next day
we found an amazing spot, a very large area surrounded by mountain peaks.
Clean wind with lots of snow. In some areas, it was blown over ten feet
deep. We were all having fun but we were always competing. Who can go
steeper up the mountains, jump higher or go faster? Philippe said that
he would come to Canada and beat me in the Snowfer race.
I have learned a lot from sailing on a mountain. It is a lot more exciting
than on a flat surface. Basically you get half of the speed from gravity
and the other half from the wind, which means smaller sails and more
control. When you are airborne, the height is much greater because you
go up while the mountains go down away from you. You could sail back
uphill, too. Foot steering in deep snow was very responsive. Maneuvering
around the rocks, the ones you can see, was no problem. Making high-speed
jibes in the deep snow is still a challenge. The board would turn fast,
but staying on it was something else.
Our days became routine, except when Antonio, the director and producer,
arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny day but no wind. HIs disappointment
showed on his face. He had a big stake in this project. The following
day was the most exciting. Sunny, windy, with the temperature hovering
around zero. that afternoon, the production crew arrived to catch us
in our best performances. Everyone was so excited they started shooting
the commercial that day, instead of the following day as scheduled.
After four days of filming, we were all tired but satisfied. I got a
sample of what's it like to be in the movie business. I really enjoyed
working with all of the production crew and I can't wait to see the
results. We put the Snowfers through hell, jumping, running over rocks
and crashing. After two weeks of abuse, the six boards I brought with
me suffered only a few minor scratches and chips. All the blades were
flattened out completely by the rocks, but on the mountain, it made
no difference at all.
I don't think we will ever take away the hills from the skiers and snowboarders.
But there are many mountains where a suitable sailing location can be
found for Snowfering. Philippe and Aaron are good examples of how easy
it is to adapt to the Snowfer and have confidence on it. Even on the
fIrst day they were able to challenge someone with a lot more experience.
One thing we all agreed on is that if you can sail the Snowfer on the
rocky mountains of Australia then you can sail it anywhere.
After I had done what I came to do, I packed up and flew back to Sydney
where I had two days of sightseeing and shopping. I bought some souvenirs:
a unique instrument called a didjeridoo for my son, and an Australian
outfit with a hat, which I wore on the way back home. When I arrived
at Toronto airport, my wife didn't recognize me.