June 15, 2001 -- Piode, Italy
Sunny days, great food, friendly people, great whitewater and backhoes. That's what springs to mind when I reminisce about our
recent trip to Italy to compete in the 2001 European / Pre-World Wildwater Championships.
The Region, Travel, Lodging and FOOD.
The races were held in the upper Valsesia, or Sesia Valley, in northwest Italy--spitting distance from the Swiss border and
directly below the second highest mountain in the Alps, Monta Rosa.
Getting there was a breeze. We flew into Milan/Malpensa, a modern and boat-friendly airport. From here it's an easy 100km
drive to the competition site.
Once inside the upper valley, lodging options are plentiful. The entire team opted to stay at the Giardini, a
cheerful bed and breakfast overlooking the river. Each room was outfitted with a kitchenette and a breezy, sunny view.
Dinners here were great and included lots of pasta dishes, veal, trout fresh from the Sesia, and rabbit. The
residence was also inexpensive. For a shared room with kitchenette and dinner every day, our total bill equated to just
under $30 US a night each. Another bonus to the Giardini was the roomy boat repair facilities downstairs and, of course,
homemade ice cream.
Chris Hipgrave battles the Sesia's crux rapid.
Photo credit Chris Osment
The Fiume Sesia's Shorter Classic Race Course.
Several of us arrived in Italy days before the rest of team whom where over in Bovec competing in the first World Cup.
At first glance the river was not promising. The Sesia was extremely low and very rocky; endless hours of boat repair
seemed a sure thing.
The few race officials that where on hand strongly suggested that we do not go below the sprint course, which were the first
few minutes of the classic course.
The river had been over a meter higher only a week ago but had seen decreasing
levels since due to colder than normal temperatures at its source.
After the Bovec World Cup race was over, many of the European
teams showed up and a ruling from the race officials made it clear
that these levels where not typical of this time of year.
The sprint course would stay intact. However, the classic course would be
shortened from the expected 16-minute-plus course to a 10-minute
course, starting in downtown Scopello, directly below the worst
of the boat-beating rapids.
Before the Pre-Worlds Parade of Nations, Varallo
With all the teams in town and training, and a clarification from the race officials, training runs started in earnest.
The sprint course was an entertaining run, encompassing three rapids that involved a few hits here and there, but
There were lots of little short cuts that required taking waves--a difficult course to go fast on. The classic, although
short, was equally entertaining. One of the first rapids was a hideous boulder-choked mess, but thanks to some ingenious
work with a backhoe, a new channel was dug around this mess, making a lot of people very happy. The rest
of the course was constant whitewater with one notable drop called Rapida Pinta. This was typical
glacial Alpine paddling, with a very mobile riverbed of rounded boulders, rocky shoals and cold water.
Early in the week, boat repair was commonplace with only one serious repair among the team. However, as our lines cleaned up,
we hit fewer and fewer rocks aided by increasing water levels. Since our arrival, water levels had been creeping back up
due to great weather conditions and a few short days of rain. As our non-stops and racing began,
we where all pretty confident about lines.
The Fiume Sesia features a wide glacial streambed with mobile boulders. This course could look different for next year's
- Bring at least one, preferably two sets of beefy grundge pads for your boat. You'll appreciate having them.
- Bring a more than adequate repair kit.
- The new airbags rule was enforced. Make sure you have bags bow and stern that are inflated and meet ICF specs.
- The helmet rule was also used. If you have a flimsy helmet, you may get pulled. Be warned.
- The classic was whitewater from top to bottom. Get used to pushing your boat through waves and get strong. Plan on spending
plenty of time in the weight room this winter. You'll be thankful you did.
Click here for race results.
Chris Hipgrave is a K-1 Wildwater racer living near Bryson City, NC. Reach him at