A Sporting Life: The Snow Chasers

On mountain slopes | photo courtesy of Ioana Istrate

 
It’s the thick of winter in the Northern hemisphere. Daylight is still in short supply and the biting cold won’t go anywhere anytime soon. I am a summer girl, but I have never contemplated escaping to some warm destination in winter. Where is the magic in that? Winter is beautiful in all its frosty glory. But, admittedly, experiencing winter solely in the city makes it hard to enjoy it. Again, where’s the magic in that? So the only reasonable thing to do is to go to a place where the snow is even bigger (and whiter). Yes, that’s right. There’s nothing quite like winter in nature, and better yet, in the mountains. The inner peace and calm from being in the midst of the pine forests and pristine snow slopes combined with the equally fascinating and intimidating feeling of being up there.

With snow season fully underway, I have reached out to a snow sports enthusiast and expert in the hope that we will open up your appetite for venturing out and experiencing winter properly. Ioana Istrate is the co-founder of Boarder’s Snowboard Store in Bucharest, an advocate for an active lifestyle and initiator of many educational projects that have as goal getting children (and adults) familiarised with winter sports, and sport in general, and fostering an interest in sport to last a lifetime. I am fortunate to know Ioana personally and her positive vibes and energy always inspire me, and I am sure she will send an inspirational message to you as well.

And because you can never fully enjoy winter unless properly dressed (you know the saying, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing), we have that covered, too. I assure you, this active winter wardrobe will not boast all of the elegance of your everyday style. Burton, the Snowboard attire brand carried in Boarder’s Snowboard Shop, combines the technical knowledge of contemporary skiwear with the sophistication of the classic to create clothing that not only keeps you warm, but looks good, too.
 

On mountain slopes | photo courtesy of Ioana Istrate

 
The last time we spoke on the phone you were up on the mountain. How often are you up there in winter?
Well, when I am in my hometown, Sinaia, I go up in the mountains pretty much every day or, at least, every powder day. The thing is that now I have to live in Bucharest almost half of the time, due to business, but I try to be out in nature as much as possible and my long-term plan is to move back to Sinaia at some point.

You grew up in the mountains. Is this how your love for the mountain and for snow sports came about? Have you always had a sporting life?
Yes, for sure the fact that I grew up in the mountains contributed to my love for them. Snow is something that I’ve always loved, ever since I had my first memories. I used to spend hours out in the snow when I was a kid and would get back in the house all frozen and only after huge effort from my mom.

At kindergarten, I started attending the ski training at the local sports club, but I didn’t enjoy much the military-like style of teaching there, so I quit after two or three years and started attending the ballet classes, which I did for almost five years. I started skiing again in high school and never stopped until I switched to snowboarding. Also, I’ve always loved hiking in the forest and biking, too.

What age did you start snowboarding?
I started snowboarding in my twenties – 21, maybe 22…
 

Boarder’s Snowboard Store

 
What makes you choose a particular slope? What are the best slopes for snowboarding you’ve tried?
I prefer backcountry riding. The best places I’ve ever ridden are in Hintertux, Austria, and both Chamonix and La Grave, in France. But the place I love the most is my home mountain, in Sinaia. It offers great landscape and riding possibilities, plus I know it very well and I know when it’s safe to get out there and when it’s not.

What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done up on the mountain?
There have been some moments up there when I didn’t have the experience and I exposed myself to unnecessary dangers, or when I overstated my physical limits, but probably the most challenging moment was when I went for backcountry riding on a steep and icy slope in Făgăraș Mountains, many years ago, together with a couple (husband and wife). We were hiking up so we could ride down after. At some point, after about half an hour hiking, when we were about to reach the peak, the woman slipped right in front of me and fell all the way down screaming; her husband put on his skis and went down after her and I remained up there, alone and scared as hell, unable to move an inch, stuck on an ice lens. It took me a while to pull myself together but finally I put my skis on and rode down to find out the woman survived, but was badly injured. I’ve chosen more wisely my riding terrain and my companions since then, so I guess it was a useful lesson.
 

Boarder’s Snowboard Store

 
When did you open your first Boarder’s shop? What’s the story behind it?
We opened the first Boarder’s Shop in 2001. We were already involved in the business with a sports shop opened in 1994, called Surmont, where we used to sell mountaineering, climbing and skiing equipment and mountain bikes. We got in love with snowboarding and started to sell some snowboarding gear in the old shop, so it came naturally that we had to open a snowboarding store, which was the first one in Romania to sell snowboarding gear exclusively. In 2002 we got the Burton Snowboards distribution for Romania and things have only got bigger and better since then.

Boarder’s Snowboard Store specialises in sportswear and snowboarding equipment. But it is so much more than that. It’s about the love for the game, it’s about a certain life style, too. Do you feel you have created a little community of cool and conscious people who can be an example for others as well?
I like to believe we did this. The thing is that we really love what we do and, when you do things with passion, I think it’s impossible not to touch others’ lives in a good way.
 

Boarder’s Snowboard Store

 
I believe that what is also important is that we all get out there and experience the mountains and nature. Isn’t this the best way to find inspiration to want to protect it?
Absolutely! The more time people spend out in nature, the better. It’s good for the mind, it’s good for the soul and a good soul and a calm mind can only work in good ways. Nature is the most amazing thing and spending time out there is the best way to make one’s life better. I also think parents have a very important job to get their kids to love and protect nature, as we cannot get another once we’ve ruined the existing one.

I wholeheartedly agree. It’s never too early to instill the love for sports and nature in your child. It’s important to develop their sense of wonder, their curiosity and their wild spirit. In this regard, could you tell me a little about Boarder’s Learn To Ride Center?
Burton Snowboards initiated Burton Learn To Ride Program in 1998, in cooperation with snowboarding schools around the world, so snowboarding would be learned easily and in a fun way. The goal of this program is to give the rookies a first happy experience in snowboarding, with proper, quality gear and with professional instructors, so they would stick to the sport and get to the slopes as soon as possible.

Our Boarder’s Learn To Ride Center in Sinaia is part of this program with experienced instructors and gear especially built for beginners (kids or adults). For more advanced riders we also offer freestyle and freeride/backountry guiding.
 

Boarder’s Snowboard Store

 
You encourage people in micro-adventures, so to speak, to spend time outdoors, to exercise as a way of life, and that’s wonderful. What is the best age for children to start snowboarding?
Any age is good for starting snowboarding, but kids can start as early as two years old. At Burton, we’ve got gear specially made for this age (boards, bindings, boots, clothing, protections).

We know where to find you on a beautiful winter powder day. Come spring, what sports will you take on to?
In spring, there are still amazing places for backcountry snowboarding, at higher altitude: I particularly love the wild valleys in Bucegi Mountains. When snow is really gone, I stay close to the mountains, trekking and mountainbiking. Apart from that, I enjoy very much going with my SUP (stand up paddle) on mountain lakes and to the seaside.
 

Boarder’s Snowboard Store

 

Boarders’s Snowboard Store: 24, Ion Câmpineanu Street, Bucharest
Boarder’s online: boarders.ro | Facebook: @boarders.store

 
photos: courtesy of Ioana Istrate (snow photos) / Classiq (shop photos)

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