Opinion » Range Rover




Mattias Fredriksson car-calls me from the middle of nowhere. That's not unusual. In the almost 20 years we've worked together, I've amassed a large catalogue of such rolling conversations.

Drives through northern Scandinavia are long and lonely, perfect for transacting writer-photographer business from the quietude of a vehicle. What is unusual is that as we dive into this particular confab, I find myself remembering the less-sedate calls around which our partnership coalesced. For many years, I could count on an annual Mattias drunk-dial from, say, a loud heavy-metal party in his hometown of Åre, Sweden. He'd speak excitedly for five minutes about ski projects, before we'd agree to talk another time. "You should be here!" he'd finish. Eventually I was, many times, as we worked together on numerous projects and assignments.

When I first met him, Mattias's stylish scarves and hats belied his place as one of the most prolific ski and mountain bike photographers of our time. His imagery, however, was easily identifiable, a fusion of mountain light and quiet alpine moments, with the angular geometry of human motion and perfectly framed action.

Beyond having an eye and aptitude, it was dedication and a titanic work ethic (inherited from his mother, he believes) that boosted him to the highest echelons. Mattias can see a photo in his mind perfectly, and is never afraid to spend an extra hour — or three — to get it. Yet he isn't just a taskmaster; he's also a cheerleader with a heart of gold, honouring friendships with thoughtful gifts and photo prints.

Circling the globe together, I've come to know his fashion sense, music tastes, blood-sugar arc, the way he methodically peels boiled eggs to discard the yolk — even what he might say in different situations. His particularities are so predictable, I've often concocted friendly nicknames — like "Meticulous Freakrisson," from the time he fretted that 200 rolls of film wouldn't be enough for a three-day shoot. Never a fan of the barter economy or institutionalized mediocrity, over the years he's sometimes found himself at odds with the ski industry. But these were growing pains they suffered together, as the value of his imagery to the sport was as true as the single-mindedness with which he's pursued it.

Mattias grew up in Sandsbro, near the city of Växjö, Sweden, where he caught the skiing bug alongside other kids schussing a slope near his house. Skiing was pushed aside for a few years, by pursuits like playing in a punk band, until he took a job in a sporting goods shop at age 16. There, while thumbing through Sweden's ski magazine of record, Åka Skidor, he familiarized himself with the era's athletes and became captivated by the far-north ski mecca of Riksgränsen.

In 1992, at age 17, he made his first foray to that "middle of nowhere," arriving at Riksgränsen to find a supercharged freeride scene. While working the sports section of the local paper at home, he made the trip north a second time, on assignment to profile the iconic Riksgränsen photographer, Lars Thulin. He ended up wrangling an internship with Thulin, and his eyes were opened to the rarified world of ski photography.

Mattias's career picked up quickly from there. After a stint at Sweden's Vertikal magazine, he once again became involved with Åka Skidor — this time as editor, a job that moved him to Åre. Working with world-renowned photographers and travelling for the magazine engendered a thirst for the outside world, but the watershed came in 1999 when Powder published one of his photos. In 2000, he left Åka Skidor to focus on freelance photography. Åre, however, had neither big mountains nor great snow, not ideal for a photographer with Mattias's vision. What it did have was incredible light, harsh weather, and conditions that produced great all-around skiers like Jon Olsson and Henrik Windstedt, who became main subjects.

At the time, both progressive freestyle skiing as well as mountain biking were exploding, and Mattias found himself at ground zero for both. From 2000 to 2011, he was on snow October to July, then dirt most of the summer, travelling an average 200 days a year. It was madness. He would eventually slow down, but not before he won the Deep Summer Photo Challenge in Whistler in 2009, and took Bike Magazine's 2010 Photo of the Year with friend and athlete Janne Tjarnstrom. (The duo has worked together since 1998, and Darcy Turenne's The Moments Between is a documentary film about their partnership.)

Look in any ski or mountain bike magazine today, and you'll see that Mattias's imagery remains almost impossibly prolific, and that his dedication and passion for his craft hasn't waned. As we wrap up our car-call conversation, he allows that after years in Åre with his Canadian partner Elle and their Instagram-star husky Tikaani, they'll be spending more time in the Sea to Sky corridor this year while Elle articles as a lawyer. I'm happy that I might see my friend more, of course, but a little sad that the next time he car-calls, it might not be from some exotic middle of nowhere, but my own backyard.

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.

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