Riding Mount Godless
Riding Mount Godless
“Owain, welcome to Bezbog mountain!” Iveta called out. Even the name sounded threatening. “It means “Godless” in Bulgarian!” The wind pulled a steady crest of snow that glowed like a halo around the peak in the sun. “There’s a lake up there, and there was a chalet too, but an avalanche pulled it into the lake. Anyway, we will only have time for one ride before the lift closes, so I suggest we walk up higher. What do you say?” “Sounds cool.” I looked up with a little trepidation at the peak brooding above, the empty snowfield punctured by a solitary line of tracks left by a previous snowboarder, and the space where the chalet once was. We were four people. Ivo, who stubbornly continues to ski though all his mates snowboard, Petyo, Iveta and myself. We followed Iveta upwards in single file until she announced it was time to start. We did up our bindings and paused to admire the view spread like a chequered blanket below us; the black of the pine forests and the white snow glowing in the afternoon sunlight. Iveta led the way down the snowfield. She was a great boarder, and definitely in charge. The guys called her ???shefche’ (little boss) when they asked her which route was next. We reached the tree line and dived through the forest. I followed Iveta into a tight bend among the trees and wiped out in a pile of snow. We were soon out of the sunlight, with evening settling on the forest. We’d stop and talk periodically; before this morning I hadn’t met any of the group. I’d chatted to Iveta about snowboarding on the internet, and we’d arranged to meet in Bansko. Our first face-to-face meeting had been by chance on the road from Sofia, when we’d both got stuck at the same time on an icy patch of road. That evening we went to one of the famous Bansko mehanas. It was great to be at a table with fourteen people who until that morning had been strangers, and to feel so welcome and at home. The shopska salad and Sache with Banski starets kept coming, the wine flowed and the conversation got louder. My attempts at Bulgarian, and any stumblings in their English just added to the merriment. At about 11pm, some more guys arrived from Sofia. I had heard about them earlier: “Real pros,” Iveta had confided, “forest riders”! I had visions of bearded men in camouflage riding through the trees, perhaps hunting bear. The next day I was to see this was not so far from reality, bar the bear hunting, of course. Later, a hardcore went out to Bansko’s one and only club, Oxygen. The devil on my left shoulder goaded me to join them, but this time the angel on the other shoulder, leaning on a white snowboard, prevailed. I went back to my room, though I might as well have stayed out; the sweet Bansko wine kept me awake much of the night, so when I woke up the next morning, my limbs ached and my head thumped with tiredness. I switched on my new mobile and it asked me for my pin. I didn’t have a clue what my pin number was. I was stuck on my own, incommunicado, in Bansko. Grumpily I went to the lift. I did a few lacklustre runs and had a solitary lunch. At about two o’clock I bumped into the others. Tired as I was, my spirits lifted. It was then I was introduced to “forest riding”. Off the lift, across the piste and straight in among the trees, tracing wide arcs and dodging low branches. We were about eight people spread out among the trees. Ivo skied among the snowboarders, to whose good-natured mockery he’d always have a riposte at the ready, such as “nice skateboard”. One minute someone would shoot in front of me, the next they would disappear and I would be all alone, until whooping or screaming would burst out from my left or right, and I’d glimpse a figure shooting through the trees. It was reminiscent of that scene in Star Wars with the chase through the trees on flying motorbike things.
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