Better Off Windstedt
Checking in with Monaco's big mountain vagrant viking.
In December Henrik Windstedt moved from the place he's lived his whole life, Åre, Sweden, to the Principality of Monaco. So now he lives two doors down from Jon Olsson, fellow freeskiing Swede, in the same apartment building as a bunch of other Swedes, who are alpine ski racers. Apart from the influx of Swedes, the neighborhood is notable for at least one Lamborghini, and that would be freeskiing's only Lamborghini (in Jon's garage).
Life is good in Monaco"It's close to the Alps," says Windstedt of the miniscule Mediterranean city-state which'll take the average walker 56 minutes to walk across width-wise, according to Wikipediabut at the moment Windstedt is in Åre, a two-and-a-half hour plane ride away.
"My girlfriend, Tove, is pregnant and the baby was supposed to be last week." Windstedt laughs, "So we're pretty much just waiting for it."
If Windstedt is looking to reinvent himself, again, fatherhood at least represents new ground. Because, circa summer 2005, Windstedt is the guy who leaves behind a career as a successful slopestyle and superpipe comp skier. Then, comparatively speaking, he disappears. Then he re-emerges a few years later as a world champion on big mountain skiing's European tour. And while Windstedt's wherewithal on skis may be familiar to folks in Åre and a certain neighborhood in Monaco, Windstedt's transformation can be classified Stateside thusly: Lost in translation.
The first major film segment featuring Windstedt-as-big-mountain-skier, for example, is just now appearingin the latest Matchstick Productions effort, "In Deep." There's also a TV documentary about Windstedt in the works in Scandanavia. Of course, this begs a few questions. For one, how does a Red Bull-sponsored freeskier disappear in the first place?
Fortunately, the expectant dad has had some time to go deep in series of interviews with ESPN Freeskiing on these and other topics. (He also put us in touch with some photographers who documented his whereabouts last winter.)
ESPN Freeskiing: Monaco?
Henrik Windstedt: "Yeah, a lot warmer, the whole year round. You can go running in your shorts in January, so it's good if you want to keep training. In the summer, it's almost too hot. But there's a lot of us here now. It's hard to syncronize when we're all here together, but it's good when we are."
"I actually haven't lived hereor stayedlong enough in those ideal conditions, but it's just super nice; go to the beach everyday in the summer. And it's actually pretty common to move [to Monaco] once you're a professional athlete in Europe. Jon moved here and then another alpine racer a couple years ago, and they kept saying it was working out fine."
Big mountain skiing. That's what you do these days. "For the last two years, that's been my main thing, competition-wise. I still go hang out in the terrain park as much as I can, but mostly it's skiing off piste. My first year, 2008, went really well with the [Freeride World Tour]. I hadn't competed in two years and I came back to the world tour and ended up winning."
"I'd always been skiing like that, shredding powder, but I hadn't competed before, except for the Scandanavian Big Mountain Championships, and that's on a small mountain in May, in Riksgransen, way up north in Sweden."
So did you win that too? "Yes, six times. But that's just an end of springtime, end of season thing to do."
OK, you went from freestyle skiing to big mountain skiing, but there's some alpine and moguls in there too. "Let's see, I did my first big air event in '98; long ago. And I did them regularly until 2005. ... Åre is a kind of a ski racing town, at least when I grew up because now it's all jibbers. But we were all alpine ski racing as soon as you could ski pretty much."
"Then at about 11 or 12 years old, the freestyle scene started to pick up. JP and JF, the New Canadian Air Force, they were my idols. So I switched to moguls because those guys were mogul skiers too. So I was doing a lot of stuff: Alpine racing, national team for moguls '99 to 2002 and doing freestyle events, three X Games ['03, 04 and 05] and Red Bull stuff. I quit moguls in 2002, but I tried to go back for the Olympics in 2006, but I hurt my back." What was the injury? "Broken discs. It took six months to heal up until I could start training again. I think the injury came from training too muchfull hard-core mogul style. If I look back I think that wasn't the best thing to do, and the injury came six months before the Olympics."
Have you stopped doing freestyle contests? "I did one recently in Stockholm, the King of Style one, but that was just for the fun of it. Because I'm 26 years old, but the kidswhat are they, 15 years old, the best ones these days?! So I don't have anything to prove in those kinds of competitions. But I do go to the terrain park to learn new tricks and have fun, and I won't ever quit that."
"It's so hard these days, the level of tricks they're doing. You have to train so much to keep the tricks at that level. And I just want to ski more powder. As it is, last year, I filmed pretty much everyday in between the competitions on the world tour."
You need time to ski powder. "Winters were long back when you didn't have to sit on an airplane for 30 days a winter. Travel time cuts into skiing big time, and the season is so short anyway. I wish, ski-wise, I wasn't a pro skier so I didn't have to do competitions or film or travel or make photos. I wish I could just ski. And I think I would be so much a better skier."
"But then again, you do raise your level when you're skiing with very good skiers like at the world tour stops. But if it's a big powder day in Japan and you're with a big production crew then you get three runs. In a day. If you're with your friends, you'd get 25."
You missed the 2006 winter, injured, and then you made your way backas something different. "I took 2007 off from competing and filming, but I was out skiing with my friend Mattias Fredricksson for most of the season. But I did take it really slowly."
So in 2008 you're known as a banged up park and pipe skier. How did you parlay that into a spot on the inaugural Freeride World Tour? "For sure that's what I was known forbuilding kickers in the backcountry and hitting jumps. All the competition I'd done was freestyle. ... The Freeride World Tour was just starting outbuilding off the success of the Verbier Xtreme they built a tour. I heard about it and starting asking around to get on it. So they gave me a wildcard spot to the first two events, and I used them well. I got second in Mammoth and first in Russia."
People were surprised, or not? "I think they were a bit surprised. Some of the guys, they may have heard my name before, from X Games or movies with Poor Boyz or something, but I just had some good runs there. People were like, 'OK, you can compete too.' And then I had my first crash. And they're like, 'OK, you are human too.'"
"I think because I'd done a lot of competitions through the yearsalpine, moguls, freestyle and whateverI tend not to freak out in competitions. I'm pretty used to it, even if it's a totally different thingalpine or freestyle."
"But big mountain is way more scarier."
Scarier? "Yeah, scarier. You see the picture of the face you're gonna ski the night before, then you get to scope your line for an hour before you have to make your way to the summit. And then you have to sit up there and remember it and get it right for when you finally get to ski. Yes, it's a scary thing."
Only a few skiers seem capable of winning on any given day. Why? "There's a lot of good skiers, but also there's a lot of loose cannons. Maybe they've done well in one freeride contest because they hucked something and stomped it. But I'm not surprised that not all good skiers are skiing well in these comps. It's the one who can plan a line and execute; that's where the difference is. Because in terms of skiing, when I see them ski I'll think, 'Well, my friends at home are just as good.'"
"There's two ways about it: You can be a good skier and a bad competitor, or an average skier and a good competitor. A lot of people don't do both things well, so it's kind of unique. And that's why you see the same top guys on the list."
Or it's harder for relative unknowns to make it to the top of judges' lists. "That's something that's always hard with judging sports. There's always going to be the human mind, and it's different for every rider in a way. But what I'm trying to say really is that I'm surprised that some skiers who compete on the scariest mountains of the world aren't that good of skiers. Because I'd be super afraid to be on those hills if I were them. You have to make it look easy to be successful and if you're not a good skier it's hard to keep it together; your style that is."
"So even if you have a good line and get through it, your style makes it look like you had no control on the whole thing. And that's something people should really work on before getting themselves into these big mountain competitions."
Nice. A call out. "The top 10 guys in every competition are pretty much the same guys. The riders below that can't really bring all those aspects together, and then even good skiers, they can't compete for some reason. So when you look at it and recap from the other tour [the North American-based Freeskiing World Tour] or even some qualifications for the tour, you can see there are a lot of bad skiers trying to do well. And that's why I'm saying I would be afraid if that was my skill doing this type of stuff."
"People should really work on their technique before getting on a big mountain face. There are a lot of risks, obviously."
While we're at it, any call outs for freestyle skiing? "In a way it's something in the freestyle scene as well. People have really good comp tricks, but their style might not be as good."
But the risk is different. "Yes. You can be the worst skier in the world and still do well in big air, because it's not that big a deal just to ski into the jump. It's just aerials, really. But for freeride, you really need to have the technique before going into a competition."
The Swedish TV documentary? "It's coming together. It's going to be more TV friendly, film festival friendly, so more open to a wider audience. It's not just like a hard core ski movie. It's not just me skiing. It's going to be deeper, wider and, hopefully, better. ... We did it in Swedish and English, but some of the emotional stuff will only be in Swedish."
Emotional? "You know, stuff that's deeper. Like if I just crashed a trick or I'm nervous for a run in competition and the filmer just came up and asked me a question. There's no time to do it in Swedish and English in those situations, so we'll have subtitles."
Right. So your back is 100 percent now? "Yeah, I don't feel it at all. As long as I'm training I have no problem with it. If I sit on a plane for 20 hours though, it may start bugging me. But I don't feel anything when I'm skiing."
How about your part with MSP. "On my film stuff before it was mostly park or backcountry kickers. Not so many lines like people will see in this; this'll be the first time. ... I was on a Haines, AK, trip with Daron Rahlves and Chris Davenport and Matchstick, so that's in there, I think, and then some other footage was traded to MSP from a heli-skiing trip to Switzerland and skiing in Russia and Japan last winter. But I haven't seen much of it, so I don't know what to expect..."
Plans for the winter? "I heard it just snowed in Colorado. What's the story there? We're hoping for another good start here too. ... So the plan is to do the [Freeride World Tour] again; all four stops. Then planning on shooting more and we're in conversation with the MSP guys to do more with them."
Of course you can't plan for everything. Like the arrival of baby Windstedt. "I'd like to go back to Monaco as soon as possible, but yes, we have to wait for the little baby to pop out. But I can't wait to go back there. It's been really cold here in Åre for the last three weeks. In fact, right now, it's actually snowing out."
"I hope we can go [to Monaco] as a family here soon. And then I have to go ski somewhere. And then it's pretty much ski season. Hoping it's a good one. Last year it was really good in the Alps before Christmas, so hopefully it's the same thing this year."