This story is not one you would have likely heard ten years ago: Super agent of Romain de Marchi and Gigi Rüf notices the riding of lanky, talented, blond kid from same hometown as one of his marquee snowboarders. Agent scores deal with sponsor. Sponsor scores deal with film-production company. Company gives young man tryout. Young man passes tryout. The next potential Euro über pro is born.
"He reminds me of a young Gigi in the sense that he doesn't mess around and always goes for the hardest trick first, " says Absinthe Films co-founder Justin Hostynek. "He knows there are only a limited amount of landings to be had so he gets after it immediately, often landing first try."
Like it or not, this is how it's beginning to work in the world of professional snowboarding. Though this story may be one of modern circumstance, it has a tinge of old school nostalgia for the days when a young snowboarder could transcend time zones and be awarded international accolades simply for having an original style.
ESPN: Would you say your riding is different than other European kids?
Mat Schaer: These days there are not too many young people riding the backcountry over here in Europe. Everyone my age that is a good snowboarder is just riding parks and doing contests. But for me, I learned freestyle in the backcountry riding with my brother and his friends -- I just thought that's how you did it. I think it gave me different eyes for snowboarding.
I really love the backcountry but I also realize that there are a lot of different kinds of backcountry riding. I do enjoy a good jump and trying things like double corks, but it is the natural terrain that I really get excited about -- wind-lips and pillows and even bigger lines.
Explain to us how you broke into the world of pro snowboarding?
I got sponsored by DC through an agent in my hometown. Also, one of Absinthe's main filmers, David Vladyka, or "Vlady" as we call him, is from the same area as well. They gave me a chance to go on a trip with them for a week in Arlberg, Austria. We had good conditions and I landed a few tricks so when the next year started up I got the call at the beginning of the season to film with them all year. So in a way you could say I passed the test!
It must be a dream come true to do what you do. What's it like being part of the Absinthe crew?
Last season I spent all year with Vlady and Sylvain Bourbouson, which was great. We all make fun of each other, but because I am the youngest I seem to get picked on the most. We spend a lot of time together in close quarters, sometime for days on end because of bad weather. It makes good friends out of people, snowboarding.
Switzerland has produced some serious talent over the years. What do you think about Swiss riders?
I really like Nico Müller and Freddi K. They are amazing riders who are into natural stuff and who seem to really flow with the mountains. Swiss riders have have crazy style too. When I was young I was a big fan of Romain de Marchi. Sometimes I get to ride with him now, which is really fun.
I know Europe had a better-than-average snow year. Where did you ride this past season?
My film crew and I spent lots of time in the French part of Switzerland, near where I live, because for once winter was great over here. We traveled around from one resort to another and I was stoked to discover a couple of sick new spots like St-Luc and Anzère. We also hung around a month and a half in our home resort of Champéry.
Sounds just about perfect. What was your highlight session?
Definitely this trip to St-Luc in the Valais region of Switzerland. We received a big dump right at the end of Christmas holidays so the lifts were closed for a couple of days. Then they opened up the next Monday when everybody else has to go back to work and we had nine sunny days in a row -- only us shredding fresh pow at the resort.
Also what made it so awesome was riding with a small and good crew. That's what I like the most, when it's simple and productive. What can you ask for more?
Is there anything that you witnessed that stands out?
Definitely Bode Merrill's first try on a backcountry kicker doing a backside 7 Japan one-footed. I still can't figure out why he didn't at least try a safety trick to check the speed or something. I think I would have bailed even before I made it to the kicker without both feet strapped in, but he just went for it and stomped it. That was really impressive!
Do you keep snowboarding through the summer or do you have other things going on?
For the moment, I am spending time at home with my family and friends. Filming with Absinthe means a lot of commitment and I don't see much my relatives during the winter season.
I also try to put the snowboard aside for a while. I think it's the best way for me to get back on my board fully motivated the next winter. I also focus on some personal projects and other sports like climbing, hiking and break-dancing. I like to try all kinds of new things. I like to be a beginner again, you have less to care about, less pressure and that's what makes it exciting!
I'm also going to volunteer with an association whose mission is the construction of a school in Burkina Faso (Africa) and work at a holiday camp for kids this summer. With all that I have been given, I feel that I should start to give back at some point.