[Above - Nothing beats a sunset in Folgefonna. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
In ten years time when we start asking the new crop of young snowboarders which riders influenced them the most, who they loved watching and who they wanted to be like, I have no doubt that a significant proportion will say Ståle Sandbech. He is, without doubt, one of the most stylish, technical and naturally talented snowboarders on the planet right now.
It's been said so many times because it's true but Ståle still holds the belief that while style is an individual and unique aspect of any snowboarder, there are some who push it in the right direction: away from aerial gymnastics. It comes down to creativity and passion, having the urge to experiment with a trick done in a different way.
The north half of the Americas might have Mark McMorris as their poster boy for contemporary snowboarding, but we have Ståle. Who else could film a five minute video part on just one jump, put out consistently insane edits and a full movie with his longtime homeboys the RK1 Crew, snag two cover shots on this fine magazine, release a full part with a ridiculously high standard of shots that damn near every single one could be the ender and still have time to compete at virtually every slopestyle and big air contest on all the different competitive circuits (not to mention win a shit tonne of medals at them)?
Ståle Sandbech can.
"THERE’S NO FORMULA IN SNOWBOARDING. YOU JUST GOTTA FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF. THERE’S NO RIGHT WAY"
[Below - Ståle keeps it lit up in Vierli. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
Let’s start with you growing up with your brother Frode. Was he a big influence on you getting into snowboarding?
Well, he gave me my first snowboard for Christmas and he was there the first day I tried to snowboard but that was it for the first few years. I never snowboarded with him; he was always shooting photos, doing his thing and I was just snowboarding with my friends. Frode was always there when I started getting better, he was making movies and I got a few shots in one of them. He’s always helped me out with shooting photos and sponsors and stuff because he knew how it worked, unlike a fourteen-year-old kid trying to deal with contracts. He’s always been there for that, which was a huge help.
Plus he had all the snowboard movies, which helped a lot. I had a library of snowboard movies in my basement that I could watch all the time and he was telling me what was cool and what wasn’t, so I kinda learned how the game worked early on. Frode’s sixteen years older than me, you know? I was eight when I first started, so when I was a little baby he was already partying and hungover, getting annoyed by a stupid kid who wakes up at six in the morning and runs around the house. He’s my brother, but we’re not a similar age so we never hung out like homies, you know? We never argued or fought because he was pretty much a grown up and I was a kid.
Frode has always been my hero and I think he kinda knows that, but I know that he’s not superman. Almost, but not fully superman.
[Below - Tweaking out above the clouds in Laax. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
Let’s talk about this week, the Laax Open 2016. You’ve been in Laax for quite a while, right?
Yeah man. Me and Sven [Thorgren] were here ten days before the competition week started. I think yesterday was our fourteenth day in a row snowboarding, and then we did the contest. We should probably have had a few rest days – as you can see now I’ve hurt my shoulder, elbow, ankle, knees, back – [but] it’s just too fun, you know?! Now it’s fifteen days straight today. Not for you, though, Sven. Pussy. [Laughs]
It’s been good. We were hoping for a bit more jumping and, you could say, preparing for the contest season but the snow wasn’t here and we didn’t feel like going to the States to get more jet lagged. We’ve just been riding rails and doing carves for like ten days, pretty much.
What are your thoughts on the Laax Open course?
The course was sick! For sure I felt the impact on the transitions – I wish there was a little more landing – but it was one of the sickest courses we have ridden in a long time. Unfortunately I butt checked on my run, I almost made it happen but I needed more time. I tried, you can see a slo-mo shot and I’m like [fighting to hold on], but no: touchdown with the fart box.
What about all this carving? Why do you think it’s so popular right now?
Because everybody can do it, and everyone can relate to it. If you do a gnarly carve flip like Alek Østreng does it’s sketchy to try but it’s still possible for everybody, but then if you see a triple cork you’re like ‘Oh that was fucking insane, but I never want to do that.’ For sure there are kids that really want to do triple corks, but I think it’s just getting so far out there and so unrelatable for normal people that you appreciate the little things more.
We’re gonna keep doing triples in contests and stuff but I hope – and think – that it will change into more creative stuff and style. There is still style when people do these tricks, but really unique style is missing. Like trying to go in other directions than just flipping and spinning, like changing up the grabs, changing up the axis. This week they have pipe hits and quarter pipes in the course and a lot of people have been saying that the quarterpipe at the bottom is so shitty. I mean, there is a lot of impact on it, but it’s not shitty: they just don’t know how to ride it. They say it’s shitty but there are no rules in Slopestyle, nothing tells you there shouldn’t be a quarterpipe in the course.
Should there be even more transition in Slopestyle courses?
It should just change up more often instead of being just three rails and three jumps. Usually it will be a down rail, a gap rail and a shootout rail and then three jumps, it’s so standard and you know what everyone is going to do. It’s way better to change it up.
"THIS WEEK THEY HAVE PIPE HITS AND QUARTER PIPES IN THE COURSE AND A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SAYING THAT THE QUARTERPIPE AT THE BOTTOM IS SO SHITTY. I MEAN, THERE IS A LOT OF IMPACT ON IT, BUT IT’S NOT SHITTY: THEY JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO RIDE IT."
In terms of style, which other riders are you stoked on? And who stoked you out when you were younger?
When I was younger my main dude was JP Solberg, he was my main, main dude. He was the sickest and one day when I was away with my parents he was actually at my house shooting with my brother. He signed something on my wall and I was flipping out! So JP for sure. I’ve always been a big fan of Eero [Ettala], I’m from Norway so you gotta be a fan of Terje [Haakonsen], but I think also Mikkel Bang was a big influence for me. He was so close by he made me realise that it was possible, because the others were so far away. I saw him a few times at my home mountain, I had every newspaper article there was about him, I cut them out and shit. I was a true fan when I was a kid.
Now, Alek [Østreng] is my favourite rider, by far. He’s my favourite to ride with as well. It’s always interesting following him, he can do anything, he just doesn’t do it in a contest that often. He could do a way better run than he tries most of the time, I guess it just comes spontaneously for him you know? When he’s having a really good, playful time, he sends it. Actually I’m pretty sure he’s done all of the really gnarly tricks first of everyone and then he just doesn’t do them again. Like the double frontside Rodeo he did in the Forum movie: if he’d just kept doing that he would have won every fucking Big Air contest, but he just did it once and then three years later he did it again. Once.
[Below - Sending it deep into the Arlberg. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
Do you find it hard to keep that playful attitude when you’re in a contest environment?
No, but when you’re at a contest and there’s practice you have a different mindset than when you ride normally. Everyone has a different mindset from each other. I think differently, Alek thinks differently, Sven thinks differently… it’s just how you ride. I like to do a lot of straight airs when I find a new course and then slowly get into the tricks; Sven likes to do his run more times in training. Then you have Shaun White who likes to ride by himself in the forest hidden from everyone else – that’s something I could never do, I hate snowboarding by myself. I mean no offence to Shaun, it’s something unique about him that he’s able to push himself, just by himself. I just can’t do that. If I’m by myself I’d almost rather not go up the mountain.
It’s really cool to watch everyone, though. Right now I’ve got to give a big shout out to Darcy Sharpe, I think he really brings the flavour back. He’s a rad dude and you can see he’s just gnarly. He sends it, he’s so gnarly on rails and he changes up the grabs and the style and he always got something new, that makes you go ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that at all.’
“YEAH, I THINK THAT’S THE WORST RIGHT NOW. FUCKING NOBODY IS TALKING TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THE EVENTS BECAUSE THE SCHEDULE IS HORRIBLE. IT SUCKS, IT’S THE WORST IT CAN GET"
[Above - Making the most of the time away from the contest schedule? Check. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
What makes good style? Is it being unique or is there a formula?
There’s no formula in snowboarding. You’ve just gotta figure it out for yourself. There’s no right way. Everyone has a different perspective on what’s cool or not, especially if you take Methods. A lot of people are like, ‘that’s the proper Method, no that’s the proper Method…’ There is no proper Method. You just have to find out what you like and how you like to do it. That’s the same with any trick.
“YEAH, IT JUST COMES INTO MY HEAD. SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT THINGS FOR A WHILE, SOMETIMES I’M JUST HYPED, MAYBE THERE’S A HOT CHICK WATCHING ON THE SIDE AND YOU THINK ‘FUCK, I’M GONNA SEND IT NOW’"
[Below - Prime conditions for sending it skyward. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
A lot of people would say you are one of the most stylish snowboarders today. Is that something you’ve been focussing on – improving your style – or does it come naturally to you?
I think it kinda comes naturally, but at the same time my brother told me [about the importance of style] as a kid so it came in early. It has to be a lot with how you move, your body language in general. You can’t force it – of course you can do a cleaner trick or tweak harder – but you can’t have the same arm or body movement, the same shape body, as someone else. It’s something you can learn, but mostly it’s something you are born with I think. Also the passion you have for figuring out new ways to do the trick, doing new grabs, you’ve gotta be creative and passionate instead of just trying a new trick the easiest way. If nobody cared about style the tricks would be way easier, just like if boot grabbing didn’t matter. If you’re going to do a hard trick with good style it makes it even harder.
Are there any tricks you’ve been trying to get down with different grabs? Is it something you think about a lot before or does it come to you when you’re riding?
It just comes to my head. Sometimes I think about things for a while, sometimes I’m just hyped, maybe there’s a hot chick watching on the side and you think ‘fuck, I’m gonna send it now’ [laughs]. With something like that it can come spontaneously but it can be something you think about for a while as well. Yeah, I’ve been trying to do some of my tricks with new grabs, or with grabs that not a lot of people do.
[Below - Backside triple with the indy at Air + Style, Beijing. Photo: Sami Tuoriniemi]
It’s cool to see the backside triple cork with the Indy grab now.
I guess I started that, you can slowly see that everybody has learned them now. You rarely see them, though, because it takes a little more power to do it – you have to rotate and then you have to move your arms back to the grab. I saw Maxence [Parrot] did one now. I haven’t done a backside triple mute in like three years I think, I just stopped doing it. I might have to just do them every now and then because sometimes, like here when I didn’t have enough momentum on the jumps, it was a slow take off but you still made it over, it’s so much harder to get the rotation and the flip because if you do more flip from the beginning you spin way faster, if you spin more flat and then dip into it, it takes one-third more power or more to get the rotation. It’s actually harder to get around with a flat spin than a triple cork. The take-off is harder because you have to put way more power on your edge and your edge might dig in so you lose some speed, compared to when you do a flip you just slip out.
“HOPEFULLY AT THE END WE CAN ALL BE ON THE SAME PAGE AND HAVE A LEGIT TOUR THAT’S GONNA TAKE OVER SO WE DON’T HAVE TO DO THE OLYMPICS. WE CAN JUST DO OUR OWN TOUR, HAVE SOMETHING EVERY YEAR INSTEAD OF EVERY FOURTH YEAR"
Does it ever get a bit too much, flying around the world from one contest to the next? Do you ever feel a bit over it?
Yeah, sometimes I feel a little over it by the end of the season but I just have to go do something else, go film, just go have fun. I normally do an Easter vacation in Norway and go snowboard with friends, party for a week and after that I just want to go snowboarding again really badly. It’s not like I’m ever over snowboarding; maybe I’m over competing at the end of the season. There’s so many sides of snowboarding you can never get bored. Maybe go ride some pow, then back to a contest… just change it up every now and then and it’s always fun.
[Below - Ståle took the concept of mooning the camera a little too literally. Photo: Frode Sandbech]
Does it get tiring travelling a lot?
I think that’s the worst right now. Fucking nobody is talking to each other about the events because the schedule is horrible. It sucks, it’s the worst it can get. Every second contest is [a different continent] Europe, US, Europe, US, Europe, China, US. If they could just plan it and talk to each other and do three European contests, then three American contests then go to Asia maybe? Everybody would save a lot on flight tickets, which will help a lot, you won’t have all the jet lag all the time, there would be a consistent tour to follow. Everyone would be in Europe for a while, then people can travel around and follow it if they want to check it out live, or at least just have some sort of system. Right now it’s like they shake it in a ball, kick it out and try to make it as hard as possible for everyone.
Do you think that such a better planned tour will ever happen?
I guess the schedule has been in talks for a while but it shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Even though they’re not in the same tour, be it World Snowboard Tour, X Games, Dew Tour, Air & Style… they have to want the best for the riders still and want the best for snowboarding. It would profit everyone if they could just make it easier and cheaper for the riders – there are already a lot of contests that don’t pay a lot of money. A lot of people that don’t have good sponsors have to work all summer to afford it, so it would at least help a lot in that case, and hopefully the prize money, like at the Laax Open, will increase. Hopefully at the end we can all be on the same page and have a legit tour that’s gonna take over so we don’t have to do the Olympics. We can just do our own tour, have something every year instead of every fourth year.
“I’D LIKE TO SEE EVERYBODY START RIDING PIPE AGAIN. I’D LIKE TO SEE THE TOUR GO BACK TO AN OVERALL THING, INSTEAD OF EVERYBODY STARTING TO DO QUADS WE CAN ALL DO HALFPIPE AND SLOPESTYLE AND BANKED SLALOM, WE SHOULD DO IT ALL."
How long do you think you’ll be competing for? Do you want to compete for as long as you can or would you like to move away to film more?
I don’t know. At least a few more years, hopefully even more. It depends on what’s gonna happen; if we start doing quad corks all the time I don’t know if I could keep doing that. It’s cool that it’s possible and that people try, but if it becomes a standard contest thing, I’m never gonna say never but…
Have you tried a quad?
No. I haven’t tried, I don’t want to try it. If it comes to that point where everybody does it and it looks kinda easy I might have to try it. I hope we don’t take it that far, I hope we can at least keep a few more years trying to progress in other directions as well and keep the uniqueness and the style alive and make it more relatable for the people again and not end up as aerial snowboarding where it all dies out. It’s kinda cool with snowboarding that you never know what’s gonna happen, I guess everybody knows the quad will happen, if not at X Games Big Air, probably the next time there’s a big jump.
Doing harder tricks like that will always score more points compared to a run where you just style it out, so it’s hard for you guys. The wrong kind of progression is being rewarded maybe.
It might happen in the Big Air but in the Slopestyle it’s gonna be hard to make it happen. I’m not going to say it’s never going to happen but it will take more time and one trick doesn’t give you a full run. You still need the rest. That’s why it’s sad there are only new Big Air contests and not new Slopestyle contests. There’s already enough big air contests.
I’d like to see everybody start riding pipe again. I’d like to see the tour go back to an overall thing; instead of everybody starting to do quads we can all do Halfpipe and Slopestyle and banked slalom. We should do it all.