It's white-knuckled driving in a whiteout on Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. Somewhere up top, across from a snowed-in Port-a-Potty and "Chains Required" sign, I'm due to meet Johan Olofsson and Venture Snowboards co-owner Klem Branner.
Olofsson started working with Venture last year after about a decade without a board sponsor. Now he and Venture are collaborating on a rack of new board shapes and designs, from the new 2012 Odin to prototype pow surfers. That's why he's here in the San Juan Mountains, instead of up in Revelstoke, B.C. or back home in northern Sweden. We are powder product testing.
I crest the last rise, spy the landmarks and pull in beside Branner's truck. Branner and I tour into the storm on a couple Odin splitboards, and Olofsson rides a prototype he and Branner cooked up in the shop. We spend the next couple days riding pow off the pass, talking snowboarding, and playing cards. After dinner one evening Olofsson acquiesces to an interview. Here are some of the highlights.
ESPN: How were you first exposed to snowboarding?
Johan Olofsson: I grew up in northern Sweden. With long winters and all that, I grew up skiing. It was like '88, I saw the cover of a ski magazine: two dudes, flying, upside down on snowboards. They were early, early stage snowboards. That was the closest thing I'd ever get to surfing, I thought. I always wanted to surf since I was a young guy.
Do people surf in northern Sweden?
No. No, no, no. [Laughs] I don't know where I saw it. Maybe I saw it on some Beach Boys album or something?
How old were you when you started snowboarding?
Like 11. In Sweden they were like, "What is this? Oh, well, you have to have a leash -- around your knee." We were super groms, always harassing the resort and building kickers in the trees over the cat tracks.
Snowboard movies didn't make it out to northern Sweden. You got the new snowboard movie in, like, spring. [This was] way before the Internet and all that s---.
Where did you ride?
Riksgransen. It's not big but it's weird ... heavy winters with a lot of wind builds all these windlips and all kinds of features. Craig Kelly, Bert LaMar, and Dave Seoane and a bunch of other dudes used to come up there in the spring, and we went up there to, you know, look at pros.
It was '93, maybe. I was 14 or 15. Haakon was there -- he was just like another dimension. I didn't realize you could ride like that. He was so f---ing good, super technical ... Like, at Riks in spring at 12 at night, the sun is still shining but the pipe is just glare ice. And he'd do like cab 720s but he'd stall in the middle, do a mute grab, and then rotate the rest of the 360. And you're like, "What the f---? That's impossible."
I wanted to be like them. My friends told me that was not a good idea, living in northern Sweden [laughs], and that I should probably try to get an education or something.
Let's talk about TB5. [Ed. note: arguably one of the more revolutionary snowboard movie segments in history.]
They wanted me to do freestyle s---. They were like, "You're a Scandinavian guy, should we build a kicker for you?" [Laughs] But I didn't like "built" s---. I thought it was pretty lame. You should be able to find the right tranny and hit in the natural features.
It wasn't my thing, either, to go up on a beautiful day and build a booter for five hours, hit it for two hours and it's gone. I've always been like that. I never wait up, really, if I don't have to. Once you're in the mountains, you should go riding.
I tried to live a regular life, but it didn't work out.
How would you describe your approach to "big-mountain" riding?
You always got to realize that you're human and weak. If you run into a rock, you're bleeding. You can't just dive in. You've got to work yourself into it, earn it. I never have a problem stepping back.
Then it feels right and all the sudden you're riding big stuff and you're not even thinking about it. You're used to the snowpack and everything -- that stuff is going to keep you alive. Staying in line and being smart, and not doing s--- just because of the camera.
There are so many different styles of snowboarding, from being good at popping ollies and landing on a bump that will give you speed to another hit, or whatever. Stepping up on big terrain, it's more of a mental game than physical game. You can ride anything, but memorizing all the safety points, sluff and slabs, over time it gets more and more natural. It's a big memory game.
How did you end up riding with the "Deeper" crew?
Most of the film parts I've done for Standard Films were filmed with TGR. It was me and Jeremy and all the TGR skiers. My footage went to Standard. So I'd filmed a bunch with Jeremy -- we both like to ride. He told me about the project, and I was like, "I'm in. I'll go out camping."
Have you been working outside of snowboarding?
Yeah, I was working during summers here and there, doing some mining work in my hometown, Gällivare. For a long time I couldn't look at a travel bag. I could puke on it, I was so sick of it.
I would go to Canada every winter. I got a place and lots of friends there. I was out snowboarding, and a bunch of people wanted me to start getting into the scene again, and I was like, "Alright ... I tried to live a regular life, but it didn't work out."
Are your parents like, "Johan, you never come home."
[Laughs] "You're never home. He's never done a single day of work in his whole life." [Laughs] My brother, he's a good guy, right? I'm doing professional snowboarding and it never really counted.
When did you start no-boarding?
Four years ago with Al Clark, my old buddy, in Interior B.C. Then I no-boarded the entire season. Good fun -- a lot of things to learn and a lot of crashes.
Does no-boarding take you to a different place than regular snowboarding?
Everything is kind of new, and you have all these new spices. It takes me to a level of snowboarding where it's like, "I don't even care what you think about how I ride. I'm having fun."
Where are you at right now with snowboarding?
I've been snowboarding for 23 years. I'm sort of picky. I don't like to be cornered into anything. In snowboarding, you just do whatever you want to do.
You know, at this stage in my life I should probably be more media smart, right? But, I feel like maybe I have ten years of snowboarding left in a semi-good body, so maybe I should sponsor myself with that.
So you're saying you'd like to just ride for yourself?
Yeah, that would be nice. I'm getting old now -- I'm 34, there's different things floating around in my brain than when I was 18, you know? When I was 18, I didn't give a s---. I thought it was super lame being at home...
Now you appreciate home more?
Yeah. It's like, "Oh, maybe I should get a family one day. All my friends have like two cars, a home, and a family." Then I'm stressing about some weird snowboard s---. [Laughs]
When you're younger all you want to do is prove yourself. Now it's about feeling comfortable with a group of riders in the mountains and having a good time. A good day of snowboarding will last you a long time.