Interview Andreas Portenschlager, co-organiser of Back On Track

We weren’t at all jealous that the Austrians were able to pull off the event that we’ve dreamt of for years, so behold as we interview Andreas, one of the four pirates at the helm of Back on Track. Even though Franz-Josef Meyer won the ski men category in last year’s edition on a pair of nocta, it was by pure chance, an aligning of the stars.

Dominik Hadwiger
Andreas Portenschlager, co-organisateur de Back On Track

Black crows: What was the idea in the beginning?

Andreas: Basically, our whole team was competing in regular freeride contests at that time but what they lacked was the community aspect. The initial idea of the “Back On Track” was to create an event where riders have time not just to meet but really spend time together for a whole weekend. We also made it “open to everyone” so really anyone could take part. In addition, the whole concept had to be hike to ride and, of course, include a high-alpine mountain hut to intensify the experience further. With the beautiful glaciated Silvretta area we had the perfect playground right in our backyard. Then we were able to get the hosts of the Saarbrücker Hut on board and everything was pretty much set.

Black crows: How did it evolve?

Andreas: In the beginning it was basically just us and our friends up there. So the first year started with 15 people, which was perfect to test the concept. Then word of mouth started to spread, which attracted around 25 riders in the second year and since the 3rd edition we´ve always been booked out. Good media coverage and a growing social media community brought it down to just a 2-minute window to book one of the (almost exclusive) spots this year, which is just crazy!

Black crows: who are the people behind this project?

Andreas: It all started with Bernhard, Raphael and Samuel, 3 friends from the Montafon area who have spent a lot of time riding and competing together. They were the driving force to get the whole thing going, which involved a lot of talks with government officials, local communities, insurance companies, mountain guides, mountain rescue and so on. They did a ton of work alongside being on the mountain as much as possible. And their dedication paid off for sure. When last year Samuel was about to become dad and started building his house he paused for a season and I joined the team. I first met the boys when I organized a movie tour of the film STEPS in Austria (very worth watching!). Sharing the same spirit, it didn´t take me long to convince them and I was part of the crew.

Marc Obrist

Black crows: Has the Saarbrücker hut always been the base camp?

Andreas: Located above 2500m with the Litzner Glacier just in front of it, the setting of the Saarbrücker Hut is really perfect. Also when it comes to logistics and especially the service, this hut is outstanding. And of course there are some quite good faces around the hut but not all are suitable for a contest face. Nevertheless, we were able to find the fifth one in “Back On Track’s” five-year history so things never get boring up there.

Black crows: The riders judge and choose the best lines? How does that work?

Andreas: In the beginning, a classic freeride contest judging system was in place with 3 judges and the criteria of the Freeride World Tour. But for the fifth edition we wanted to surprise with something new that also reflects the community spirit of the event. So we came up with the riders judging format where the riders basically judge each other by giving points from 0 to 100. It took us about 2 months with lots of discussions to work out all the aspects behind it. In the end it worked like that, every rider got filmed from top to bottom, which they didn´t know in the beginning. They thought we were doing a regular judging format. So it was a big surprise mixed with a bit of skepticism when we announced it in the evening after the contest. We set up a video wall and the show went off like crazy. Everyone cheered on each other’s run, people were laughing and screaming as hell, it was just insane! It was a huge success with the judging really reflecting each rider’s performance. That was really rewarding for us!

Black crows: How far has it come since the beginning?

Andreas: Starting off with a crew of your best friends to a fully booked out and highly demanded event is just one side. The other thing is that we managed to really establish a contest format with an ever-growing community, which perfectly reflects our approach to freeriding. Being out in the mountains with like-minded people, no age or gender restrictions (we had 8 ladies taking part this year, as many as ever before) and earning your own turns.

Marc Obrist

Black crows: Best memories from those 5 years?

Andreas: There are so many but two are outstanding ones. First, the rider-initiated trophy for the winner of the ski category. In 2015, Hanno and Fabio, two brothers who had won the previous years brought up a trophy with the names of the first 3 riders of the prior events engraved on it. So from then on, every winner has to make sure that he´s coming back the following year with the new name engraved. And of course the trophy is used to having one or two beers drunk out of it!
The second one is also rider-initiated. Daniel, who has been taking part since the start, brings up “Speck“ every year. What started off as a joke has turned into tradition, with the rider having the funniest crash winning that precious chunk of delicious meat. Ironically this year he managed to win it himself crashing just a few meters in front of the finish line.

Black crows: This year seems like a success on the video, snow and sunshine, any difficulties under the surface? (crashes, orgy in the hut, smelly participants…)

Andreas: Haha, at least no orgies that we know about. Plus, being spoiled with private rooms for the organization team, smelly and snoring participants in the dorms are not really an issue for us.
Joking aside, we unfortunately had the first serious crash in the five-year history of the “Back On Track“. One of the riders crashed in the lower part of the face and sustained severe injuries to the upper body. We always have 2 mountain guides and a mountain rescue team up there so a quick and professional initial treatment was given before the helicopter transport. By now she is recovering well and back on her feet for rehab. It was definitely a scary moment for us…

Black crows: What’s next?

Andreas: Things will change, that is a given. The section of the German alpine club responsible for the Saarbrücker Hut is looking for new hosts starting January 2018. So it´s uncertain whether we will continue the “Back On Track“ there. Nevertheless, we do have other options and might adjust the format a bit but will stay community-focused for sure!
For riders by riders!

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