In December we travelled to Courmayeur to catch up with Davide Capozzi, a rider from Morgex, a village located at the base of Mont Blanc, in the Aosta Valley, and one of the most outstanding big mountain riding these days. His long list of achievements include a great number of first descents on snowboard at the Mont Blanc massif.
1. To start with, tell us about your origins in Aosta. How did you evolve to become the rider you are today, and how did the fact of being born at the foot of the Mont Blanc influence your development as a rider?
I’ve been skiing since I was six years old, but I only started snowboarding at eighteen. Those were the first years of the new snow sport, I was totally hooked and I left my skis aside for good. I competed on the first snowboard contests but my results were never too impressive. Finally, in 2000, I became a snowboard teacher in Aosta, thus realizing something I had long dreamed of. 2002 was a turning point. A trip to AK enabled me to ride steeps I had never face before. When I came back, I felt the need to get deeper into alpinism; I went on a tour on the Mont Blanc massif: the first steep descents on a snowboard, like couloir Gervasutti at Tour Ronde, Couloir des Aiguillettes at Col du Diable or the Contamine Negri route at Triangle du Tacul. Mont Blanc is universe of its own, easy to access through ski-lifts, but once you’re up there it’s serious stuff, and you need to learn to move safely, so inevitably your skiing is influenced by the type of terrain that surrounds you.
My priority is always the same: the main thing is not falling down.
I grew up like that and that’s for me the most important thing.
2. We can imagine that at the beginning your riding was based on the search for fluid steep lines, loaded with powder. At which point did exposure and commitment become the essence of your riding style?
I always look for the beauty in a line but that doesn’t mean everyone finds it beautiful. I like to go for powder-loaded steeps, that’s the best conditions for snowboarding. On the other hand, as years go by, I get more and more scared facing really loaded lines; anything can happen and you can never be 100% sure about the conditions. The exposure and direct consequences of facing a steep line, I don’t necessarily look for that but you’re inevitably going to run into that at some point. My priority is always the same: the main thing is not falling down. I grew up like that and that’s for me the most important thing.
3. What encouraged you mostly towards this type of riding?
No one’s ever encouraged or lead me into what I do. I love to be on the mountain and to ride down all the mountains around on my snowboard; easy or sketchy, it doesn’t make a difference.
4. To be able to access all these lines on a massif like Mont Blanc requires the mastering of alpinist techniques. Did you have an alpinist background or did your snowboarding lead you to widen your alpinism knowledge?
It is important to be an alpinist; I’ve learned that from my more expert friends, but I still have a lot to learn. Obviously, snowboarding has lead me into alpinism, it’s a path I had to take.
Fear is always there, and that’s how it’s meant to be, but it shouldn’t be too much. Being aware and alert is one thing, but being scared is something else; it’s even dangerous and not fun.
5. This discipline requires both physical and mental strength, but we would like to focus on the mental side. We guess, that the day before a serious line you must ask yourself many questions, even after having checked that conditions are ideal. How do you prepare yourself mentally before facing a goal? How do you manage at times when you know you can’t afford the slightest mistake? how do you deal with fear?
I analyze thoroughly the goal I have in mind -that’s a major part of my activity- and it allows me to dream about descents that I want to take on one day. Mentally, once I’ve made up my mind to go for it, I try to focus on the difficult spots I am going to face. When the action starts, I am totally focused and I try to stay cool, knowing everything is going to go fine. Fear is always there, and that’s how it’s meant to be, but it shouldn’t be too much. Being aware and alert is one thing, but being scared is something else; it’s even dangerous and not fun.
6. Keeping track of the snow layer during the whole season is essential to decide when is the right moment to attack a certain goal. Can you tell us which methods you use to evaluate conditions the days previous to a mission?
Every descent is a whole different story; after so many years, it’s a bit easier to understand when is the right time. The main thing is not to be in a hurry. For me it is crucial that the face is in the right condition and that often requires a long time. Also the weather conditions have to be favorable: the temperature, the wind.
7. Do perfect conditions ever exist for this kind of activity?
Definitely, it’s just a matter of being patient and not rushing. The combination of some crucial ingredients can result in the perfect descent at the right time.
Every descent is a whole different story; after so many years, it’s a bit easier to understand when is the right time. The main thing is not to be in a hurry.
8. Being able to trust your partners is essential when you’re on the same rope, mostly at times when things can go wrong. Who do you have with you when you go out on an exposed mission?
I don’t go out there with just anyone, but with people who give me a good feeling. Even if they’re accomplished mountain riders, if I don’t feel the right thing, I rather not go. I know it all about my mates: their qualities, defects, weaknesses and virtues, and they know me well too.
9. We’ve been following your blog regularly for quite a while now. Your list of descents on the Mont Blanc massif is quite impressive. What keeps your interest there? Do you have new projects in mind?
Mont Blanc is home for me, but it’s always nice to see new mountains. I’d love to travel more often. For me, the sheer idea of preparing a trip to a new location is already realizing a dream.
10. We’d like to hear all the details about those lines and first descents. Do you prefer any of them above the rest? Do you have one that marked you particularly?
After ten years of descents, it is hard to tell about all of them, but here are some lines that have remained deep in my heart: couloir Gervasutti at Tour Ronde, my first steep descent at Mont Blanc, back in 2002…it all started from there. Sperone della Brenva and Gervasutti at Tacul in 2006 were my first two big descents, that I had never imagined I would accomplish. Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey, Aiguille du Plan, Pain de Sucre, Col Armand Charlet, the west face of Mont Blanc and Grivola (3 different lines), Becca di Nona. All of these are for me awesome mountains, full of memories.
Splitboarding opened a whole new world. I’ve never had a problem on steep terrain, on the contrary, I prefer the stiffness of some splitboards, so I ride them on steep lines rather than using a solid board.
11. Looking at the approach on some of your goals, you could go for a solid board, but we always see you on your splitboard. This proves the evolution of splitboarding gear when it comes to the consistency of the assembled board. What do you think about the evolution of splitboarding hardwear?
I started splitboarding in 2009. There weren’t many splitboarders in the valley back then and I tried it as a challenge; I wanted to see what it was. It was a revolution for me, It opened a whole new world. I’ve never had a problem on steep terrain, on the contrary, I prefer the stiffness of some splitboards, so I ride them on steep lines rather than using a solid board.
Yes, I think splitboards have improved, moreover, I think it’s the only aspect of snowboarding which has evolved.There’s still a lot to be done: lighter boards, more performant bindings and better precision in their manufacture.
12. As a Furberg Snowboards rider, can you tell us about the splitboard you ride? Do you contribute to the development of the boards in any way?
Furberg snowboards are the most outstanding boards I’ve ridden over the last years, their shapes are unique, I love them. I try to contribute regarding their performance on steep descents and this year the board came out amazing. The first month of the Winter season I rode it on steep descents like Nord de la Tour Ronde. Daniel Furberg has got it dialed, I may contribute somehow but he does things right no matter what.
13. The soft flex of snowboard boots sometimes hinder our performance on sketchy terrain. On the other hand, it’s an aspect which has improved hugely with the development of specific splitboarding boots with Vibram soles and heel wedges that allow the use of semi-automatic crampons. In your opinion, which aspect needs to be developed most in order to improve security while ascending?
Yes, the new stiffer boots for alpinist use mean a great step ahead, but I’d like to think that the concept can still evolve further.
For me snowboarding is soft, with all the good and bad things that come with it, if not I’d go skiing and solve all the problems.
14. Have you ever considered splitboarding with hard boots?
For me snowboarding is soft, with all the good and bad things that come with it, if not I’d go skiing and solve all the problems. I think in splitboarding/alpinism, it’s a matter of trying and I’m a bit reluctant to change, but I can’t judge unless I try.
15. Would you like to add anything else? That’s all on our side. Thanks Davide!
Thanks to those who help me and believe in what I do: The North Face, Furberg Snowboards and Salice eyewear.