[Into the Albanian wilderness. All photos: Carlos Blanchard]
Austrian freeride legend Mitch Tölderer’s quest for true wilderness boarding in Albania resulted in the production of the impressive short movie, When The Mountains Were Wild, which is released on onboardmag.com tomorrow…
Originally from the southern Austrian region of Carinthia, Mitch Tölderer discovered snowboarding on a homemade board on a hill in his village in 1987 and it would become something he would devote himself to for the following 30 years. “For my generation, snowboarding was something that has not been there before,” he reflects, “something we could discover for ourselves – no history, no rules… like a beautiful empty book we could start filling up with our own stories.” His own stories in these halcyon days included throwing himself into any facet of riding that was available at that time – racing gates, halfpipe, park… you name it and Mitch was down.
After moving to Innsbruck to study medicine and put himself in European snowboarding’s epicentre, Mitch was introduced to boardercross – a discipline that married many of his skills together – and his successes in this field brought him his first sponsorship contract, allowing him to follow the ISF boardercross tour in the late 90s. All the while, though, he’d started dreaming of Alaskan spines.
With his edge control honed from years of boardercross and feeling a strengthening tug towards freeriding, he lobbied for a spot at the renowned Verbier Xtreme. Not only did he get his spot, he won the whole damn thing in 2001 (he’s podiumed there 6 times in his 11 appearances) which enabled Mitch to finally make a living as a freerider and – more importantly – start realising his Alaskan dreams. From a first, low-budget AK trip camping with just enough cash for one heli day, he progressed to filming for several projects on snowboarding’s ultimate proving grounds over the years, finally riding the lines he’d dreamed of.
Though his competitive freeride career would continue until 2011 when he’d win the coveted Freeride World Tour crown, it was the release of Leeward Cinema’s movie My Own Two Feet in 2008 that started lightbulbs popping; it would inspire Mitch to fall down the rabbit hole of splitboarding and the lesser-charted backcountry terrain it made possible to access – often a lot closer to home. Fast forward to 2012 and Mitch and his wife Bibi would score a memorable slice of Jeremy Jones’ movie, Further, in which the trio explored Austria’s remote Karwendel national park’s mountains on their splitboards.
More recently Mitch felt an itch to delve deeper into exploring the wilderness still out there in Europe and, with support from Patagonia and Jones Snowboards, set out on a mission to a less-charted region of Albania. When the Mountains Were Wild is his story….
You’ve managed to hold down a long career in a niche of snowboarding that’s historically struggled for support – freeriding. How did you manage it?
I would say that I always loved what I was doing and I could realise some of my dreams, so for that the support was really OK!
When the financial support really dropped I didn’t want my passion to be dependent on any company’s money, and I also wanted to be free to choose the companies I would really like to work with even if there was not enough money to make a living – or no money at all. That was when I decided to start working as a medical doctor, besides snowboarding, to pay the bills and also finish my internship one day…
I hooked up with Jones because I was stoked that one of us started a freeride-orientated company, making splitboards in a time every brand I talked to told me that they are about to stop doing splitboards or would never start doing them! Some of the companies didn’t even want to make freeride boards back then! Later, I was also very happy to start working with Patagonia because on the one hand they do great product for the stuff I like to do, and on the other hand I can identify with the company’s philosophy.
[Below: With only old Russian maps and a bit of Google Earthing to guide them, the crew strike out into the unknown.]