A quick peruse of Johan Jonsson’s Instagram feed gives you a new insight into the word steep. He seems to defy the laws of physics, playing a game of chicken with gravity.
In the words of the man himself: “gravity is fun!”
But you don’t become a professional skier just by skiing one type of terrain and perfect “world-champion powder.” Johan skis it all, from copping face-fulls in deep pow on mellow terrain, to wind-packed late-season corn. He lives by the adage of variety is the spice of life. If every day was exactly the same – yep, even deep, deep powder – he’d get bored pretty quickly.
Johan has been a professional skier for more than a decade. He spent his formative years racing near his childhood home in Sweden, but after a roadtrip along America’s west coast he concluded that freeskiing was “way more fun” and relegated that ski racing suit to the dress-up box.
As the seasons past, most of which were spent in Engelberg, Switzerland, Johan quickly built up a reputation for being able to ski the unskiable. And through collaborations with professional ski photographers in the area he landed many a magazine cover and with it some pretty impressive sponsorships and notoriety.
You’d imagine that with that level of skill and experience he’d be a little cocky and snobby, travelling the world looking for the best snow, the steepest terrain and the most exotic destinations. But the opposite is the case. He’s incredibly humble; he sees skiing as his job, a job that he has to work at to maintain, and he prefers exploring his home turf – Östersund in Sweden – to seeking new experiences in the back and beyond of some far-flung country.
“The everyday adventure is crucial for me.”
“An old ski coach once said to me, ‘a day travelling is a day you’re not skiing’. That’s kind of stuck with me. It’s taken me years of travelling to realise it, but I now know I don’t have to travel far to see new places. I can use those travelling days to see close-by places instead. Go see – that’s my thing.”
This close-to-home game of ‘go see’ became even more important in 2018 with the arrival of his son. Together with his long-term girlfriend, Bea, they’d already taken the decision to leave Stockholm and move to Östersund to be closer to the natural landscapes they both love. But with the arrival of his son, time at home wasn’t just important. Time at home was rewarding. “I’m more interested in mapping out my close area now. In Östersund you can get into proper wilderness faster than you can in Stockholm. Everyday adventure is easier here. And I can still find new bike or hiking trails.”
There’s another, very tangible reason why Johan wants to stay closer to home.
“Doing what I do, I see the impact of climate change directly. A friend has actually just sent me a picture from Engelberg in Switzerland where a massive piece of the glacier has just calved off.”
Spending so much time in nature, Johan has a unique connection to it and awareness of its changes. This is particularly acute during the winter months. Yes, snowfalls fluctuate every season, but over more than 15 seasons spent in mountains around the world, Johan has seen changes first hand. And things don’t look good.
During the early years of his career, Johan was often using helicopters and snowmobiles to access remote areas of untouched, perfect powder. He was flying to Japan, Canada and Alaska not to mention frequent trips to the European Alps. His clothing and equipment, too, had an negative impact on the environment. “I realised I had to make a change. I know there are people that will say it’s easy for me to say all this; I’ve been to all these amazing places and travelled in helicopters. But I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot with these experiences.”
Because he’s a professional skier, he has a voice. And through social media, magazine articles and by collaborating with Fjällräven, he’s able to reach people and inspire them in ways he wasn’t able to before. “I know I’m not saving the world with my personal actions – to create change it has to be political and it has to be global. But I think that by setting a good example, as someone with a voice, I can show that we need to make a change and I hope this will have a ripple effect. I hope I can inspire someone to go ski-touring instead of going on a heli-trip. Hopefully this will spread out and together we can make change.”
Johan’s attitude is rather refreshing. In runs against the grain of the mainstream media. He still seeks out new experiences, challenges and destinations. It’s just he now chooses to spend his time exploring what’s right on his doorstep. “I think it’s kind of funny how everyone heads to Japan. For me, it’s just like Sweden but with a little more snow. A really good touring day in the trees here in Sweden is kind of the same as in Japan, just less snow. But it can still be a really good day. The more time you spend on planes and being jet-lagged the less time you can spend on fun stuff.” The location is often irrelevant. A good adventure is a good adventure. It’s a simple as that.
Follow Johan on Instagram @jonsbert
Text: Sarah Benton
Images: Oskar Enander & Johan Jonsson