According to Forbes, Sweden is one of the five happiest countries on earth (the United States is 14). But even for Swedes, Kaj Zackrisson and Sverre Lillequist are particularly happy. The big mountain skiers, who co-own Kask hats, have been skiing the world for over a decade. What distinguishes them most is their camaraderie and friendship: They're business partners, travel partners, the only pros I know who have a joint pro model (the Hestra Kaj & Sverre Pro Model Glove), and they most recently made appearances in a joint segment in Matchstick Productions' latest release, "The Way I See It." They've been stars on the Freeride World Tour since its inception, although this fall, Zackrisson announced his retirement from competition. We caught up with the duo to discuss retirement, big wrecks and their new ski contest that sounds a lot like a golf contest.
ESPN Freeskiing: Kaj, you recently announced your retirement from competing. If you were an American, you would have checked out of competition the second you hit the silver screen. Why'd you stay in the game so long?
Kaj: I love to push myself and keep getting better, and on a comp day you give it all. That is also when you get into new situations and have to find a new way down. That's why it's a big thrill and a rush to do a big mountain run in a comp.
And Sverre, you have achieved similar status on the silver screen and you're still competing. That's not usually how it works in America.
Sverre: I think you maybe have more hero standards in the U.S. So I guess it's better to focus on one thing and try to be the best. It's hard to do both, and if you are a film star I guess it's not so good if you are not winning the events. For me competing has been a way to travel, to ski with and against great skiers from around the world, and it's good to step up your game once in a while with a comp, to push yourself a little bit.
Sverre, you took a couple of brutal crashes in MSP's new movie. And you're a dad now. Do you think the amount that you're willing to push it and take risks has changed now that you have a child?
Sverre: It has only been seven weeks since Leo entered this world, so it's hard to say. But I don't see myself as a loose canon. What I mean is that I never really risk that much. Of course I take some bad crashes once in a while when it's tough conditions like we had in Tulsequah last winter, but I don't like risking my life. When looking at other great skiers, a lot of the guys are now fathers, and it seems like they still are kicking ass, like my brother-in-law Henrik [Windstedt].
You guys have a pretty unique relationship -- you travel together, work together and even have a co-pro model glove together. Do you ever get on each other's nerves?
Sverre: Ha ha, nerves. What nerves? We are doing what we love to do, and luckily my best friend enjoys the same stuff that I do, so it's twice as much fun. Kaj: Exactly. We are pretty fortunate to be able to travel the world and ski, and when you are two you always have a helping hand or someone to laugh with.
Speaking of work, your company Kask just hired a new U.S. distributor. Are you guys planning on pushing the business more in the U.S.?
Sverre: Yes. We should have done that a long time ago. Chris [Davenport] had been helping us out in the U.S. with Kask for a while, which has been great, but now we are getting a little bit more organized. We need someone that can spend 100 percent of their time with Kask -- not only in the Rockies, but also California and the East Coast. I'm sure Kask fits in the U.S. market, it all started there in the back of our van in the mid nineties.
You guys have a couple new projects in the works, Très Bonne Equipe and the Riders Cup. Tell us a little about those.
Sverre: Très Bonne Equipe is an awesome project we have started. It will feature great skiing, friendship, travels and personality. It's like a skiing adventure documentary, with a mix from the mid '90s until today. Riders Cup is a better version of Ryder Cup -- not for golfers, for skiers. It will be Europeans vs. Americans and the event will happen in Chile in September 2011. One day of slopestyle backcountry and one day of big mountain. It will be a heat format between the teams and a lot of tactics.
Lastly, how are the bodies holding up? You guys have been in the game a while, and have taken some pretty spectacular wrecks. Does it take a bit longer to recover these days?
Sverre: If I'm doing my workout and rehab training during the summer, I feel great in the winter. Kaj: Yeah, something like that as well. I have to do a lot of workouts -- usually in the spring I focus on rehab related workouts and then I push it more and more the closer winter comes. I also feel that I need to be very fit to have a successful season. I always have really tight schedules between filming, competing and photo shoots. If you film for days jumping straight into a car and plane for travel to the next comp, you need to be fit to step out of that car or plane and be ready to drop a cliff onto hard pack.