Marie-Eve Mayrand of Canada overcame a personal injury, gale force winds and an unintentional collision to place third in the women’s snowboard category at the Red Bull Ragnarok 2017 world snow-kite race in Norway. She recounts her experience in vivid detail.
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I was excited about my second appearance at Red Bull Ragnarok. All winter, I had been training in the Canadian Rockies with my Canadian teammate Peter Martel and others. I suffered a bit of a setback when I got injured in a scary accident in mid-February in the United States, which put me out of training for several weeks. But I worked extra hard when I had recovered and I felt optimistic about the race.
I arrived in Norway a week before the event, happy to return to this snowkiter’s paradise of endless possibilities and magnificent wind. I then had the opportunity to kite with Jonas Lengwiler who is one of the strongest snowkiters I have met. It was incredible to ride with him — he has so much to teach; and he has a wonderful attitude.
The organizers postponed the race once because of inclement weather. However conditions were still difficult and dangerous. This year, the course was made more challenging by exposed rocks on mountain tops, and very wet snow that soaked us to the skin. Kites and bars were ripped, boards and skis were broken on rocks. I understood first-hand the true meaning of Ragnarok – the mythical battle between the gods and the forces of evil.
The First Lap
The wind was very light in the rigging area, but the forecast was confusing. I asked around to get the locals’ insight on the wind. I had a feeling my smallest kite was the way to go. However, kiters were rigging from 6M to 21M and some of the local female kitesurfers were putting their 10M up. I thought I couldn’t go wrong with my 9M – “Go big or go home,” they say! Someone even made me doubt that my 9M was quite small for the day. I was happy to know better!
I saw my teammate Peter was also on his 9M. We have a huge weight difference and it seemed wrong that both of us were on the same-sized kite. I felt one of us would get into trouble, but stuck to my decision to use the 9M as I didn’t want to miss the exciting start – it was probably the biggest mistake I made that day!
I started off well, going through Gates 1 and 2 right behind Jonas and Peter, and I was first in the women’s snowboard category. Some people got tangled at Gate 1 but that always happens in a race like this.
Chaos at Gate 3
I had trained hard on snow, I’m used with strong wind, gusty conditions and thought I knew what to expect. But it turned out that the 9M kite I had taken was too big to go safely through Gate 3 where the wind cranked up to 45-48 knots. I’m quite strong but that was pushing the limits.
I tried desperately to cross the gate which was only 3 to 4 meters away from me. After four attempts up and down the hill, I realized I could not reach the gate safely — I was either being lifted dangerously high or being dragged downwind close to rocks and other struggling kiters.
Grey clouds, huge drifts and hail added to the challenges. Each time I got closer to the gate, the wind seemed to be stronger. Never have I seen so many kiters in such trouble, and so many kites being ejected and ripped on the rocks! I even heard about a male competitor landing on a cameraman sitting in a snowmobile, and a bar splitting in half. It was a scary scene! At that time, I regretted strongly my choice of not having my smaller kite with me.
Throughout that gate, I kept my hand on my security to make sure I was ready to let go of my kite at any time.
I’m glad I was strong enough to hold tight without getting injured. I still can’t believe my 110-pound frame was able to hold on to my 9M Ozone V2. My depower was at its max on my racebar. I also tried — as far as I could — to make sure other kiters around me were all right. But I wasn’t much help. Rescuers were busy for sure!
After struggling for significant time, I finally decided to go back to the starting line/rigging area to switch to my 7M kite. This allowed me to cross Gate 3 with little trouble.
At Gate 5, the wind was surprisingly completely dead. Many kites were down on the ground. I decided to switch back to my 9M kite. By now, the snow had me soaking wet.
Collision on the Second Lap
My second lap started well: I was going fast and soon forgot what had happened during the first lap. I felt confident I had enough time to do more laps. After crossing Gate 2, I was powering down a very steep hill, when a well-known and experienced kiter behind me lost control and crashed his kite into mine, ending my hope of completing more laps. I wanted to rig up my kite again quickly, but we were stuck in that steep hill with 30 knots of wind.
To be safe in the high wind, I had to walk down the valley in knee-deep snow to untangle everything and launch again, wasting 30 to 45 minutes more. By the time I made it to Gate 3, I learned that the race had ended and that the five hours were up. I had only made one full lap and cleared 3 gates on my second lap. I was disappointed but surprised that in spite of all the difficulties I secured third place.
In hindsight, I should have selected my 7M Chrono V2 Ultra-Light at the outset. It would have handled perfectly the variation in winds that day while ensuring personal. Taking the right kite at the start would have been the key to doing well in the race.
Props and Respect
I wish a speedy recovery to my fellow competitors who were injured and the camera man who risked his life at Gate 3.
It was a challenging race and I give props to the 8 people who finished the 5 laps in under 5 hours. They are incredibly fast and fearless. I particularly admire two ladies: Steph Bridge and Camillia. Both are renowned for their consistent performance in Ragnarok over the past 3 years and their knowledge of the mountains.
For me, Ragnarok isn’t about the race or winning. It is the chance to connect with passionate kiters and people in the industry, to share experiences and to learn from them. At the event, I was able to see again many people I had met while kiting in Australia, California, Canada, the United States, Mexico and Norway this past year. Thumbs up to Red Bull Norway for gathering so many world-class kiters for a snowkite event.
My Support System
I would be remiss if I did not recognize Rocky Mountain Snowkite who helped me train in Canada, Roxy, LifeSport YYC, Ozone Kites, Muller Windsport, Sundog Eyewear; Jonas and Marco who trained with me the whole week in Norway; my Canadian teammates and my husband; and Haugastøl, the Kaupang family, who kept me well-fed before and after the race.
I will definitely be back in 2018 – hopefully stronger, more experienced, and wiser. Regardless of whether I win or lose, I would like to clock a performance I am proud of. After all, true competition is about bettering myself and my decision-making during the event.
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You can reach Marie-Eve via her Facebook, Instagram @Marieevemayrand, Twitter @memay2 or at email@example.com.