I think I first saw Knut in person on stage at the Badseeds premiere in London last year - full blown smile, in Nitro team manager mode, introducing the film with 'We didn't want to focus on the best tricks, 'cos we don't have them, but this should get you stoked like nothing else'. Half-an-hour later and I knew he was a man true to his word indeed.
Fast forward to the unveiling of Eero's 'Ender' film the following autumn, and a couple of us are sat on the floor in Red Bull's London studio (where A$AP Rocky's been recording that day, apparently). Here we get a much better overview of a dude who's seemingly done it all, from pipping the Flying Tomato to competition top spots as a young teen, to an Atlantic migration and secondary Scandinavian shred-education.
Meet the man in person, and you'll more than likely get the enthusiastic pursuer/deliverer of snowboarding good times, complete with one of the more confusing hybrid accents in the industry. But perhaps you might not realise quite how far his roots go... - Mike Brindley
Interview: Joe Cavanagh. Portraits: Mike Brindley
So when did you first start snowboarding?
I started snowboarding, I was 12 years old and I'm 30 now, so 18 years ago... 1997 maybe? So I started skiing when I was two and then I got into skateboarding and then into snowboarding in Minnesota. In Minnesota at that time there were no parks or anything, so I started snowboarding in this town called Grand Marais, Minnesota, It's like a thousand people that live there, I did it for fun.
Then I did ski racing when I was younger and I was pretty good – on like the high school ski team – and the only reason I would do that is 'cause then I could travel with them and I’d always bring my snowboard. When we used to have course inspection, my coach was super sick, he was like this twin-tip skiing racer coach so he was so down with me just snowboarding so I'd go down and do course inspection and then put on my boots and ride the park in Minnesota, and then I'd always have to try and make it back in time for my run. Then I'd go as fast as I could through the gates 'cause either I'd get a good time, or I'd eat shit and wouldn’t have to take the next run... so I could go snowboard again.
"I beat Shaun White in Boardercross when I was 12... that was pretty epic. I thought I was a God. I was like, ‘I'm the fucking best, fucking best snowboarder in America right now’ I dunno... I was like 12 [laughs]."
So basically I used alpine ski racing to get me into parks. I did that for like two years, then I started doing contests in the US called the USASA; and I did those for a year, but it was like expensive for my family to travel round and do them, so I started going around with friends. I was OK at slopestyle, but not really good cause at my home mountain there were no rails or jumps or anything, it was just sidehits and we'd just build kickers off rollers right in the middle... they were so shitty... and I was really good at going fast, so I was really good at Boarder-X, so I got to the nationals in BX when I was 12... and Shaun White was in my group, then I won the nationals in BX.
So you can say you beat Shaun White?
I beat Shaun in BX when I was 12... that was pretty epic. I thought I was a God. I was like, ‘I'm the fucking best, fucking best snowboarder in America right now’ I dunno... I was like 12 [laughs]. Then I went to slopestyle and got 6th, I did like a 360, a 360, probably like a Tindy, and then, like, a 900. The last feature was a hip, and I'd never hit a hip before, so I did a side hit off the back of the hip to the backside of the landing and did a back 9 with no grab, probably like 2ft off the ground. I landed and was, like, ‘I just did a back 9 off a hip... I'm definitely gonna beat Shaun White’, which I definitely didn't… [laughs] So then, I thought I was the hottest shit cause I'd just won US nationals in BX... I thought I was just like Shaun Palmer.
Without the drinking....?
Yeah [laughs], this was when Palmer was so sick; he was like the coolest snowboarder. I went back to my hometown, then it was Springtime, so I started playing soccer, and then I got really into American Football; then when I was 14, I was on the varsity high school team as like the kicker, cause I could kick better than anyone else cause I was a soccer player. So I got into that, I got really into football, football was my thing in the summer and I'd ride all winter on my snowboard.
"That's when my life when from like the American dream of being a football player and going to college, and banging chicks, and fucking killing it - to being some weird American kid in Norway... and then I really got into snowboarding."
Then my Dad, he's from Norway, one day in like October he was like ‘guess what family? I just quit my job and we're moving to Norway'. I had just turned 16 and just got my drivers license and everything... and I was like ‘WHAT? You're killing me Dad my life is fucking over! I'm a football star at school, I got a hot girlfriend, YOU’RE KILLING ME!’
So then in the middle of the school year, on a Friday, we moved to Norway. We arrived on Monday and we couldn’t speak any Norwegian and we started school, and none of the teachers could really speak English that well, so that's when my life when from like the American dream of being a football player and going to college, and banging chicks, and fucking killing it - to being some weird American kid in Norway... and then I really got into snowboarding when I was in Norway, cause they didn’t have American football, or basketball; I played Hockey for a little bit, but you couldn’t really check, or hit, people as hard as you could in America. I actually got in trouble my first day of practice, and I was thinking ‘What a bunch of losers that live here’ it was like a typical US dumbass kid thinking. Then I just started snowboarding all the time...
What was your local mountain there?
We moved to Lillehammer, so I went to school there for two years and made a bunch of friends there who were all skaters or snowboarders and hung out with them, and then I found out about the NTG, in Geilo, where you could like go there for snowboarding. I was like ‘This is fucking crazy, I'm going there to just snowboard more'. So I got into that and I lived with JP Solberg and Stian Solberg, and those dudes.
When I saw how JP was living I thought ‘pfffff... snowboarding fucking rules... I'm gonna be rich, let’s do this’. Then that never ended up happening [laughs], but of course that never happened, but that was when I really started focusing on snowboarding cause you're all pushing each other. That’s how I think I made it in snowboarding, cause I went to school with all these good snowboarders, and you're hanging out with the right people so if I wouldn’t have done that, it would’ve never happened for me.
Was that where you picked up your first sponsor, at Geilo?
Actually, my first sponsor was Burton when I won USASA BX.
[Laughs] So you were on the same rookie team as Shaun?
I mean, we were like in a total different class, I was like an idiot kid... he was probably like 'Whatever dude, I don't care about BX’ and I was probably going 'You suuuuuuck' in my head [laughs].
"When I saw how JP Solberg was living I thought ‘pfffff... snowboarding fucking rules... I'm gonna be rich, let’s do this’. Then that never ended up happening [laughs]."
Do you think your Shaun maybe orchestrated your move to Norway to get you out of the picture?
But no, Burton was my first sponsor, but that when I was in the US and I just got free boards from the local rep. When I went to NTG after half-a-year there I got sponsored by Nitro Norway for a couple of months, when I was 17. That summer there was a Nitro camp in Saas-Fee and all these legends were there; Beckna was there, MFM was there, Eero [Ettala] was there, Lukas Huffman was there, Andrew Crawford was there, it was all the coolest dudes there. I went along with the Norwegian team, and then I kind of hit it off with the US Team Manager from Nitro, this guy called Tonino [Copene], cause I was a US dude and they were over there and it was all Euros, so we got on pretty well.
So later that summer I went to Chile, with Andrew Crawford, Etienne Gilbert, Mathieu Crépel was there, he wasn’t on Nitro, but he was there, and some other dudes - so we filmed some stuff. I actually landed some powder stuff, so I made the Nitro team movie and they were all kind of stoked and must have though ‘This kid is cool’ and that’s when I got on Nitro International, if you know what I mean?
And you've been with Nitro ever since?
Yeah, that was in 2001 maybe, so for 14 years I've been riding for or working for Nitro...
And so how did that Nitro film then progress into filming more?
So we did that Nitro movie and then I started getting invited to a bunch of Nitro shoots and trips, and I did that. In Norway I filmed with the local film guys, but at the time I was still going to school, and that was super contest focused. It's structured for bringing in a bunch of kids, so I was doing loads of FIS events and world championship events and just sucking [laughs], I was so shitty...
So then I'm going to school and Stian was riding for Stepchild, and the guy that used to own it [Sean Johnson], he used to make the Defective movies, so he made those and the year after the last movie, he was like 'We’re gonna make another Defective movie’, he brought a bunch of the Stepchild people on board, then Stian and I moved to Whistler for three months and lived with him. That guy taught us all about snowmobiling, backcountry safety, how to build jumps, where to go, and we went and filmed with him for the whole winter. I was thinking 'This is so sick, I'm gonna be in the next Defective movie, this is fucking insane, these movies are fucking sick!' Then he called me and said 'Dude I’m so sorry but we're gonna turn this into a two-year Stepchild project’, and I was riding for Nitro, so I was like 'but no more Defective movie?' and he went 'Nah, we have to make a Stepchild thing,' so then all that stuff I filmed with them was never released...
"I fell on every single jump for four weeks. I think I landed front 7, and a cab 5 and that’s all I landed after 4 weeks... on 25 different jumps, it was insane. I was so bummed."
So then the Nitro dudes, they were stoked, they were like 'What did you do?' and I was like 'I did this, but... nothing'. I had nothing to show for my last year of high school and first year in the real world... The next year I filmed for Burning Bridges, and I was on Nitro and Tonino he went to them 'You should get Knut to go out with you guys on these BC trips' so I went with Lukas Huffman, Andrew Crawford, Etienne Gilbert and myself to Sonora Pass, California for about four weeks. We built jumps every day and everyone’s landing everything I fell on every single jump for four weeks. I think I landed front 7, and a cab 5 and that’s all I landed after 4 weeks... on 25 different jumps, it was insane. I was so bummed, and the guys were super cool 'nah man, it's just a learning curve, you'll figure it out' so nothing got used from that... that just sucked [laughs].
Then errr... I just kept doing random projects, cause I was 'European', I met up with Per Hampus [Stalhandske] and Jakob [Wilhelmson] and Hampus [Mosseson], and they were gonna do the Pony Tale movie. I knew them from living in Salt Lake, 'cause after school, I moved out to Salt Lake City during the winters and began rubbing shoulders with the right people again [laughs]. They were like 'We were gonna do a movie project, do you wanna get involved?'And that was the Pony Tale movie.
I dunno, I've been filming a crap load, but I've never reaaaalllly done anything amazing...
[Watch Pony Tale. Do it.]
But it seems like Pony Tale, and maybe with Per Hampus, you maybe found the vibe of film that you suit as a rider?
Yeah, with the Pony Tale movie, it was for sure me, Per Hampus, Jakob and Hampus – we were all on the same page. The idea of going out and trying to film your best tricks and then editing them down to two minutes and being like 'This is my year, this is how good I am, check this shit out' kind thing wasn't what we wanted to do.
"I really like snowboarding, so I just liked filming shit that was fun to do if you're not afraid of looking like an idiot."
We just wanted to be like 'Dude, we just like snowboarding, so we just want to snowboard a bunch' - so we had a rule where every day we went out filming, Per Hampus had to ride with us for at least an hour everyday. Even when we were in the BC building a jump, we'd hit the jump and then we'd have to ride pow laps for an hour afterwards or before, cause then it was, like, even if you didn’t get anything on the jump that day, you still had fun snowboarding. That was the rule of our film.
So after the Pony Tale movie, Per Hampus and I were definitely on the same page of shit that you think is fun to do. It doesn’t have to be crazy by any means, but is motivating to watch and fun to do. Cause those were the movies I was stoked on watching, cause I never had the drive to be the best snowboarder… to get the best tricks, you know? But I really like snowboarding, so I just liked filming shit that was fun to do if you're not afraid of looking like an idiot.
What year did you start working for Nitro?
I started working for Nitro... it's been like five years now, since 2010/11-ish. I was done with school and I had my degree in finance, and project management from school, and I was in the real world... and I though ‘Fuck, I'm gonna have to do like real shit’.
So I moved to SLC cause I had a connection for like a job with an investment-banking thing, so I thought ‘Alright, I’m moving to Salt Lake cause I like snowboarding and SLC is cool to snowboard and I can get a job there’. Then, like, after a month the TM thing opened up when Tonino left, and Sepp [Ardelt] and Thomas [Delago], the owners of Nitro hit me up, and asked whether I'd be down to do the TM gig... I was like 'pfff awww, that'd be fucking awesome.'
Now I wouldn't have said yeah, I would've been like 'get me into that investment banking'... [everyone laughs] Nah, it was a no brainer to do...
So was it Hyped that was your first production as TM?
Yeah, Hyped was the first one. Alongside Per Hampus, I figured we should make a team movie cause the team was kind of changing. It was changing from all the badass dudes, like Lukas, Andrew, and MFM were all changing out. We didn't really have the same hardcore Nitro vibe anymore, and I'm like not that dude at all. So I thought we should do some different kind of changes for Nitro, so I knew Per Hampus was looking for a filming job - so I pitched it to the owners of Nitro and said we should do a movie, and they weren’t really sceptical at all, they were like ‘Yeah sounds like a good idea’.
They'd always done movies in the past, but they were always like montages of everyone’s season put together to, like, rock & roll... 'Cause all these guys like Eero, Bryan and Austin, Markus Keller, Elias... they all have these other projects they wanna film for themselves. So we had to find a way to incorporate everyone, still make it look cool, but do it so that they could still do their stuff and we could get the footage of them.
So we figured just make a movie that’s all about having fun and mini-shred cause then we could invite people to random shoots and those who want to film full-time can just go film. Dominik Wagner and Marc Swoboda, they were down to film only for the movie, so then we were like, 'that’s awesome!' But obviously we needed to get everyone else, so then we'd just do minishoots in spring, and tell people they could do whatever they want. They didn’t have to do anything crazy, we would never build anything crazy, so then people are just down to just ride and we'd just film follow cam. It turned out cool...
"That’s been huge for me. To show accessible snowboarding, cause me, as a kid growing up in Minnesota, there was no way I could ever do anything that some riders do."
Exactly, and that’s been huge for me. To show accessible snowboarding, cause me, as a kid growing up in Minnesota, there was no way I could ever do anything that some riders do. Big park shoots and stuff, you’d never hit a jump like that... it was accessible because you could go hit a park jump but you’re never gonna hit one that big. Accessible snowboarding... that's key for me.
Is developing younger riders, maybe how you were when you were starting out, a thing for you too?
Yeah, it's so hard these days with younger riders, cause there are SO many good snowboard kids... it has to be something more than that. I mean, obviously if there's a kid that’s just insane at snowboarding... like Marcus Kleveland, he's just fucking insane, and he turns out that he's a really rad humble kid too, but there has to be something more than just your skill level on your board, cause everyone’s fucking good. Unless you're like the best, then no one gives a shit.
But if you’re also a really cool guy, then it’s so much, that’s the kind of people we want on Nitro. But you also have kind of a drive, you want to do stuff... you have your own projects in mind and stuff, that’s awesome too. Getting younger kids is harder than before, cause before, 5 to 10 years ago...you could just pick the best rider in the park and say 'that's our kid' and give him free stuff. Now you have to find kids with their own vision, and their own projects they want to do. Simply for me, they just have to be good human beings, you know?
"There has to be something more than just your skill level on your board, cause everyone’s fucking good. Unless you're like the best, then no one gives a shit."
Are there any rookies on the team that you're backing at the moment?
[Laughs] Nah, they're all just so good... [laughs]
It must have been pretty interesting to watch the rise of Sven Thorgren though...
Yes! Sven's insane. But he's killing it, he's a proper pro now. When I first started working for Nitro we were doing a shoot in Sweden, just a little print story or something. It was in Tandådalen, and Sven was there 'cause he was the local kid from the Swedish distributor and he was there alongside Nils [Arvidsson], Anton Gunnarson and a bunch of other Swedes, hitting this jump, and Sven was doing his backside Rodeo nosegrab Method thing.
"That’s important for me: all of our riders should just be excited to go ride. They’re down to snowboard, and when you go 'lets go ride' they go 'fuck yeah'."
I think that was when I was still 'cool' or something, but I remember thinking, 'Pfff, thats the ugliest thing I've ever seen why would you ever do that?' Now obviously I'm like 'That’s the best thing I've ever seen! Keep doing it dude,' 'cause it’s so sick. Snowboarding changes so much, that just wasn’t 'cool' back then, even though I was probably just jealous. Like, 'I wish I could just do a backside rodeo' let alone doing it with a nosegrab method thing. But he's risen like crazy, he's a really cool dude and he's just really fucking good at snowboarding.
Actually, that’s important for me: all of our riders should just be excited to go ride. They’re down to snowboard, and when you go 'lets go ride' they go 'fuck yeah' - and they should not be scared of snowboarding in front of other people. 'Cause I have a theory once a pro gets super self-conscious about snowboarding in front of kids or whatever, that's when they’re done being a pro, because they're scared of riding in front of people and they stop snowboarding.
One kid that we have coming up, well he's kinda known really, but Sam Taxwood, is fucking insane. He's like one of the kids that I back the most, 'case he rides rails, backcountry, park, jumps, halfpipe - he's one of those rare kids now that can ride it all. He has this really distinct style coupled with this 'don’t give a fuck attitude', which is pretty sick, even though I give him so much shit about what he wears [laughs].
This is gonna sound like a strange one, but it there anyone you kind of owe your career to? Some people that really backed you?
I've thought about that a little bit. First I have to owe it to Stian Solberg, 'case I lived with him and JP, and they'd always just bring me along. Like when he was filming for the Defective movie, he said he'd come along "but Knut's coming too." So he made me move there. Then I owe it to Sean Johnson, 'cause he's a legendary snowboarding dude that knew everything about snowboarding, backcountry, filming, how to build jumps, what we should do, how we should go about our careers... and he took us in for three months and we didn't pay him anything. He drove us around, that dude is sick.
And Tonino, the Nitro guy, 'cause he didn't have to put up with my shit, and I like sucked, like everything I was given an opportunity, he'd be like 'here dude, film for like the Burning Bridges film' and at the time I was like 'Burning Bridges, I'm a Scandinavian snowboarder... I need Standard or some sick shit like that' even though Burning Briidges turned out to be one of the coolest and influential movies for a certain part of snowboarding. But I blew it... so every opportunity Tonino gave me, I would just fail [laughs] but he was down, he never gave me any shit for it. Those dudes... probably the most. Caus they got me onto Nitro and stuff...
Another awkward one I'm afraid, do you have any regrets from snowboarding?
Pfff, I guess I never went all in to professional snowboarding. Never like this is what I'm doing. I feel like if I did that, and dropped everything else, then I would've made it farther in snowboarding... or at least thats what I tell myself now [laughs]. But at the same time, I'm glad I went to college. Oh! And I probably owe Per Hampus, Jakob and Hampus some props 'cause they got me into Pony Tale, and they were always super stoked to snowboard and they'd bring me along on anything.
Is there anyone else you'd like to thank?
[Sarcastically] Nah, fuck 'em all. I have no more money, leave me alone...
Knut's Instagram is pretty rad. Hit the dude with a follow on instagram.com/knut_eliassen