Voice: Erik Olson
Erik Olson defies convention and defines style
This story appeared in the November issue.
Erik Olson is the East Coast’s Candide Thovex, without the mittens. Beautifully angled form, hands forward, knees bent. His body always matches the power of the turn—all the time—a style only a handful have been able to achieve. Olson’s humble start, on 200-foot rope tows in Western New York farm country, bred the quiet honesty with which he has skied for years. He’s earned money to ski working in a can factory and lived in his car for 135 consecutive days at Mount Hood. He pointedly avoids promoting himself, but also landed the first switch 1080 in pipe skiing history in 2006, and has more footage in the Meathead Films archive than any other athlete. Similar to Candide, his dedication to skiing is earnest, deeply personal, and full of integrity.
Two summers ago I re-roofed my parents’ house. My dad gave me a hammer from the 1800s. It was my great-great-grandfather’s. I didn’t use it because it was so worn down, but I re-roofed the whole house with a hammer. That’s how Olsons do it—the hardest way possible.
One of the very few things I’d want to convey as a skier is the way I ski pipe. Kids approach the pipe and see the double corks and they think of it as this crazy X Games thing that they don’t even want to bother with. If you just do straight airs all the way down and catch the tranny right, there’s no impact and it’s super flowy and fun.
When we started filming with the Meatheads, it wasn’t like, “Oh, you should cover us!” What I really gained by skiing with them was more of an appreciation for skiers who ski anywhere. It’s like Radio Ron; that dude has been doing exactly what he’s been doing for how many years? Just skiing bumps at Holiday Valley and loving it.
You can look at a silhouette of Candide and you know it’s him because of his body position when he’s grabbing his tail. Double grabs put people in this uniform style where you can’t tell who the skier is. The more traditional grabs, you can get your own thing going with them.
Kids who were super privileged, they are typically the most delusional about who they are. There’s all this phony bullshit—all this rasta. It’s so bizarre; it was almost like at first I didn’t fit in the ski industry being a normal kid from New York. That’s partly why we started the Yoke Collection, to have a brand for kids that don’t want to put on some crazy persona and who have a mellow vibe about what skiing actually is. If you can’t laugh at skiing, I don’t know what to do for you. It’s not something that should be taken that seriously.
Occasionally kids come up to me and say, “You’re Erik Olson? You’re my hero!” I don’t wake up feeling like some kind of hero. It’s like in that Traveling Circus episode, Andy Parry says, “I’m not Simon Dumont or Will Wesson. I’m just a normal person, and I smell like pizza.”
The gaper is the best thing ever. They are totally oblivious to any fashion trends, they don’t know the difference between anything, and they are the ones probably having the most fun. I love gapers. I wish I were one.
Number one goal of every ski season is to come out healthy. That’s why I’m 27 and still skiing the way I am. Our bodies are vehicles for the rest of our lives, and to beat the shit out of them… For what? So 10,000 14 year olds can jack off to you? I don’t give a shit about that. Skiing is just that personal to me.
You look at Duncan Adams and you can tell he skis with integrity. He’s doing tricks, like a switch down-the-hill air [in the pipe], that when you just say it, sounds simple. But who took the time to actually learn that? People just skip shit. A switch down-the-hill air 15 feet out? That’s probably five times harder than a cork 900.
At the Vermont Open in 2006, pretty much everybody who wasn’t Dumont or Jon Olsson was there. There was this elitism bullshit—the pros were cutting all the kids and I was just like, “Fuck that.” On my first run I missed the setup trick for my switch 9, and I got even angrier. On my second run, after landing my 7, I was going faster than I’d ever gone switch before. I set for a 9, but being that high, you just keep spinning in order to land on the right axis and dip your tips in, and I landed the switch 1080. It was totally spontaneous.
I like skiing powder now because it’s just as spontaneous. You’re never going to be able to make the same turn again. I like that more than standing at the top of something and being like, “I gotta do this.” I just want to go.
The Olympics could change park skiing. People are going to see each kid as a membership fee. It will make kids join USSA and have a coach and be on a team. It would turn skiing into baseball practice. Then you’re 19 and you’re too old for the program, so you drop the sport like you would baseball.
I cut a picture of an absurdly obese cat out of a newspaper. [Yoke Collection Co-Founder] Shane [McFalls] and I both like finding ridiculous things. It’s cool finding things that have no meaning or value to one person, but mean something to another person in a different context.
The creative kids in skiing all brought something different because they were just skiing with their friends without any structure.
I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years to hit a big jump line, you have to be part of a team with a coach. Just like the aerialist jumps and bump courses, all the big jumps will be closed to the public.
None of the old guard in skiing is speaking up about it, because they see it as jobs.
I’m inspired by ’60s garage rock, that “do-it-yourself” style of creativity. It’s ridiculous to have a company in which you export the work. If you’re a creative person, you should be able to do it yourself.
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