- Bike Mountaineering - Harald Philipp Descending the Gnarliest Summits of the Alps VIMFF Mountain Bike Show, presented by Arc'teryx and Norco Performance Bikes, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 7: 30 p.m. (doors 6: 30 p.m.). Rio Theatre (19+ adults only!). Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7: 30 p.m. (doors 6: 30 p.m.), Centennial Theatre (all ages) as part of the 16th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, Feb. 8-17. For more information and complete schedule visit vimff.org.
WHITE cloud hangs over the mountainside like a plume of smoke from a giant's pipe.
Beneath the jagged peaks a single figure cuts a silhouette against the cloud, but he seems somehow out of place. It's probably because in the midst of inhospitable terrain and gathering shadows, he's carrying a bicycle.
Harald Philipp, a man who takes mountain biking more literally than most, has been the first to descend several mountains near his home in Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria.
A multimedia presentation entitled Harald Philipp Descending the Gnarliest Summits of the Alps is scheduled to screen Feb. 13 at Centennial Theatre as part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.
Born to mountaineering parents, Philipp naturally learned to cast his eyes upward. "Having parents with a mountaineer's mindset, you don't grow up like a normal kid," Philipp recalls.
Enraptured by the stories of his mother and father, Philipp took to exploring Germany's mountains.
"I started climbing as soon as I could walk, and ski-touring at the age of eight," Philipp says. "Mountain biking started later."
Philipp was raised only six hours from the Alps, that expansive mountain range that was likely formed as the result of a continental collision in the Cretaceous period. For Philipp, heading downhill on that range was the only sensible thing to do.
"We have tons of great single-tracks in the alps," Philipp remarks. "But the day you find out that the run starts from way above, it's simply logical to take your bike up there for descending it."
He has surprised more than a few hikers in the course of his travels. "Conversations with them are always fun, the farther away from the city's forests you go, the friendlier the hikers are," Philipp writes in an email to the North Shore News.
For Philipp, returning to the mountains time and again nourishes something essential. When asked what draws him to the mountains, he responds: "Everything."
"I am living up there," he explains. "The time spent down in the valley is necessary for making a living, but as soon as I breathe the fresh air and don't hear traffic-noises around anymore, I feel alive. Mountains are a playground and a religion at the same time."
Asked if he has a death wish, Philipp says the opposite is true, that's he trying to live as fully as possible. Despite that, there are real dangers associated with what he does. Philipp says he averages two small crashes each season.
"Once I injured myself at the knee ligaments, but all my bones are still virgin," he reports. "Crashing is something that doesn't happen too often. In that terrain where we ride, crashing usually means falling off a mountain, so it is no option at all. Still there is a risk, even if we try to ride as safe as possible."
Typically, each trip is preceded with time poring over maps and consulting Internet forums, trying to suss out protected climbing routes that might be passable by bicycle. The bike in question is about 12 kilograms, which makes the trek easier than it may appear, according to Philipp.
"Carrying my bike for many hours is not as horrible as it might sound, Philipp says. "After some tours in spring I am used to the extra weight and then it feels just like hiking."
While his passion comes with an adrenaline rush, Philipp makes a distinction between fear and alertness.
"If I am afraid, then I already went too far. Respect is something that is always necessary," he says. "Standing on a mountain, that nobody has ever ridden down before is a great feeling. And if the project works out with a nice descent that demands all of my abilities and motivation, then I am all satisfied."
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