Words | Rachael Oakes-Ash
Images | Frank Shine
There is no opening line worthy so we’ll just write it plain and simple. Patagonia sponsored freeskier and current Freeskiing World Tour champion, Arne Backstrom, has passed away during a filming expedition in Peru. The Squaw community has again lost one of their own and the snow world is in mourning.
29 year old Arne originally featured in two Warren Miller films and came out from behind his sister Ingrid’s big mountain podium fame when he won the Canadian Freeskiing Championships in Revelstoke in January this year. A star cut short on the major rise, Arne will be known for his humility, his chilled out and generous approach to life and his love of all things big – big cliffs, big mountains, big lines.
Chillfactor’s Rachael Oakes-Ash met Arne with photographer Frank Shine in Aspen shortly after his second place win at the Telluride Freeskiing competition in 09. “We went skiing after a typical large night out in Aspen. I could hardly stay up on my skis but Arne was hucking cliffs like they were road humps. Needless to say I just side stepped around them.”
Oakes-Ash caught up with Arne again online in February to chew the fat about his burgeoning career. This is the Q&A we had scheduled to run.
Hey Arne, where did it all begin?
I was bushwhacking and ducking through tight trees to find pristine powder stashes as a young child, taking advantage of being small to get the snow that adults didn’t bother with. I was skiing earlier than I have memories, so life without snow was called summer, and it lasted a really long time at that age. I guess my level progressed to ‘extreme skiing’ around the age of 11, dropping into steep steep chutes with no room to turn but only to follow the lines dictated by the terrain, jumping bigger and bigger cliffs until I finally stuffed my knees into my face, stuff like that.
Has it helped or hindered having Ingrid Backstrom as your big sister?
Ingrid has undeniably had the biggest influence on my career, as seeing the level she has taken it to has inspired me to attempt something similar. I used to work for Volkl and Tecnica, which was a great experience and I loved it while it lasted, but seeing Ingrid travel all over the world to ski in amazing places helped me realize being an athlete rather than a tech rep was something I could strive for and have fun doing. Additionally, she’s just a super smooth and awesome skier, so I can always take a lesson if I need it! My brother Ralph is a ripping snowboarder and loves it more than anyone, which shows in his style. He has a really playful approach to riding terrain and features and is so fast. Riding with him reminds me I should be going faster and having more fun.
Describe your perfect ski day
A day on the slopes is always full of surprises, so a priceless ski day can happen any time, like maybe when you hit the local slope at noon because it’s raining, there’s nobody on the hill, but it starts getting colder and it’s dumping and blowing and getting better every run and before you know it you’re having a private powder day and skiing rad lines with a few of your best friends. Or it could be waking up at 5am on the Argentiere glacier in Chamonix to hike and ski the 3000ft, 55 degree Couturier Couloir in a foot of fresh snow.
You’ve said in the past “I’ll do whatever it takes to go skiing” – what does it take for you?
Every fall and spring I seem to do crazy ski missions that start and end in tennis shoes, stumbling through forrest shrubbery and teetering on rotten logs over raging melt water with 60lbs of gear on my back, but I think all that’s pretty normal. Also I just drove 22 hours nonstop so that I didn’t have to be off the slopes for more than a day, but I guess that’s normal too.
What are you personally doing to ensure the ski industry and the snow mountains continue to provide winter sports for generations to come?
I think it’s possible to have an impact on the health of the earth through the choices we make on a daily basis, from the products we purchase to the way we travel. I am very careful about what I buy as I only want to support responsible companies and I am willing to pay more for a better tasting, higher quality, or longer lasting product. I drive and carpool instead of fly whenever possible as it produces significantly fewer greenhouse gases. I plan my ski vacations to smart resorts, such as Aspen, that utilize wind energy, provide public transportation, and generally make good decisions about providing a high quality experience at their resort while simultaneously reducing their impact on the planet.
So, back to Revelstoke and the Canadian Freeskiing Championship….
My win in Revelstoke is my biggest big mountain skiing win as it’s also my first big win! I’m really glad it happened in such a great place like Revelstoke, with good snow on a super sweet venue that was new to everyone.
How did it feel to nail the run?
On a large steep rocky venue like that, it’s important to choose a line that you are comfortable with and which suits your ability. I think I did exactly that and it payed off big! It was exhilarating to drop in and just let it happen, trusting my inspection and skiing it hard.
What’s the biggest challenge to living your dream?
RIP Arne, may the lines be powder fresh on the other side.