Out and about with the world’s best freeskiers

The world’s best freeskiers have come to the Titlis glacier in central Switzerland to relinquish control. Why? Beacause they want to learn somethin about themselves and life.
Text Werner Jessner
Photo Oskar Enander

There’s no powder here. Instead: glacial ice, wind-swept slopes – and a bunch of questions: Can you ski on icy glacier fields? Without any grip, where you can neither steer nor brake? Accelerating as if in free fall? Is it possible to give up control for a few seconds, to surrender to nature and emerge unscathed? How do you prepare for something that you can’t train for, for a force you can’t feel until you’re right in the middle of it?

Photographer Oskar Enander and a handful of the world’s best freeskiers tried it out. “It was steeper than expected, more wicked,” says Henrik Windstedt. “The ice felt like steel underneath my feet, and the edge grip really was at zero.”

Despite perfect visualisation, despite all the routine and skill, the venture involved a great deal of uncertainty. “For a few moments, you entrust your life to the force of nature, like in big wave surfing. It is a humbling experience, makes you feel small. That teaches you to respect Mother Nature,” Piers Solomon sums it up. “Total control is an illusion. It’s a good thing to remind yourself of that every now and then.”

Lesson 1: When in doubt? Go straight ahead.

“No way they can ski this slope,” thought Oskar Enander, the photographer behind this picture, when he saw Johan Jonsson and Henrik Windstedt race towards the ice. “The skis struck – bam-bam-bam! – it was really loud. And then they were at the bottom. So it was possible after all.” How? They chose the most direct way. When in doubt: go straight ahead. That’s just as true on ice as it is with difficult decisions in life.

Lesson 2: Plan the beginning and the end. Lose controle in the middle. That's okay.

The daredevil skiers (here: Marcus Caston) spent a lot of time searching for the perfect angle at which to enter the fields of ice – not to mention snowy endzones in which to slow down. In between: a free fall. “The acceleration on the ice was just awesome,” says Henrik Windstedt.

Lesson 3: The first time is the best.

His parents are ski instructors, he has been skiing since he was a boy, he is Argentina’s best freerider. But the ice in Switzerland brought even Santiago Guzman to his knees – and released him from the adventure with an ear-to-ear grin.

Lesson 4: Afraid? Good. That's just what you’ll be proud of later.

Extreme skier Piers Solomon takes on a giant ice field on the northwest slope of Steinberg. Braking, turning, control? Forget it.

»Für ein paar Augenblicke vertraust du dich den Naturgewalten an, so wie Big-Wave-Surfer. Diese Erfahrung macht dich bescheiden und klein. Sie gibt dir Respekt vor der Umwelt«

Piers Solomon

Lesson 5: Seize the opportunity. Now!

Piers Solomon (seen here getting some air) and photographer Oskar Enander discovered this bizarrely beautiful place between glacier and rock and thought it could be skied – for the time being. “A couple of days later, a house-sized chunk of ice broke off and sealed the cave. The location is no more.”

Lesson 6: Total Control is an Illusion.

This is not a well-groomed ice rink at a slant, it’s a wilderness of frozen water. All warning signals are on red. You focus on your line and let go. “A rodeo with the mountain,” is what Piers Solomon calls this experience.

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