Getting lost with Bene Mayr
It was the end of the day at Germany's Brauneck ski resort and then 13-year-old Bene Mayr's alpine race was over. As usual, he was freeskiing a last run or two before the hour-long drive home to Munich. He wanted to try his first backflip, but he was scared of landing on his head. So he just hucked it, hard enough to over-rotate. His back hit the snow first. He was so euphoric nothing else mattered.
Soon after, Mayr's coach sat him down. "He said, 'Well, ski racing isn't going anywhere for you. You should join the freestylers,'" says Mayr, now 24 and Germany's best chance for Olympic freeskiing gold. "Freestylers back then were the mogul skiers." Fine by Mayr.
Besides training at Brauneck or skateboarding at the old Neubiberg Air Base by his parents' home near Munich, Mayr spent his down time watching "Propaganda" and "Happy Dayz" from Poor Boyz Productions. Pro freeskiers Tanner Hall and JP Auclair once skied moguls. So would Mayr.
Mayr made Germany's national youth moguls team and in his spare time, he practiced new tricks in terrain parks. But at 15, a knee injury put a stop to moguls. Mayr turned to the park, perfecting that backflip and learning other tricks just for fun. A friend encouraged Mayr to try competition, so he signed up.
More competitions followed, like Red Bull's Stairway to Heaven big air. Mayr went head-to-head against Nico Zacek, then a dominant German freeskier and now the mastermind behind the Nine Knights big air contest.
"That was the only time I ever beat him," says Zacek. "He's one of the steeliest riders out there. My favorite trick of Bene's is his double cork 10 safety poke that he's established in a world of mute grabs."
Sponsors signed on. Mayr got results -- fourth place at the 2009 Red Bull Linecatcher -- and X Games invites in 2010 and 2011.
But Mayr's fans know him best through film segments with Poor Boyz, Nimbus Independent and Legs of Steel (LOS). Fellow freeskiers Paddy Graham, Tobi Reindl and Thomas Hlawitschka rounded out LOS, based out of a house in Innsbruck, Austria, that they share with Mayr. Today, the basement holds an editing bay and about two dozen pairs of skis.
But it wasn't always so slick. "When we started we didn't even have a camera or a filmer," said Mayr. "We lost hard drives with footage." They pulled it off, releasing "The Pilot" in 2010, followed by "Nothing Else Matters" -- which won two Powder Awards -- and "Hurt So Good." The films feature audacious big airs, bold backcountry lines and rock 'n' roll crash reels.
"Bene won't give up until he gets the shot, and if the vibe is down he thinks of something to make it better," says LOS director Andrew Nutini. "He has an eye for what works."
Their 2013 release, "The LOSt," which will premiere this fall, will include a January trip to British Columbia's Monashee Powder Snowcats. They brought their dads to ski powder and watch the progeny work as they set up shots, reviewed footage and went for it again and again. "That was really good for my standing as a working man in my family," jokes Mayr.
Now, when Mayr calls home, his dad tells him to rest up. He knows Mayr needs it, starting now. This summer, for the first time in six years, Mayr's offseason doesn't include surgery. Instead, he hits the gym twice a day. Then trampoline work. And road biking.
"I want to do this for as long as my body lets me," says Mayr. And he wants to take the body that's recovered from multiple ACL, MCL and meniscus tears, a chipped tibia, a "slightly broken back," concussions, missing teeth and torn ligaments to the Olympic slopestyle course in Sochi, Russia, next year.
For Mayr, Olympic qualification starts in August at the Freeski Open of New Zealand.
But this week, he's home in Munich to take in the city's inaugural X Games. "As an athlete, you can relate to what's going on," he says. "And if the guy down there puts it down, you know exactly how he feels. Like nothing else matters."