From the Alps to the Sea
Ticino, February 2020
The day almost comes to an end as we drive towards Saint-Gothard pass. Mountain landscapes and traditional villages of Ticino pass before our eyes in the last rays of sunlight. February is nearly over and mild temperatures all over the Alps are more reminiscent of spring season. We now have to hunt for snow in the upper parts of the mountains for at the bottom of the valleys, green is definitely the main color. It's not the first winter we have experienced these past few years without consistent cold and abundant snowfalls. Is this the beginning of a new era towards which we slowly drift? Is winter as we know it doomed to gradually vanish?
'Lines drawn with his snowboard during winter will turn into curves made with his surfboard in summer.'
Those few days spent in this part of Switzerland at the border with Italy were born from the desire to meet Mattia Fogliani. This riding enthusiast was born in the area and has been exploring since many years with his splitboard the mountains around his place. Perceiving a deep relationship between outdoor activities, art and ecology, he is one of the founders of the Alpsea collective. This adventure is nothing but the story of a group of friends who follow the cycles of the seasons navigating between the summits of the Alps and the shores of the Mediterranean sea. They share one common purpose: to live according to a slower rhythm and to (re)discover the numerous wild places near home. For traveling starts at your doorstep and true adventure can also be found very close. Happiness lies within the contemplation of small details and the simple pleasure to ride lines between friends in a preserved environment. Mattia likes to define himself as a mountain surfer who lives according to the natural cycles of the year. Lines drawn with his snowboard during winter will turn into curves made with his surfboard in summer. The common thread of his quest is water under all its forms, in its aesthetic, playful and environmental dimension. Last year, he shot a documentary highlighting all those aspects together with James Niederberger, Filippo Delzano and other friends. From the Alps to the Sea is not meant to be didactic but shows through stunning images the importance of the cycle of water, the relationship between the mountain and the sea, the (re)discovery of a slower, more locally-based lifestyle. It is an ode to simple pleasures and precious moments shared between friends. It is some of those places where the documentary was shot that we are going to discover with our skins those next couple of days.
'The freezing level is especially high those days, which raises quite a few questions.'
Night has fallen over the few farms scattered above the village of Airolo. A delicious smell of cheese pervades the whole atmosphere. Once we are done with packing our bags, we head in the direction of the dark forest. Only the sound of our skins sliding on snow breaks the reigning silence. How fascinating it is to find our way step by step with our headlamps. Our senses are sharpened and we are fully aware of the surrounding nature. It takes us about three hours to reach the hut, almost completely covered with snow, crossing a ghostly landscape we hardly perceive. Temperatures are incredibly mild, we could think we have set off for a spring ski raid though it is only the middle of winter... The hut looks like a cocoon illuminated by the starry night. Once we have eaten a generous pasta meal, we spend a moment studying the map to check the potential lines for the following morning. The freezing level is especially high those days, which raises quite a few questions. The next day, the first rays of sunlight gradually unveil a magnificent landscape. We prepare our gear and start skinning up. Moutains and valleys stretch endlessly around us, composing a fantastic patchwork of forms and colors. At some point, we split into two distinct groups: Mattia, Filippo and (?) choose to ride down a couloir located in a nice amphitheater while James and I will shoot some photos on a slope with an aesthetic ridge line in the background. But with almost zero freezeback, the snow is quickly heated by the sun. It turns out to be so heavy that James tries several times to gain enough speed to send a proper turn. We meet Mattia and the others at the hut and they give us a similar feedback. Even in the couloir largely in the shadow, snow was far from simple to ride. Strange period of an abnormally warm winter...
'It is a true 'snowsurfer' artist who soars and rides those snow waves.'
We ride back down to Airolo by the same route as the previous day, finding our way through the forest sometimes with difficulty. James and (?) drive back to Zürich while Mattia, Filippo and I reorganize our gear and head towards another valley which leads to the Grisons region. This wild area is especially dear to Mattia: as a kid and later as a teenager, it is in the heart of those pristine landscapes that he discovered mountain life and developed a strong attachment to the environment around his home. A joyful serene energy emanates from this man who lives an existence fully in tune with his own ideals and dreams. After having driven up the valley, we eventually park Mattia's van in which we are going to spend the night. No need for warm sleeping bags, once again the cold will not bother us. The following morning is the promise of another nice sunny day. We skin up through a forest with a different type of vegetation from the previous day, and reach a plateau surrounded by aesthetic peaks. Instead of looking for a slope to ride down, we head towards a zone scattered with interesting windlips. Mattia's virtuosity and sense of riding can fully express themselves: dressed with a fisherman's cap and a summer shirt, he is a true 'snowsurfer' artist who soars and rides those snow waves. The lines he draws are at the crossroads between snowboard and surf, the symbol of his aesthetic quest following the water cycle according to the seasons. For as he says, 'exploring our valleys or looking at the horizon of salt water, we are always searching for the right balance between water and wind, the place and the moment in which the elements come together in a dance that creates the perfect playground where to ride our boards and feel free to draw our fleeting lines.'
After a few hours spent in those vast wild expanses, it is time to drive back down to Biasca and enjoy the last moments of the day with a bouldering session in the forest just above Mattia's home. Yannick, his two-year-old son, makes some shy climbing attempts at the base of the boulders. How lucky he is to grow up in this privileged environment and benefit at a very young age from such a close contact with nature. But will his generation have the chance to know what we have known? To marvel at the surrounding nature and enjoy simple moments between friends in it? It is definitely the best we can hope for them and what drives us to act now and move forward!