Johnnie Balfour


I’ve just been told to shut up.

Better hurry up. I love that the construction zones are wide open with the public just walking through. No safety issues at all.

Better hurry up. I love that the construction zones are wide open with the public just walking through. No safety issues at all.

Fun times in Sochi.

Fun times in Sochi.

Sochi Update Number 1

Sochi Update. January 21, 2014

I arrived in Frankfurt feeling like I had been hit by a bus. I had an old lady sitting behind me who used my seat as a handle to get up out of her seat, and she got up A LOT.

No sleep for me on that leg of the trip.

I headed to the gate for my flight with Aeroflot to Moscow then on to Sochi. No boarding pass for me. I wasn’t even listed as a passenger. So while they sorted that out, I logged into the wifi and checked my emails to see what the plan was for when I arrived at Sochi. I needed to know how I was getting to my hotel. At this point, I didn’t even know the name or address of the hotel. This is pretty important information when you are travelling alone in a foreign country.

The email I received, just added to the confusion. I was told that there would be nobody to meet me and there was a bus schedule attached with some very poor instructions.

At the last minute, the girl at the counter just hand wrote me boarding pass, I chugged some water and she shoved me through the door. I guess that’s how Aeroflot works. This would be last fluids I would get for the next 24 hours.

You know when you see the truck on the highway full of cows all just shoved in there, piled up on each other? Well that is how Aeroflot works, I’ve never been so squashed and uncomfortable on a flight before. There was no safety demostration, no food or drink service, nothing!

I somehow arrived at Moscow in one piece and was met by an army of volunteers in Sochi 2014 uniforms, they checked my accreditation and I was swept through the airport like a rockstar. From the moment I exited the aircraft to the moment I boarded the next one, I had a volunteer with me. I was escorted though all check points, customs, bagagge claim, baggage check for my next flight by an attractive Russian girl who pushed me to the front of every line, all the while talking to me in Russian. I have absolutely no idea what she said the whole time but the whole process only took about 20 minutes from plane to plane. This has been the only efficient thing I have seen so far.

I boarded another Aeroflot flight and was squashed next to two huge Russian guys who looked exactly like the Russian gangster stereotype that you see in movies. Six foot tall and six foot wide with leather jackets that are way to tight. Hooray, another comfortable flight.

Once I land in Sochi, everything becomes a mystery. I still have no idea where I am staying or how I am getting there.

Sochi airport just a small domestic terminal and doesn’t look finished. It was pretty simple to get through the place and grab my bags. I spotted a Sochi 2014 desk surrounded by volunteers and attempted to ask what the hell I do now. I got blank stares. One girl finally stepped up with her hand out and said “Accreditaion”. She checked my accreditation and said, “No this is wrong, you must get it fixed”. I finally worked out that she was telling me to go to the main office at the resort of Rosa Kutor and work it out. She then turned her back and walked off leaving me standing there completely lost. Well, I guess I should try this bus schedule.

Just before I walked out of the main doors and into the rain, I was grabbed by yet another volunteer. “Name! you tell me name now!” I complied and was told to wait. A couple of minutes later I was met by Oleg, the sport manager for snowboard and skicross. I was then piled into a car and we were off and a ridiculous speed in the pouring rain and fog and on the wrong side of the road for most of the time. There were police everywhere who didn’t even give us a sideways glance as we ripped past them at light speed on the wrong side of the road.

We pull into a driveway of a block of buildings that look like a council housing estate in England. It looks like it was built 50 years ago, not 2. The road is half built and there is mud and water pouring down the street off the mountain. This place is a dump and looks like it could fall down at any moment. I am pulled from the car and shoved in front of a pimply kid seated behind a plastic table. He is surrounded by boxes of building supplies and broken tiles, the place smells of concrete dust. Pimple kid hands me a key and points at the next building, “Top floor, room 10”. I turn to leave, “No, you come”. He drags me to another room full of folded laundry, he hands me a two sheets, a pillow case and a roll of toilet paper. As I am signing for my issued bedding and toilet paper, I feel like I am back in the army, this is exactly like basic training. I didn’t sign up to go through that again!

I enter my room and my heart sinks, this is no hotel. There are two small metal framed beds in the centre of the room with thin mattresses leaning against the wall. I turn to ask for some directions about tomorrow and find myself standing on my own.
My “room” consists of two small rooms and a bathroom. Before I get a chance to explore, Nick turns up, soaking wet with a “Fuck this” look in his face. Turns out he got onto a bus from Sochi airport and was told to get off in the middle of nowhere. He stood in the pouring rain for almost an hour before another bus showed up. The second bus dumped him at a bus depot. While standing there lost, he heard a familiar voice “Nick!” It was our friend from home who had arrived a few days earlier. Somehow, Steve and Nick just bumped into each other. Luck was on Nick’s side. Nick and I are sharing this little room and Steve is living next door with the other three guys. The six of us are finally together at least.

Check out the video I posted yesterday to see what our place looks like. We did a little rearranging of the bed situation before I made the video which really doesn’t show how bad this place is. The toilet flushes muddy water, there is no hot water, the shower floor is covered in dirt and mud, there was piss all over the toilet, the water is undrinkable (it’s brown) it’s even sketchy to brush your teeth with it and the idea of having internet in this place is a joke. If we want internet, we have to wait till we get to the mountain which is a two hour commute via bus and by foot. I guess I won’t be talking to Willa and Toby for the next month. I’m ready to just grab my bags and head back to the airport. We all eventually get to bed at 0300. I have still not eaten or had any fluids since I left Frankfurt over twelve hours ago.

I’m up at 0600 and we begin our commute at 0700. No buses run until 0800 so we stand in the dark getting rained on for almost an hour. I must also point out that we are just winging it at the moment, we have been given no directions for anything and my accreditation doesn’t work, Nick is in the same boat. After a short bus ride, we then have to walk to rest of the way. If it wasn’t for Steve who has been here for a few days already, we wouldn’t have found our way to the resort. Nothing is finished here and there is piles of garbage everywhere. Muddy water is pouring off the mountain and flowing through the streets and the coblestone pavers are all lifting up or disappearing into sink holes. This entire place was built in the last few years, it looks nice at first glance but look a little closer and you can see that it was just thrown together. Most of the buildings are not finished and with only two weeks to go before the games start, they never will be finished. It is pouring rain and close to 10 degrees above zero. The little snow they have is rapidly disappearing.

I still haven’t eaten or had fluids and it’s been almost 20 hours. I had one Tic Tac this morning, it was delicious. I also haven’t showered since leaving home three days ago. I smell amazingly bad. WE FOUND MCDONALDS!!!! I’ve never been so happy to find McDonalds and even happier to find that it has wifi. After a quick feed a lot of water and some messages sent home, we head off to find the accreditation office. Without valid accreditation, we can’t do anything.

The accreditation office doesn’t open till 10 so we lie in the hallway and wait. This is going to be the story of our day. Nick and I finally get into the office to be told that there is something wrong with our details on the computer system and we will have to wait. A few hours go by and we walk off to find some lunch. You guessed it, nothing is open because nothing is finished being built yet. We eventually find a coffee shop resturant type place and pick up a menu that is completely in Russian. They guy tells us in broken english that they make fantastic pizza so we order a couple of small pizzas and a small drink each. Food was pretty good, the bill was not. Total of the bill was 2450.00 rubles. That works out to $75. HOLY CRAP! I guess we will not be eating out anywhere over the next month.

Back to the accreditation office to continue waiting. After convincing them to give me the wifi code, I log in and find a bunch of travel warnings popping up with increased terrorist attack warnings for Sochi and Rosa Kutor. Being told to avoid public transport, awesome! This just keeps getting better. I fall alseep on the floor.

Finally at 1530 I am issued with my new accreditation, we can now get through security to the gondola and head up to the venue for a meeting at 1730 with the managers and to go over our contracts. What a waste of a day so far.

If you think everything so far sounds bad, wait for it, it’s going to get a lot worse!

We are seated around a big table in a boardroom. At the head of the table is the sport manager, his assistant and another big wig who we are never introduced to. At the other end of the table are the two head builders, Nicko and David. The rest of the table is surrounded by the six of us and we have big issues that need to be addressed. Hot water, accomodation, the commute, food etc are all briefly discussed before we get onto the biggest issue. How they propose to pay us.

In the six months leading up to this moment, we have been in constant contact with these people, sorting out contracts, methods of payment etc. So far nothing has gone as planned. They have wanted to pay us into Russian bank accounts for a few months now and we have fought them long and hard on this point. Yes, you read that correctly, they want us to open Russian bank accounts. How do we do this? Well, we don’t, apparently they have already opened accounts for us! How the hell they can open an account in my name without my details or signature is beyond me and sounds very dodgy!

Before we left home we didn’t win the fight about the bank accounts but we did win the fight for them to pay us within ten days of us signing the contract. Well, that has now changed too. They are now telling us that they will pay us ten days AFTER we have gone home. I have a very strong feeling that we are never going to get paid. During the meeting I told them on no uncertain terms that what they are trying to do is total bullshit and if they had disclosed this information earlier, I would not have agreed to come here.

The two hour commute home seemed to take even longer and the six of us finally sat down together at home to discuss our options. I can’t post what we discussed yet, but all I can say is I am not backing down.

That was the coldest shower I have ever had in my life.

Looking good Sochi

Looking good Sochi

This doesn’t even cover it. CHAOS!!!!

How Did I Get Here?

As I sit here on a flight from Vancouver, Canada to Sochi, Russia, it still seems very surreal. When I ended up in Canada, I never thought my life would go the way it has.

In 2006 I was medically discharged from the Australian Army. I had been diagnosed with “compartment syndrome” in my lower right leg. When you get a chance, google it, it is pretty nasty. I am very lucky that it was caught early as I could have ended up losing my leg.

I had no idea what I was going to do with myself, the army had been my career choice, having it cut short was devestating and left me feeling lost. I decided to pack up and go snowboard racing in Canada. No return date planned, just wing it and see what happens.

I grew up on the beach in Sydney, Australia. Surfing, skateboarding and racing BMX and motocross. In 1993 a few friends and I decided to give snowboarding a try, I was hooked. The following year I began competing in all disciplines of the sport eventually deciding to focus on snowboardcross. With a racing background, it seemed to make the most sense to me.

Fast foward to October 2006 and I was on a flight to Vancouver, Canada to try my luck on some real mountains. I settled in North Vancouver and got a job at Cypress Mountain, it was a shitty job in the ticket checking department, but it got me on the hill and put money in my pocket. Not much money, but just enough.

It didn’t take long before I was noticed by Layne Marrett, the terrain park manager at Cypress Mountain. He had seen that I was pretty fearless and approached me to test some of the jumps they had just built. I said yes but only under one prevision, he give me a job in the terrain park. The deal was done and I kissed goodbye to checking peoples tickets!

During my first season in Canada, I travelled to as many snowboardcross events as possible and managed some pretty good results and some pretty good concussions! One concussion robbed me of 5 days of my life that I do not remember a single thing about. Close to the end of the season, Layne introduced me to the man who would really change my life. Jeff Ihaksi had just returned from Torino where he had built the snowboardcross venue for the Winter Olympics. He had arrived at Cypress to do a site inspection so he could design the next Winter Olympics that were scheduled for 2010 in Vancouver. I had no idea that all the snowboard venues where going to be held on the mountain that I working on. It was just luck that I ended up at Cypress and not one of the other local Vancouver mountains.

At the end of my first season, Jeff Ihaksi was going to build a snowboardcross course at Cypress Mountain as a test event for the Winter Olympics. Layne made sure that I was up there helping Jeff. At this point I was still working for the mountain but under the supervision of the best course builder in the world.
When all was said and done, I tried to qualify for the event and failed. But bigger things where coming! I decided to stay in Canada for a while and see where this boat was headed.

The following year, I returned to Cypress Mountain to work for the season and again, I ended up building another test event with Jeff. In the summer, I was working in the film industry as a military advisor and after a strange turn of events, I didn’t return to the mountain for the season. Not all was lost as Jeff hired me to work directly with him on the final test event before the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The FIS Snowboardcross World Cup and FIS Skicross World Cup was to be held on the course at Cypress Mountain and we would be building it again. It was during this build that Jeff told me that he was going to hire me to be his lead shaper for the Olympics. I still didn’t see this building caper as a full time gig and thought that after the Olympics, I would move back to Australia and get a “real job”. I just wanted to keep racing for a little while longer.

A week after the World Cup build, I jumped in the car and headed to Red Mountain in BC for the last race of the snowboardcross season. It was to be a game changer for me. I had a huge crash and shattered my left humerous. After that crash, I lost my nerve and I have never snowboarded the same since.

They say that before you hit a jump or try a new trick that you should invisage yourself doing it perfect and landing it smoothly. When the day comes when all you can see is the million things that could possibly go wrong, it is time to give up.

The rehab on my arm was intense and it will never be the same again, I have about 80% movement in my left arm and a nice solid piece of metal holding it all together.
My snowboard racing days are over.

The 2010 season came around pretty quickly with Jeff inviting me to fly to Telluride, Colorado to assist him build a World Cup event, we returned just in time for Christmas and just in time to see no snow at Cypress Mountain. The 2010 Winter Olympics at Cypress Mountain was plagued with very warm weather and a lack of snow. We built corners and jumps with hay bails and even made two jumps out of wood. We still somehow managed to pull it off like rockstars.

The summer prior to the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I met my wife on a movie set and the decision was made to stay in Canada. Just after the Olympics we bought a house, got married and in May 2013 we had a baby boy. Holy crap, I didn’t see all that coming when I moved to Canada to go snowboarding!

So now I build snowboardcross and skicross venues for a living in the winter and work in the film industry in the summer along with a couple of other little projects that I do on the side. Which brings me to this moment, sitting on a plane to Sochi, Russia to build my second Winter Olympics. Jeff Ihaksi has decided to sit this one out but two of the other boys from the Vancouver build crew will be there. Nick Roma, Steve Morrison and myself will be pushing snow around, shovelling it and raking it smooth so the best athletes in the world can race in front of the entire world.

Pretty damn cool.

A huge thank you to Jeff Ihaksi and Layne Marrett, I would not be where I am today if it were not for you two guys. Jeff Williams at Rampion Enterprises in Vancouver for the constant support with Bataleon Snowboards, Switchback Bindings and Pow Gloves. My very understanding wife who gets left behind to hold down the fort at home and my son Toby for all the poopy diapers and puke on my shirts. Love you guys!

Thanks everyone. Next stop Russia!

Heading to Russia

Heading to Russia