The week where Backflip Mutes became Kisses to the Skies

Chronicling my time in Sweden’s answer to Neverland is a tricky feat; Riksgränsen is a motherly enchantress that beckons you to share your spirit in a way that exfoliates you back to yourself. That’s what happened to me anyway. Thus I feel it is my duty to lithely dodge a detailed exposé of her charms, for it is you, the reader that needs to go and feel snow on your face in May, whilst the sun is still watching over you at 3 am.

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To begin, I will start with the story behind me committing to coming on the trip. It’s not very complicated: I got myself to Alaska to get a specific monkey off my back, and just ski to feel the love of it again. By the end of my trip I had no case of the terminal ‘time to go back to reality’ and gave my heart irrevocably to skiing, consequently making the commitment to shape my life around it. When I did get home however, I was in the vortex of ‘where the hell do I start’ whilst also thinking ‘it’s March, the season is over, lets save and go at it next year’. The long and the short of it was I ended up applying to every alpine related job/internship/opportunity for the next month, whilst trying to instil some kind of vague offseason training routine whilst also juggling 5 different jobs.

I had heard about the memorial last year, and thought it was incredible that the life of someone so special was being celebrated this way. I never considered being able to go. That was until,  I came across an article by a someone who shared something in common with me: a love of skiing, but a home with no snow.

Bruce Brodie’s article is directly responsible for me having the courage to write the emails, make the phone calls, and ultimately financially augment my situation so I could go.

Thanks Bruce, this one’s for you.

I stayed overnight in Stockholm on what was unavoidably the same night of Eurovision, (Ukraine won, which I took as a nod that I am on a good path), and made a point to walk around the city and absorb as much of my surroundings as possible. A beyond gorgeous city; everyone looks healthy (even the homeless) and exude chic so effortlessly. When this lovely old lady started a conversation only to realise that I was English, told me I looked ‘so svenska’, I took it as a compliment. The next day I wandered around the Palace, satisfying my zeal for blue blooded architecture. It has to be said, between Versailles and the Winter Palace, the understated opulence of Stockholm Palace is so much more endearing.

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Storkyrkan (The Great Church)

So, I rushed back to my lovely hosts, zipped up my bags, hailed a cab to Stockholm Centralstation to catch the night train to Riksgränsen. This journey was far more emotional than I could have ever predicted. It was 20 hours to truly recuperate and reflect, and what it turned into was backtracking to understand the mechanics of 4 years of struggle. What I dug into was difficult, and I was grateful to have my cave on my top bunk to just write, listen to music, resolve. It was an unexpectedly cathartic journey and I came to terms with the fact that I really made a lot of bad decisions.

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On the flipside, I was filled with immense gratitude, and a vivid sense of how lucky I am.  My situation is this: not only do I have the means to survive, but I have the capabilities to go after my passion. That is incredible prosperity, and so far from where I came from.

When I was four, I was on a different kind of sleeper train. With a clear plastic backpack the size of my body full of my soft toys, and I was yanked up the stairs of the train door by a conductor who didn’t care if he removed my shoulder joint from its socket. This train was from Dnipropetrovsk to Kiev, and from Kiev we flew to England. When we arrived in Heathrow my mother barely had enough to buy me a sandwich when I complained about being hungry because hryvnia was nothing against the pound. My mother made sure I had better upbringing than she. The struggles she went through, the prejudice she ignored, and the sacrifices she made to make sure I had every opportunity were immense.

Yet here I was, on a night train, completely independent, with a much sturdier bag of toys (skis) and the means to go after my skiing dreams.

Under slept and overexcited, I got off the train. My room wasn’t ready, so I was straight into the snow pants and out to the hill with my luggage in the storage room. The feeling of clicking my bindings in was such a relief. I fell a lot, but I didn’t care, I laughed, got up again and had a better run next time. This I did every single day.

My shyness got in the way of my first night, I could see people to talk to but I didn’t have the heart to say hello. It was on the second day that I just took a deep breath, strided over, and introduced myself to Bruce. Immediately I was welcomed with open arms, and this is what the ski community is all about. I felt so silly for having anxiety about being here because everybody made sure I felt welcome and a part of the celebration. That’s one of the main things I love about ski community; we take care of our own. It was wonderful to meet people I had looked up to for so long, and for them to become my friends.

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Snobben set up

I did feel incredibly intimidated by some of these guys initially, hell these were the guys who made the edits and created the art that I would drift to after struggling through 30 hour weeks in the pool, horrific days at school, getting shouted at for not making the cut,  or drift to sleep to on those nights I was so overstimulated by my reality. Although they wanted to ensure me that I they were regular people (which, they are), I was still in a state of awe.

It’s difficult to verbalise how skiing enabled me to compartmentalise and be ‘safe’ in some of the situations I got myself into. Even if my feet weren’t in my boots, having my mind be immersed in freeskiing provided a blanket to cover myself with in times of great difficulty, and sometimes the time spent digesting these creations let me avoid situations that would deteriorate the state I was in. Without being specific, between the age of 14 and 18, I struggled through problems of my own creation, and now I feel a huge responsibility to firstly, take care of myself, make up for lost time (preferably through skiing), and find a way to make sure that other children, girls in particular, have something or at least someone to go to if and (now unfortunately in today’s world it’s more a case of:) when they come it, help them make better choices to help get them out of similarly vapid situations that could lead them to their afterword.

Hence, amiable reverence.

The skiing was so beyond everything that I could have mentally prepared to have been around. I learned so much through watching and really drinking in the environment. Getting to see Luggi Brucic really boot it on that quarter pipe was a steep visual learning curve, and my god was it marvellous. Hanging with the Bunch was an experience in itself, Sakarius, Magnus, Jens, LSM, Peyben, Leo, Gustav, Hackel, are as beautiful as people as they are skiers, and I am so grateful that they let me hang out with them because I learned so much through osmosis in their presence. I respect what they’re doing a lot. Getting to lap with Julien and Fabien was extraordinary. It’s good to get pointers from people you look up to. Another phaser moment was getting to see Jacob Wester throw a cossack off the hip: pure, unrefined stoke. In the back of my head I was reminded of every time I would go and bring up this youtube clip on the whiteboard at school and girls would hurl lunch boxes at me so I would get off the computer so they could go back to yahoo music. Without the seed that was that film, I would not have gone to Alaska this year and undergone a hugely magnificent period of transformation. It’s just beyond dope. I can’t say much more about the skiing because this debrief would flail into many words that could not possibly describe what was being done up there.

A huge warm hug to the skies for JP and Andreas.

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Burning Man

Steep skiing is a whole other ball game, and when I stumbled on Bjarne’s video of Andreas’ first descent of Denali’s south face my eyes were opened to the idea that creativity can be applied to heavy exertion, and in doing so, I was inspired to take my sport climbing another level and trying to learn about taking that into an alpine environment. That part when you say ‘Jesus. Humans are not meant to be here.’ echoes some of the drive I have for these things that I set myself up to do. Your other worldly sixth gear and beautiful soul inspired so much of my passion in the mountains. You have helped me to tolerate the fear that comes with walking into the unknown and really push myself, safely, taking no short cuts into truly learning how to become a good mountaineer.  I hope you’re up to something epic wherever you are today.

JP. Let me start with a story. When I was in my all girls’ school, we had one computer in our form room linked up to one huge screen. At lunchtimes we were free to use it for homework. Now this was when I started to get into watching ski parts and really devour that medium. My class mates were not so keen on this. Regardless, common knowledge was bypassing the internet filters to get onto youtube, and one day I stumbled on Propaganda. Now, there was this girl, who didn’t like me very much, and unbeknownst to me, unplugged the keyboard, mouse, and the nozzle that controlled the volume on the speakers. Essentially, my form tutor walked in and my futile scramble to turn everything off didn’t work, so whilst I was trying to turn everything off, everything got louder and this huge screen lit up with you skiing through that slab slide. I got banned from the computer for a week. My form tutor wasn’t big on skiing.

I don’t need to go into how you’ve pioneered the sport. You’ve influenced me, you’ve influenced those who’ve influenced me, and in effect you have been an architect of so much of my inspiration. I respect you unfathomably, thank you for creating and helping me find my way.

I was at a very hectic crossroad in my life when I heard of the accident, and I was on the back end of the consequences of some very bad decisions. I don’t want to say every cloud has a silver lining, because this was a cloud that should have never, ever been in the sky. Yet upon this, I was forced to stop and really ask myself what was going on. It became very clear to me that I could have either continued with what I was doing, be miserable, and ultimately vanish under a far poorer set of circumstances, or I could test the water with smoothing unimaginable and completely different and dedicate my energy to that. The latter was not an easy path, I had to work hard to put every step in that boot pack. Eventually I was lead to my passion and the new opportunities garnered confidence, clarity and my wholehearted commitment to a better path.

Thank you so much JP and Andreas.

I am now far beyond driven to commit to my two planks, learn a lot, and get other people going too.

Thank you all so much for the magic. Until next year.

P.S.

Shout out to:

  • Clay Bryant – The JP/ Backflip Mute Emperor of the week – thank you for letting me ski with you, I learned so much, and I promise we will skin up Nordals next year without my knee trying to commit seppuku.
  • Kim Boberg – My hero who wasn’t present this year, but put up with me over messenger when I wasn’t coping with the Scandinavian heat
  • The Finnish Crew I didn’t meet but were next level.
  • Micah James and Colleen – Micah, you are one badass BN mother ducker, thank you for welcoming me to the family, and congratulations with the engagement, and we will ski together next year Colleen!
  • Ingrid Sirois – It was a pleasure to meet you I only wish I could have spoken to you a little more.
  • Henrik and Emile – wow.
  • Riksgränsen Hotel and all of its staff for being lovely to me.
  • Everyone who made me feel so involved and welcome
  • Julien Regnier – Merci pour votre conseil
  • Josh and Jesper who let me be super involved at all times
  • Armada and Alpine Initiatives who made this all possible
  • Sweden

 

 

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