21/03/2006 | by Onboard
The world of snowboarding encompasses the entire spectrum of humanity from dirtbags to clean-cut preppies, and from downright dumb-asses to caring, sharing humanists whom we all love to love or love to hate depending on how envious we are of their charms. Jonas falls into the latter part of both these categories. His appearance is understated, not prone to the whimsical fashion flings of the industry, and his manner intelligent and amiable. He is the quintessential good guy in what sometimes seems a world of bad-ass wannabes.
Portrait: Jonas Hagström. Photo: Peter Lundström.
Speck on the map
600 miles north of Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm, lies the miniscule mountain resort of Graftåvallen. A mere speck on the map, populated by 25 permanent residents, it has played host to some of the greatest meetings of 20th century intelligentia, including the Nordic Meeting On Intermediate and High Energy Nuclear Physics, High Energy Processes in Accreting Black Holes, and the global do-gooders of the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was among this mass of grey matter that the young Jonas grew up. His parents, the one-family economy of Graftavallen, owned the restaurant, the resort’s lifts, the ski rentals, a shop and 12 villas which they hired out to the visiting dignitaries and the folks who came to ski. “My parents worked all the time, so I had to take care of myself. They both drove the cat, sold lift tickets, and worked in the rental, the restaurant and the shop, so during winter life was 24/7”. Jonas also got payrolled by the family business, pulling down the T-bar for tourists on the slope and more recently advising his dad on how to construct the perfect kickers.
With the slopes just outside their house, nature was their playground..
With his school some 30km away in the nearest village, it was sometimes a lonely childhood. However this isolation had its advantages for Jonas and his brother. With none of the fears that haunt parents in the more populated parts of the world, they could do and go wherever they wanted, and with the slopes just outside their house, nature was their playground. It also allowed Jonas to amass a comprehensive collection of autographs from the visiting scientists, politicians and philanthropists, including that of the prime minister of Botswana and the thumbprint of the man who made nuclear physics accessible, Stephen Hawkins. Although Jonas’s interest in the sciences, in his own words, stretched only as far as “watching the Discovery Channel and reading illustrated science magazines”, this would be quite a nest-egg once the great and good were dead and buried.
Being marooned in the great outdoors also gave Jonas a passion for sports. As well as skiing and football (which he started playing at the age of 6), he had aspirations of becoming a golf pro, and with a handicap of 10 at the age of 12 he was well on his way to a life of pristine fairways, Pimms at the clubhouse, and more cash than the Sultan of Brunei. Unfortunately for him, or fortunately depending on how you rate money in the grand scheme of things, a friend from Stockholm came to stay in 1991, and brought with him a new snowboard. Before long, Jonas had talked his father into buying him a Nidecker Airline 132: after all, if he didn’t take to it, his parents could always use the board in their rental fleet. “At that time there were about 12 people living there (Graftavallen), and me and my brother were not only the first snowboarders but also the only locals.”
Going big at the IPP. Photo: Peter Lundström
By the age of 15, Jonas, with a sponsored board from Nitro on his back, left home for Sweden’s snowboard school in Malung, 600km from home. This centre of shredding excellence had a star-studded alumni including the likes of Hampus Mosesson, Ingemar Backmann, Johan Olofsson, Magnus Sterner and Stefan Karlsson. The students were nurtured on a diet of physical education, a sprinkling of academia, and (come winter) 3 to 4 days of snowboarding a week, which included contests and photo shoots. It was a universe away from Graftavallen, as Jonas explains: “Even though the school was located in a small village with a few thousand people, it was like moving to New York for me. I wasn’t used to having people around or even living together with others. I learned how to take care of myself”. It was all good-character building stuff, giving him a taste of what life on the road as a pro snowboarder would be like and also securing him a long term sponsorship with Nitro.
Nitro is one of snowboarding’s most down-to-earth companies, run by a small dedicated team of enthusiasts, with Sepp, perhaps the nicest guy in snowboarding, at the helm. The company and Jonas were made for each other, and Jonas often refers to them as his second family. Their bonds permeate every aspect of Jonas’ life, from his sponsorship and involvement in the production of the companies line of outerwear and boards, to fuelling his passion for music through the company band, The Almost Pretty Good Band. They even supported Jonas’ Nitro Team Challenge, an event which Jonas held at his parents’ resort for two years. Alas, although it was well attended by riders and friends, Jonas had to shut it down as it was a money-losing labour of love, and it would have needed a big investment to take it to the next level.
I enjoy travelling around, meeting new people and seeing different cultures. It gives you a whole new perspective on life.
Travel is a huge part of being a pro rider, and the search for fresh snow has taken Jonas around the world, from the bleak Caucasus Mountains of Russia to the European Alps of Switzerland and Austria, and beyond to Asia, New Zealand and South America. “Travelling means a lot to me and I think I won’t be able to stop ever. I enjoy so much to travel around meeting new people and see different cultures. It gives you a whole new perspective on life and a tolerance for different cultures. One thing is for sure, though, it’s more important with who you travel than where you travel.” However, travelling also has its flipside, keeping Jonas away from home and his beloved family and friends. This year Jonas is off to South Korea and will again be filming and shooting in mainland Europe with his Swiss buddy and filmer Christoph Fritschi. Christoph has produced the Nitro team video for the past two years.
The best job on earth
Although Jonas began his professional career competing in the Halfpipe World Cup, he took what some might say was a less challenging path in the sport, concentrating more on amassing editorial and film contents than trophies for his mantlepiece. Onboard asked him if he thought of snowboarding as a job. “Well it is a job, but it’s probably the best job on Earth. I mean I wouldn’t go and build a backcountry kicker for four hours on a sunny day in the best powder conditions just to jump it a few times if I wouldn’t have to produce a certain amount of good shoots every year. If it hadn’t been a job, I would have gone riding pow all day instead.”
It’s as much about who you know as what you know.
Getting your face in the industry’s magazines and films is a far harder job than one might think and is dependent on effort and whole lot of luck. Firstly it relies on good weather and snow conditions. Then a rider must work their media contacts – as in all businesses, it’s as much about who you know as what you know – while chasing photographers and filmers to winter hotspots. And finally every rider has to pray that their Kodak courage doesn’t land them in hospital as injuries have been the downfall of many a great rider. Thankfully for Jonas, avalanches and lost film aside, his hard work has paid off and this year he has had an interview in Snowboarder MBM and coverage in magazines across Europe, as well as a part in Nitro’s Team video.
Sweden has not only produced a good clutch of professional snowboarders, including Jonas, but they are also the third biggest exporters of music in the world, with bands like The Hives and the unbeatable talents of Abba gracing the global charts with predictable regularity. In accordance with his nation’s musical obsession, Jonas picked up his first guitar at the age of 13 and has been strumming ever since. His collection of instruments now includes a Martin Back Packer, which accompanies him on his snowboarding travels, a Fernandes Stratocaster copy, an Acoustic Washburn and a Framus Guitar banjo. However his pride and joy is his 1960s Hagström standard 80. Hagström, the purveyors of fine guitars to rock legends Elvis and Zappa, were resurrected this year after a 23-year coma and have just given Jonas a sponsorship deal for which he will receive a brand new Hagström Superswede. There can’t be many riders who have that string to their bow or for that matter who share surnames with a producer of fine instruments.
Turnpipes and Tunes
Jonas plays his guitars and sings in the The Almost Pretty Good Band. Other band members include Tommy Delago, a former pro drummer, Sepp and his boys, who are both multitalented musicians, and Onboard’s very own monster of rock and senior photographer, Scalp – as well as anyone else who happens to feel like screaming into a mic. “The idea to form a band actually came from our old team manager Petra Mussig. I was on my first summer camp ever and I had brought my guitar and played a little. We were supposed to go to Hintertux the week after and Petra called Sepp to bring the amps and stuff so we could have a concert. We did and that was the beginning. We usually have one or two gigs a year and we’re lucky if we have the time to practise.” What usually happens is that a couple of days before a gig the band is mailed the song sheet.
Let’s face it, every pro snowboarder has a little of the rock star in them.
If you have the good fortune of being at the Nitro summer camps in Saas Fee this year then be sure to check out The Almost Pretty Good Band in action. Jonas is the one with the new guitar, the glass and the not-so-rock hairstyle – in fact he is the one with no hair at all. So is Jonas’s future musical? “I would love it but I don’t know. It must be the toughest business in the world. I don’t know if there will be anything serious but music and playing guitar will hopefully always be a big part of my life.” Let’s face it, every pro snowboarder has a little of the rock star in them but the difference between them and Jonas is that he has the skills to pull it off.