World’s Best Ski Racer Continues his Quest to Conquer all Aspects of the Mountain
BY: Michael Mastarciyan & Gordie Bowles PHOTOGRAPHY: Frode Sandbech / Red Bull Content Pool
One of the most decorated World Cup alpine racers in the history of the sport, the 31-year-old Norwegian spends upwards of 11 months a year training both on and off snow. During the season, Aksel Lund Svindal endures a grueling schedule, skiing in all alpine disciplines, perennially in the hunt for the Crystal Globe – awarded to the tour’s overall point leader – something he’s won twice, by the way.
What does Svindal do when the last race of the season is over? You guessed it, more skiing. A humble superstar with a sharp selfdeprecating wit, Svindal is giving other superstars lessons on how to be a megastar. Always friendly, ever accommodating,
Svindal has been a darling of the media since day one – but get in the way of his passion for skiing and all bets are off. “In the race season you don’t ski that much. You do some warm up and freeskiing, but the actual skiing in races is always less than five minutes, and when you’ve finished your five minutes of skiing you get to talk about it with the media for about 1 hour and 5 minutes. That doesn’t mean that the media is bad, but I’m a skier, and 5 minutes of skiing followed by 1 hour and 5 minutes of talking about skiing gets tiring after a long winter,” Svindal blogged last March on his website.
Svindal’s most recent alpine adventure happened in late March, just moments after he packed up his 2014 downhill and super-G World Cup Crystal Globes and hit the road for a month of rest and relaxation. A breathtaking, heart-pumping, five-day freeskiing and mountain climbing road trip in Switzerland and Austria with freeskiing juggernauts Aasmund Thorsen and Bene Mayr.
First up, a couple of days skiing and back-country touring in the Haslital region of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, smack dab in the geographic centre of the country. Then, after a few days of scoring big lines and glacier hopping, Svindal and company headed east to Austria to climb the country’s highest peak, the mythical Grossglockner.
Situated in the majestic Hohe Tauern National Park, the Grossglockner is 3,798 metres of pure Austrian pride in geophysical form. Climbing this pyramid-shaped behemoth is both an adventure and an honour for anyone who’s been to this beautiful alpine nation, and something Svindal was excited to blog about recently.
“I went to Austria to climb the Grossglockner,” Svindal said proudly about his two-day summit expedition which included a little overnight pit stop at the famed Stüdlhütte, before beginning an early morning ascent under the stars with headlamps on. “A fun experience. It’s a narrow spine to climb and walk, with something that looks like 1,000 meters vertical, on both sides. Sure gets your heart pumping a little faster.”
The budding freeskiing movie star, Svindal has also been ripping big, gnarly lines on camera for Field Productions since 2008. His most recent collaboration with FP, a film called Supervention, was nominated for an Amada this year, Norway’s version of the Oscar. “I’m never going to be the guy that drops the biggest cliffs but I will work on some technical skills so that I can also play around a little bit. I watch the other guys a lot as I’ve been with a lot of good (skiers); when I watch them ski I think ‘wow that looks cool, and when I see it after it looks even cooler on video.’”
Svindal’s fascination with freeskiing is fueled by a desire to have fun, something he explains with great gusto in a short film by Field Productions called The Evolution of a Freeskier a must see for anyone who loves skiing. “I remember the first time I went with a group they said ‘first of all, you can go a little slower, you don’t need to be the fastest one down the face’,” Svindal tells viewers with a smile.” “When it comes to freesking, it’s something I don’t have to think about too much, it’s a fun thing. It’s not about being the fastest down the hill but about having the sweetest lines and taking advantage of all the terrain. I’m never going to be the guy that drops the biggest cliffs but I will work on some technical skills so that I can also play around a little bit.” A student and fan of every facet of the sport, Svindal pays props to his freeskiing brethren and confesses that lessons learned on steep faces and narrow chutes can be used when he’s back at his day job as a downhill racer.
“When I’m racing, it’s all about getting big angles and big forces so that you can accelerate through the turns, but when you’re up in the narrow chutes, you don’t want to set off anything too big so it can be the total opposite,” he states. “When you look at the best guys (freeskiers) in the world and how they adapt their technique to different situations, you see there are a lot of different things for a racer to learn coming to the world of freeriding.”
And the sentiment is both ways. Professional freeskier Eric Hjorleifson, a regular in Matchstick Production films, was in awe during their time on the slopes of Northern Norway. “It’s really impressive to watch Aksel out here, totally out of his element and transition into skiing big lines,” Hjorleifson, born and raised in Canmore, says with a laugh. “I think of reversing the situation and picture myself strapping on some massive GS or super-G skis and try to race down some World Cup course … I don’t think I’d do as well, it’s impressive, he has a lot of skill.” Skill and passion are two attributes that Svindal has never been short of. And his quest to conquer mountains in all its forms, including pleasure seeking, helps him stay ahead of the pack.
“I’ve been with great company in the mountains. The people with the most knowledge are my favourites. Everything you do, you can learn something, you get better as an athlete. But when it comes to freesking it’s something I don’t have to think about too much … it’s a fun thing.”