Read this in-depth profile on Mat Schaer from last season, spiced up with some of his footage from all over the web.
Mat Schaer's name gets mentioned a lot when it comes to emerging European backcountry talents. We do it, too. Mat Schaer is awesome.
Mathieu Schaer, The Quiet Achiever
[Words: Youri Barneoud]
In the space of just two seasons, the 21-year-old Swiss backcountry ripper has turned heads both in his home country and abroad, while intergrating into both Ero One’s and Absinthe’s film crews – all off his own back.
Growing up in Geneva in the footsteps of older brothers Samuel and Nelson, Mathieu started out attacking the slopes of La Clusaz every spare weekend he had. If you’re familiar with the resort and surrounding mountains, it’s easy to understand why Mathieu has developed such a talent for backcountry riding. But surprisingly La Clusaz isn’t what inspired Mathieu to turn professional, although his passion for powder certainly stems from there. It was a couple of amateur contests in Les Crosets and then a few TTR events that revealed his potential, while at the same time leading him to meet the Ero One crew, who would take him under their wing. Chosing between contests and shooting video was an easy choice. "Contests are often a way of getting your name out there to sponsors and can be what they ask of you to begin with," he explains. DC, his main sponsor, was quickly happy for him to shoot with the Ero One crew rather than join the tour. Unlike many others who attend specialised sports schools where they focus on half-pipe riding, Mathieu has never been forced to take part in comps.
Ero One's Voila - Féfé Pellacani, Sam & Mat Schaer & Chris Cunningham
"I never really spent much time training in the reputed snowparks in the States either, but I don’t feel like I missed out on much. That’s not where you’re going to pick up on essential backcountry skills anyway," Mat says. He finished school in Switzerland two years ago, in a standard state school in Geneva, and since then he’s spent all of his time up the mountain. "For the moment," but let's get back to that in a moment...
Mathieu’s first video part came out in ‘Stick’Em Up’. Starting with a bang, his short but punchy part set to breathtaking big mountain backdrops displayed his impressive natural terrain skills. That year he was still in school and itching to be able to dedicate himself to snowboarding full-time. In the winter of 09/10 he’d finally be able to do just that, but things didn’t quite work out the way he’d expected. Mathieu suffered a serious ankle injury in January 2010 more or less putting an end to his season, but thanks to a good start to winter and a particularly productive couple of months he still managed to put together a respectable part in ‘Voilà’. Once again his rounded backcountry riding off kickers, cliffs and windlips surpassed all expectations. Following in the steps of Jake Blauvelt, he admits to “having a preference for natural terrain where there’s little, if not no, need for shaping". And in fact a goal of his is to one day submit a part in which nothing has been shaped, featuring everything from straight backside airs to switch backside 1080s. He adds, “Dropping a cliff, it’s something you only do once. You don’t necessarily know how the snow is going to behave, you have to adapt, improvise in real time if you want to land your trick." That kind of skill is something you can learn through repetition, but for Mathieu it’s still a different game entirely to training in the halfpipe. While he admires the guys who continue to push snowboarding in snowparks (like his friend Pat Burgener and his switch backside triple cork 1440) at the same time he believes that it’s easy to lose sight of certain things with that side of snowboarding, commenting “It’d be terrible if snowboarding started to resemble acrobatic ski jumping. For me that’s not what snowboarding is about."
Mat Schaer - Stick 'Em Up
His highlight from last winter was without doubt the opportunity to ride with Gigi Rüf and the rest of the Absinthe crew while shooting for ‘twe12ve’. “I spent 10 days with Gigi, it was a real learning curve. I listened and watched as he went about his business." Everything about Gigi is inspirational to Mat, as much his riding as his persona and the way he approaches life. “Gigi thinks all of his jumps through carefully, he sees things that others just don’t pick up on. And yet, in the time it takes me to find one spot in the backcountry, he will have discovered 10!" To find himself part of the Absinthe crew and learning from the backcountry elite was a dream come true. “With Absinthe, I knew I was going to learn fast. And Gigi, he’s continually learning stuff and gaining local knowledge of new places too!" The other great advantage of shooting with a crew like Absinthe is the opportunity to travel abroad to where the conditions are best. So while Europe witnessed yet another terrible winter for snowfall last year, Mathieu, Sylvain Bourbousson and Absinthe cameraman David Vladyka jetted off to Canada for two months. Mathieu finally got to enjoy a full season with suffering any injuries or having to go to school.
With the support of Ero One (whom he’ll also have a video part with this year), Mathieu is ready to trade pow pow turns with the best of them and take his riding to some of the most renowned locations in the world. “I realise now that the last few years I’ve never really got to ride with any of the best pros. I spend a lot of my time still boarding with friends. It’s been a real wake up call. I’ve never really been on any trips abroad and to be honest never really thought I’d be given the opportunity, it’s a crazy world out there! My main reason for finding a sponsor initially was just to be flowed free gear every once in a while and I never dreamed I’d get this far!" We were keen to know what the highlights from this first experience with the Absinthe crew were. “Our trip to Revelstoke. I noticed that all the spots we hit up were actually accessible to everyone. All you had to do was scout your line, walk for half an hour, shape your jump and off you go! We didn’t even need sleds, we’d just catch the cable car and then spend the rest of the day walking."
Ero One's La Cassette - Mat Schaer
Of course, not to say that Absinthe isn’t all about charging Alaska and heli-boarding, but Mat highlights an interesting point. How do you keep the general public interested in things that aren’t accessible to them? “We weren’t in some far off lodge with the chopper waiting outside. In the end, a good video production is not simply down to having an unlimited budget to fly anywhere, but to take every aspect of the job seriously. Getting up early, making sure all your gear is in place, scouting out your spots in advance, networking with local contacts. But most all, staying motivated is the number one thing." In this regard we’re curious to know what he thinks of The Art Of Flight, or for now the two teasers they’ve released so far? “It’s mental! A real dream come true, those guys really are the best backcountry riders on the planet. But as I said earlier a lot of people will perhaps find it hard to relate to. I’m hoping that with Absinthe’s new release they’ll experience a different impression. And I also hope it’ll show people that they need to familiarize themselves with out-of-bounds snowboarding before going out and doing just anything." Having the right safety equipment is essential, but even more important is knowing how to analyse the snowpack and dangers of the terrain in front of you. As Mat himself highlights, “the mountains above all demand experience and if you haven’t put in your time then don’t think that you’re just going to be able to improvise yourself out of trouble."
Besides snowboarding, environmental studies is something that Mathieu also feels strongly about and can even see himself working in in the future. But for now he’s staying focused on snowboarding. “Snowboarding seems to offer two pathways: a fair number of young guys chose to go to snowboard schools, join teams, attend training camps. Others, like me, prefer to do things on their own and just as much backcountry as possible. But both options continue to progress. We might not be able to bust double corks over bulletproof kickers but that’s not to say we’re not pushing our own limits!"
Either way, it’s clear that building a pro career today is much harder than in the past, and no doubt easier than in the future. This goes for contest machines who now have to have double corks on lockdown, as it does for backcountry freestylers who not only have to keep pushing their limits but also battle for visibility in magazines and videos. With the internet offering so much free video content, a career in shooting video parts is no longer what it used to be. Fortunately for Mathieu he has both Ero One and Absinthe to lean on, and it’s well merited.
Sponsors: DC, Electric, Nixon, Superpark.