A small tribe of weirdos gather in the Italian Alps to prove that some people will “spike” anything to have a good time
nce upon a time, not so long ago, lived a handsome prince. One bright and early morning Prince Gary drew back his heavy, brocade curtains, looked out from his bedroom, high on a mountainside, and surveyed the rugged, snow-covered land. Below, under a sky the color of a duck’s egg, his subjects were busying themselves for the day’s activities. He chuckled to himself as they waddled, like fat mother geese, up and down the stairs to and from their sparse rooms to their filthy, salt-encrusted carriages. They waddled because they wore so many clothes—layers of thin thermals, then plastic body armor, over which they pulled cold, stiff leather suits, and topped off with thick, padded nylon outer garments and colorful knitted bonnets partially covering their cheerful, misshapen heads. The shush-shush sound of the serfs’ legs rubbing together was like that of Princess Shania’s blades on the mirror-smooth surface of her favorite secret skating spot.
No wonder the commoners were wrapped up so toasty and snuggly. It was cold enough to freeze the horn straight off Hillary’s forehead. Hillary being the prince’s favorite unicorn, of course.
The brave Prince Gary had just arrived in his temporary winter domicile, on the outskirts of Riva Valdobbia, in the Piedmont region of Italy, after an exciting adventure of his own. Against the advice of many of his subjects, the nobleman had ridden from the edge of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom (which belongs to his Great Aunt Elizabeth), over the barren wastelands of France, through the great Mont Blanc tunnel, and onward into Italy. He undertook the ride on his trusty steed, Sportster, a 25-year-old nag that the prince had become unfathomably attached to. The ride was cold, the mercury not creeping above freezing for the whole 700-mile trot through France. Bravely, he rode into the night when the temperature dropped to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, the royal outfitter, Icon Raiden of the savage badlands of Portland, Oregon, had supplied the prince with a suit and helmet as black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat that protected the intrepid royal. Such was the insulation that barely a single expletive ushered from his lips during the trip and only thrice, in well over 800 miles, did he have to pull Sportster over to the hard shoulder and dance a red-nosed jig to urge the feeling back into his digits.
Sportster had to stop every 65 miles because of its tiny bladder and was burdened with heavy ice racing wheels, er, I mean, hooves, in a custom-made carrier for the upcoming winter tournament that had the whole land bubbling with excitement, for now was the time for Snow Quake.
Snow Quake is a race for the bravest lords, ladies, and gentlefolk of the whole of Europa. Well, that’s not entirely true. One needn’t be a lord, lady, or,
…ONE MUST ONLY HAVE AN OLD OR INAPPROPRIATE BIKE, THE TIME TO STUD SOME TIRES, THE ABILITY TO MISS WORK ON A THURSDAY IN JANUARY, AND A LAISSEZFAIRE ATTITUDE TO BEING RUN OVER BY THREE OR FOUR OTHER MOTORBIKES, ALL FITTED WITH SHORT, SHARP, HEXAGON HEAD SCREWS, EACH SCREW JUST BEGGING TO TAKE A PIRANHA-LIKE BIKE OUT OF A HUMAN’S EPIDERMIS.
indeed, gentle to be involved in this frigid foray; one must only have an old or inappropriate bike, the time to stud some tires, the ability to miss work on a Thursday in January, and a laissez-faire attitude to being run over by three or four other motorbikes, all fitted with short, sharp, hexagon head screws, each screw just begging to take a piranha-like bike out of a human’s epidermis.
Riders journeyed for days from faraway lands such as Romania, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, France, and, of course, Italy, the republic that plays host to Snow Quake.
While it is a race, and some of the participants are wont to take it more seriously than perhaps the occasion deserves, the atmosphere is jovial. Army tents were erected to serve hot food and drink prepared by Milan’s wonderful Deus Café. Painted oil drums filled with wood and lit to keep the hardy spectators warm. Deus Ex Machina handed out screen-printed ex-italian Army blankets and a queue of eager racers formed to pay their 50-euro entry and 10-euro insurance (one euro is equivalent to about a dollar).
The variety of stallions was mind-boggling. Small-frame Vespas, long-legged 850cc Guzzi, flat-track framers, custom Ducati Scramblers, a factory MV Agusta Brutale, a cavalry charge of Yamaha SR400S, dozens of twin-shock and/or two-stroke vintage enduros, even an exsteve Mcqueen Husqvarna 350. Yes, really.
Prince Gary stood atop the fender of an International MXT 4x4 to deliver a speech on the nature of the day. It was an address that spoke of fun but warned of the consequences of misbehavior and ended with a plea for no one to stop breathing before the sun set. The proles stood rapt, many not even daring to lay their humble eyes on his for fear of causing offense.
Then, surprisingly close to the scheduled time, brave riders took to the track. The Ice Rosa Ring is located in a valley bottom. Steep, jagged walls of granite crowd it on either side. At the north end of the valley is 15,200-foot glacial Monte Rosa, the “pink mountain,” the second highest peak in the whole of Europe. It is clearly visible from the track and high enough to catch the sun’s weak rays, but down in the valley bottom, even on a beautifully clear, fairytale of a day like this one, direct sunlight never reaches the racers.
It is the perfect location for a track that relies on low temperatures. Ice Rosa Ring offers a different experience than those enjoyed by most of the world’s ice racers. Instead of relying on a lake to freeze over to create a flat surface, the Ice Rosa Ring is like a mini Cadwell Park, and although it doesn’t have quite the same extreme changes of elevation that the British Superbike circuit does, the track rises to the height of a full-grown dragon’s shoulder or the equivalent of a two-story house. From the start line, at the lowest point of the circuit, it serpents up and through a right and left before
looping around and delivering a mean 90-degree right, 90-degree left combo before a 50-yard straight and a much tighter loop brings the shorter start-finish straight into view.
The riders’ skills and experience is as mixed as their choice of machinery. Former WSB, AMA, and current World Supermoto rider Giovanni Bussei rode a Honda 250cc two-stroke to battle with short-track racers on homebuilt big single framers. Ducati Corse’s Motogp test rider Luca Scassa took a different angle, racing a Shetland pony of a Suzuki, sneaking past more timid riders on powerful mounts.
Morning practice was long, due to many of the participants’ complete lack of experience, before a break for lunch. The racers and their valets partook in hearty food.
The pressure was on to start racing. Organizers, and those who have competed at the previous Snow Quake, were keen to get things moving before what light was there was lost and the temperature descended further.
The 50 or so racers were split into three categories: Racer, Vintage, and Inappropriate. Racer was for the dirt trackers, Vintage contained the old enduros, and Inappropriate collected the heavyweight Clydesdales and diminutive Shetlands. Prince Gary competed in the latter on Sportster, which, despite its age and long journey here, was raring to go.
Sportster scrambled for grip from the line in the two heat races, digging a trench instead of moving forward, but the prince bravely made up places. An unlikely tussle in one race saw Sportster neck and neck with a Guzzi 850 with desertcrossing suspension. Sportster ran with no front brake, dirttrack style; the Guzzi retained both stoppers and snuck in front at one of the downhill 90-degree bends. The prince could not stop and had no option but to nudge the Guzzi rider. Sportster’s buzz-saw hooves cut every buckle off one of the rider’s old leather MX boots. Luckily it did no more damage.
Like Dirt Quake, this event’s summer cousin, the day is about participation, yet the racing was nearly hot enough to thaw the track. The bearded Bussei won the Snow Quake Superfinal, with the gold fringes of his white Alpinestars leathers blowing in the icy blast.
As soon as the racing ended, most of the racers scuttled away from the track, desperate to climb back in their carriages, but Prince Gary took time to lose his layer upon layer of clothing before donning more comfortable robes. He was in no rush. With the warmth of the camaraderie, the cold never bothered him anyway.
THE 50 OR SO RACERS WERE SPLIT INTO THREE CATEGORIES: RACER, VINTAGE, AND INAPPROPRIATE.