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How Johan Jonsson became ‘Bergtagen’

Swedish-born skier Johan Jonsson rose to fame via publishing gravity-defying ski videos on the internet. Thousands of views later, he is now a free-rider and left his days of ski-racing behind. His happiest days are spent exploring his local mountains, the outdoors and nature in  his own backyard.

The Discovery

Johan Jonsson didn’t immediately discover his love for the mountains. In high school his ambition was to be the next Stenmark. It was several years later, and during one his trips abroad when he realised his future was in free riding and not race skiing. His passion for the mountains could’t be denied any longer, and he knew he wanted to spend his days exploring new areas and environments rather than concentrating on timing himself on runs. “It wasn’t anything to do with ambition, even if some of my idols had made the same transition – getting sponsored and ‘living the dream’. It was something else that lured me into the mountains.”

It wasn’t anything to do with ambition, even if some of my idols had made the same transition – getting sponsored and “living the dream”. It was something else that lured me into the mountains.

Johan Jonsson

Just like many other clichés, a “love for the mountains” isn’t always easy to define. Especially when it differs from one skier to the next. But in Jonsson’s case he claims, “it always had something to do with contrasts.” Contrasts is his way to describe the wildly differing terrains that incredible mountains-capes can offer. Mountain environments can change from sunshine to blizzards or be filled with the thickest fog in a matter of moments, but the important thing is to be able to experience these contrasting environments in only one place.

The Contrast

In the mountains I can ski the same run over and over with my best ski buddies, or I can take off all by myself on a long and peaceful escape. And I can do both on the same day.” It’s one of the most impressive things about spending a lot of time in the mountains. High profile resorts such as Engelberg or Chamonix have their charm while a tent in the depths of Sarek National Park is something completely different. That difference, or contrast, located in one specific place is the key to why mountains are such a magical place. And the power lies in getting to know these contrasting environments, learning how to handle them, and finding enjoyment experiencing them.

Jonsson has spent so much of his time exploring the globe, including mountains in Japan, Norway, Italy and Canada. “White snow. Black rocks. Gently sloping powder slopes. Steep couloirs. It’s all the mountains, but different aspects of them. These contrasts have dictated how I have lived for almost 20 years.” But his favourite place to explore is simply his own backyard in Sweden.

The Shift

Jonsson’s love affair with the mountains has not been a short lived affair, or something that appeared suddenly. It has always been strong, from the time when he was 5 years old and started skiing, he felt the pure excitement of climbing up a mountain. “My relationship with the mountains has always been strong and it has only grown stronger in recent years. The more days I spend out there, the more I long to get back when I’m somewhere else."

But was there an exact moment when he became Bergtagen? “Yes. It was in the middle of a heli-skiing trip in Alaska, I suddenly realised that all this travelling to different mountains took up a bigger part of the experience than being in the actual mountains did. That’s when it happened. I felt it.” It was at this moment that he realised, the value in the experience had nothing to do with the location of the trip, or how much time had been invested travelling there. Instead the experience is defined by the “pure and fragile joy felt when spending time outdoors in the mountains.”

As a former ski racer Jonsson had spent the better part of his life counting seconds and measuring distances. So it was no wonder that he felt that getting to the top of the mountain, or travelling down the fastest way possible was all that counted. But as Jonsson discovered, through his years of time spent above the tree line, “it’s about just spending time out there, even if it’s somewhere you’ve been hundreds of times before. It’s a way of breathing. This becomes more and more obvious the more time you spend in nature.

Nowadays, he finds true value in spending time closer to home and exploring the ski runs and mountains in nearby Sälen, Engelberg or Jämtland. He doesn’t travel out of his time zone as often as he did, but now he sees more undiscovered peaks and descents than ever before. As Jonsson explains, “My motivation is the same no matter where I am or what I am doing - it is centred around my love for the mountains.

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