Words: Tom Copsey
Despite his mild-mannered exterior, Werni Stock is a fighter. As a young up-and-comer he looked destined for greatness thanks to his cocktail of effortless spins and hyper smooth style. Appearances at the Air+Style with his flawless switch back 12s further endeared him to the Austrian faithful and these performances, along with his parts in the Pirates movies, started turning the rest of the world on to feeling the Wern.
However, just as his star was beginning to shine, Werni suffered a blown knee – not uncommon for any kind of progressive snowboarder – but it was to mark the beginning of what seemed like persistent injury purgatory for the young Austrian rider. Get hurt at the start of the season, rehab for 4-5 months, start sending it again, get hurt. Repeat.
But through five surgeries, bacterial infections and countless painful hours in the gym, his passion for snowboarding never dimmed. If anything, it became even stronger. Now, with a couple of injury free seasons under his belt he's back at it harder for ever filming with Torstein and the boys for the Shred Bots movies.
He's never given up.
Where did you grow up?
We grew up all the way at the end of the Zillertal, it's pretty close to Hintertux. The town is called Lanersbach.
Did you parents start taking you into the mountains from an early age? Skiing, or straight snowboarding?
Actually the place is right in the mountains so my parents didn't really have to take me anywhere. Next to my parents' place there's a lift; you walk 50 metres and you're at the T-bar. So I learned skiing when I was two, and snowboarding when I was six. From then on I was into snowboarding, because skiing wasn't fun anymore. I had the best childhood, the nicest parents, I could go out in town – they'd never [have to] watch out for me or because it's a really small and safe spot, so I hope one day I can give my children a life like this.
As soon as you started snowboarding was that it?
I mean skiing was cool, I did races and stuff like this, but there this thing where racing wasn't enough – because you always want to jump as a kid, you know? You want to do something cool, and snowboarding was always the coolest, so as soon as I learned it I never even thought about skiing anymore because [snowboarding's] so much cooler. Even if you rode powder and just did small hits, it's just so much better.
Did you start getting into freestyle snowboarding pretty early? They've had the park in Mayrhofen for many years; was that around when you were coming up?
I think there was a park even years before, but the connection to Mayrhofen just started in 2006 or something. So I started riding freestyle super late, actually. I rode 10 or 15 years in the same resort, and it's still my favourite resort. Just riding the slope, the natural jumps we had, powder... we were always a big crew – Bigfoot riders, snowboarders... just like this really sick crew doing runs. Those runs I even still do today. When I do those jumps that I did back in the day, and they felt super big... now they're pretty small [laughs] but it's so much fun and really good memories. Yeah, my home resort is by far the coolest resort to ride – it's probably one of the smallest, I know, but one of the coolest I need to say.
[Werni's a dude, so here's his D.U.D.E. part form way back when...]
"As a kid you want to do something cool, and snowboarding was always the coolest, so as soon as I learned it I never even thought about skiing anymore because [snowboarding's] so much cooler."
Were the Ästhetiker a big influence when you were growing up?
That probably brought me to where I am now. All those guys from the town like Wolle [Nyvelt], Beckna, Steve Gruber... those are still my heroes if I see them riding and back in the day they were such a big influence. I know Mone [Monsberger] was a big influence, Friedl... I remember, when was it? Air+Style in Seefeld two thousand something, I was a visitor and I got autographs from Wolle, Steve Gruber, Friedl [laughs] and now I know them super well. But they for sure pushed me a lot and helped me a lot, too. I remember the first years I was riding the Vans park in Mayrhofen, around 2004-5, I was really new to freestyle. It was really cool because I was spinning front 7s, but I didn't grab at all. I was super stoked, and then Friedl showed up and was like, “Hey boy! You should learn to grab." And from then on I just tried to grab as long as I could. It's just many influences, like now I could tell you what shots they had in interviews back in the days. I could tell you that Mone had a front 9 in Westendorf, or Wolle had the back 1 in a secret bowl in Finkenberg, plenty of shots from Steve I would know. All those guys are just staying in my head, still. Beckna did a back 10 Japan, such a long time ago... at the SPC Camp in Hintertux. It's crazy how many things I have still in my head from those days. That's what kind of keeps you rolling I guess.
Some snowboarders are just blessed with a natural talent from and early age and find learning things fairly easy, wheras others have to work at it a lot harder. What category would you say that you come into?
I don't feel like I had to work for it; it always felt right when I had the fun. When I enjoyed, or when I was riding with the right person, then I did better and stepped it up. For sure I'm always the kind of person who wants to do good stuff or go big or just make it look better, and for sure there are some riders who, if the weather isn't that great, say 'Ok, let's chill.' But I just love to ride, and try to make the best out of my day.
The reason I ask is because, for me, perseverance is a word I think of when I think of you and your snowboarding, for several reasons – we'll talk about the injuries later. I'd say you're a mellow character, but I also get a sense of you really persevering and trying to one-up yourself no matter what. Why do you think that is?
I feel like my parents raised me like that. I grew up in a hotel, my parents always worked a lot and always had goals in front of them. I always want to be a nice guy I would say, I want to be friendly, but to what you said, yeah, I try to be focussed, that's true. I mean, giving up is never an option for me. Never give up. If one of the doctors would say 'You will never snowboard again" then I would go to a different doctor and talk to them and have him explain to me how I can work on that. I've always worked maybe harder than other guys in my rehab or trained more than other guys, just to be healthy and do the sport that I love to do. If it would be 10 hours a week or 20 hours a week I would train as much [as I can] so I can do the sport that I love to do. And if this makes me happy, I'm stoked you know. I'm for sure a person that's focussed on goals. I don't want to do the same [things] year after year, and I feel like it's running pretty well and I'm happy with what I'm doing. That's really important to me too.
"Giving up is never an option for me. Never give up. If one of the doctors would say 'You will never snowboard again" then I would go to a different doctor and talk to them and have him explain to me how I can work on that."
Many riders, the first time you hear about them is in contests. Was that the case with you?
I actually filmed before I did competitions. It was more like Film Up crews, like Seven crew, then I filmed with the Hotzone guys because they had a team movie. So I was actually always into filming. But in this time I got a little bit better, so I had to do a couple of competitions and then I did really good in all of those Rookie challenges, and for sure my name got way, way more better known. I think it helped a lot. It helped so much to get new sponsors and get your name up there. I would say it was a different time, too. Let's say the Air+Style 10 years ago and the Air+Style now... 10 years ago it was all the good riders from the videos, you know? It wasn't split up that much as it is now. Now it's the 'contest' riders and the 'filming' riders. There's not many riders that do both. Actually some try, but even like Torstein is putting out really good video parts and he's good at competitive snowboarding, but still he's not the best anymore.
[Above: Classic Werni style at home in Austria. Photo: Sami Tuoriniemi]
How did you get hooked up?
Actually Beckna [Thomas Eberharter] hooked me up with Nitro Snowboards and a shop, Insider in Tux, they hooked me up with some free gear, and then it went step by step. I went over from Nitro to Salomon and Bonfire, I did my real first couple of trips to the States, to Canada, and then I really was successful and I could join the Burton team, which was like a dream. When I was a kid Burton was the best snowboard brand. And I mean when I was younger I was like 'No, no.' You know, if you don't have that sponsor you're kind of jealous so you say 'No, I'm really stoked with what I've got!' As soon as I joined Burton... it such a cool team too. They really are snowboarding, you know? They just do snowboarding. That means a lot to me. I've bought every promo video they've had... it means a lot to me to be part of this brand now. I hope I can be part of that and also show what snowboarding is for me and inspire people.
Going back to the contests and talking of Beckna. You got a couple of 6ths and a 3rd at the Air+Style – Beckna also got 3rd back in the day and said it was insane. How was that, as a young rider, doing so well at that huge event that's kinda on your home turf?
Getting 3rd in the Air+Style was probably the coolest thing that's happened to me in snowboarding. Doing this in front of a home crowd when you stand on top and 20,000 people are just like “Wer-ni! Wer-ni!" I was up there and I was already happy, even if I bailed or got fourth it doesn't matter really. I was stoked I made it to finals, I showed what I can do. It means so much to me to have the same [experience] as one of my heroes: Beckna got 3rd, I got 3rd If I would have won, even better, but I don't care right now. I would say Beckna was, still when I see him as my hero, I still feel he reached so much more than I did till now. I still have some things to do.
There's been quite a lot of talk about how the straight jump format is not exactly conducive to more imaginitive, creative snowboarding. What do you think? Is it time to retire that format or do you think it still has its place?
I feel like it's true – it's not as creative as a slopestyle with different takeoffs and whatever, but I feel that a Big Air is such a good event for a crowd. Nobody can tell me there'd be a crowd like that at like The Arctic Challenge, where there's six or seven obstacles. You will not see that, because people don't want to see a run that's like two minutes – the want to see action; five seconds, this is it, boom. I feel for a crowd event the Big Air even works super good. But if they talk about creative it should be really like the Burton European Open course where there's a rollercoaster, takeoffs, trannies. But I feel like it's a different event, you know? They want to see different people and different people are watching that. Air+Style is always also like a party event – lots of party, lots of drinks... I feel good. When I was a kid I always went to Air+Style and I had a blast. It doesn't matter if it was one jump or if they had some obstacles at the bottom, I always had a great time. For sure, a creative course is always better but sometimes it's good to stay classic.
"Getting 3rd in the Air+Style was probably the coolest thing that's happened to me in snowboarding. Doing this in front of a home crowd when you stand on top and 20,000 people are just like “Wer-ni! Wer-ni!""
Let's go to a darker place. Injuries: you've had a few. Do you mind quickly running through what you've done?
I've had, in total, actually I don't know how many surgeries. But I had three ACLs on my left knee, and one ACL on my right knee. So I blew quite some ACLs. But, I need to say, it wasn't that bad actually. I mean, my knees are all good, I'm still training a lot, doing rehab, like really focussing on my knees. The funny thing is I've never had a broken bone.
Was it just the ACLs or did you do anything else?
I had a dislocated collarbone at the AC joint, I think it's called. But this was really small.
[This video sums up Werni's surgery hell pretty well.]
So with the knees was it something quite minor at the time, like a mellow crash the just went wrong?
One time I blew it at The Arctic Challenge, the first time, and I knew it's bad. But all the other times it wasn't that bad of a bail or whatever. But I need to say one ACL surgery turned out really bad. I had an infection in there, bacteria, so it took me another five surgeries to get it clean and then another ligament to put in there. So in one-and-a-half or two months I had five surgeries. And that was like the worst. I stayed in hospital for five weeks, not in a row but in total. I'm really lucky to have such a great girlfriend next to me, and friends and family. They were present all the time, first day in the hospital Hasi and Steffi [Burton Euro team management] came by and gave me props.
"One ACL surgery turned out really bad. I had an infection in there, bacteria, so it took me another five surgeries to get it clean and then another ligament to put in there. So in one-and-a-half or two months I had five surgeries. And that was like the worst."
It seemed like it was almost a period of three or even four years straight...
It was all kind of connected, I need to say. I had it on the left knee, then I had it on the right, then I had it on the left again. The first two were kind of my own fault because I didn't wait the six months; I was going snowboarding after three-and-a-half or four months. It didn't hold that long and they had to do surgery again. I was kind of like a douchebag. I felt great, I could run, so I was like 'Yeah, I can snowboard.' And it was all good; I could jump, I even won a contest, but one thing went wrong and, yeah, I knew it was snapped and the ACL was gone again.
So you were just too stoked to get back riding? Didn't give yourself enough time? Because I remember our Send Off Session in Stubai and you'd been injured for most the season and it was one of your first days back. All the other riders had been unsure about the jump, or didn't want to guineapig it. You show up, couple speed checks and boom, you're off and the session's on and you ended up having a solo session on the hip. I was so stoked you sets it and got things rolling, but a part of me was thinking, 'Maybe this isn't the smartest thing for Werni to be doing...'
That year I did the Onboard Send Off Session in Stubai I was really in good shape. I did lots of training, I had more than six months off. And before that I'd had one-and-a-half months just cruising, riding small jumps, doing so many turns, riding so much, so I was strong and I felt super good. I was for sure in the best shape I've ever been. Sometimes when I see a perfect jump and I know the speed... it wasn't the biggest jump I've hit – it was a big one and a scary one, but as soon as I hit it I feel like we had the best session ever. I was stoked and people were stooked and you guys were stoked. It was a great time.
We touched on it before – every time you thought you'd recovered from an injury something else comes along. Of course from a physical perspective it's hard work, but how hard is it mentally to stay strong?
To me it was actually mentally mellow I need to say. Ok, it wasn't always mellow, there were some parts before the surgery or right after where you're in pain or you know you're out for six months, you're like 'Fuck that!' You don't want to go through this again. But as soon as you start getting better... I'm always positive, I stay thumbs up, you got this. I give my best for this, and I'm all focussed on that. I just want to get good again and to do all the sports I love to do. Just want to get back to snowboarding.
"I don't need to do the biggest jumps in the world to be happy, or to do a triple cork, just a couple turns with some good people, good snow, and I'm all in."
So it was never an option to think 'All these injuries, I'm over it. I'm going to quit'?
No, never. Even if... Ok, even if I ruin it again I'd still work on it to get back. Maybe not for professional snowboarding, but I would never quit snowboarding. Maybe I'd quit professional snowboarding but I'd never quit snowboarding in my life. I would always try to work on that, go shredding with my girl Lisa or shredding with my friends, just ride pow, splitboards tours. Just be on a board and ride, it makes me happy. I don't need to do the biggest jumps in the world to be happy, or to do a triple cork, just a couple turns with some good people, good snow, and I'm all in.
On to more positive things. Last winter you were filming with Torstein and the Shred Bots. How was that?
It was sick. It was for sure one of the cooler things I've done in the last years. Because actually I thought I'd try to film with Burton and they told me “Yeah, there's not going to be a main Burton movie or anything'. Then I talked to the Pirates and then there wasn't a Pirate movie so I was like 'Fuck, what am I going to do?' I talked with my girl, I'm not going to do contests all year because I'm not that guy anymore. Then all of a sudden I met Torstein and he was like what are you doing, and I told him I was filming with my buddy Tom [Klocker] and Mario [Wanger], I'm in touch with Wolle Nyvelt, maybe shoot with Absinthe a little but nothing serious. He said yeah, just come with us. I joined them for one trip and he was like, 'Dude, you should stay with us.' I had such a good time, it was such a good crew, really all about fun. More like really mellow sometimes – I mean we got stuff done – but it was really really good times. Then I joined Andreas Wiig and Craig McMorris for a trip to southern Switzerland that turned out really good for me, good snow. Then another trip to Saas Fee... so a couple trips with those guys. I don't know how I can thank them, but they really helped me out a lot. I was really stoked to do that and I had a blast.
[Just SENDING it at the Pirates' hip shoot a few years back.]
When you're not riding, what do you do?
I actually ride quite a lot – September to mid-June I would say. In summer I usually work as a Hike & Bike guide. So my parents run a hotel and we have lots of activities; we do sunrise tours, we do hiking tours to really high peaks, canyoning, river rafting, mountain bike tours, eBike tours... then I spend a lot of time with my girl Lisa. We're building our own place. It's going to be an apartment, not a house. We had to rebuild the place, we took out the whole restaurant, the whole kitchen, cooling sytem, door... everything needed to go out. We hope that in like two months we'll move into our new place in Mayrhofen. We're excited. It's going to be sick. If there's an opening party, you guys are invited.
"So many people love it so I don't see snowboarding falling down."
Your parents own a hotel in Tux. Is that the long term plan? Are you going to end up working there?
If you want to come to Hintertux you should definitely come by. You need to check it out. Its a really familiar hotel, my brother's working there – you'll probably think it's me the first time but it's my older brother Franz, we look similar. And then I have a younger brother who works at the more rustic, traditional restaurant we have next to the hotel. It's a full on family hotel. They always help all together, you see everybody working... even me sometimes when they're really busy in winter, if I'm home I need to help out.
Just to wrap up then. It's tough times in snowboarding right now but for you, generally would you say snowboarding's in a good place?
I would say it's a tough time, but I feel like if a brand like Burton stays with it – for sure you have cuts and maybe take a bit of money off because it's not like back in the day when they earned a lot of money – I think they still make good money, but it's for sure that snowboarding is a little bit down. When I was down after my injury my goal was to get up again. Be back, and be strong. On my personal side I just want to give my best to snowboarding and want to show the people why I do it. Just because I love it and the passion I have with it. I can go out with my girl Lisa or on a splitboard tour, go riding with my friend Andy or go riding with a kid, it doesn't matter. I just want to share my passion. So many people love it so I don't see snowboarding falling down.
Finally finally. You're fit and healthy, all good again? What does this coming season and the future hold for Werni?
All good. I didn't have anything last season. This season I'll do most of the Openings in fall and then want to cruise back home for a bit. And then I'm going to film with the Shred Bots. Really hyped on that, was talking to Torstein a little bit. I'm really looking forwards to seeing the movie, I actually haven't seen any shot of myself, but I'm really thankful for all the great times; I really can't wait to join them for another year.
[Below the shot - Werni and the rest of the Shred Bots crush Europe in this season's movie, Shredtopia.]