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Jon Olsson Portrait

IT'S AFTER MIDNIGHT AT A THAI RESTAURANT IN à…RE, SWEDEN. The lights dim, and the corner by the bathroom quickly evolves into an impromptu dance floor as undulating Swedes start losing their clothes. A group of international freeskiers, in town for the Jon Olsson Invitational--a new-school big-air contest--sit at the bar, drooling over svelte, blond Swedish girls. "I've never seen anything like this in a ski town," one of the freeskiers says to me, gaping.

Everyone in à…re is hot, including the Swedish guys. Like the ladies, they show off their figures in formfitting fashions. And they don't seem to honor the American-dude rule of personal space. Swedish guys snuggle up on sofas. They stand close enough to kiss. They even dance together, with an occasional grind.

Up at the bar, Canadian T. J. Schiller and American Simon Dumont focus their attention on the Swedish babes and hope their misguided intuition is correct: that the gentleman Swedes are interested only in each other, leaving the pool of women wide open. While the guys lust and plot, I ask Canadian skier Sarah Burke if she wants to bag a Swede tonight. She rolls her eyes as she watches the scene. "I'm not into Swedish guys," she says. "They're not really that...manly."

But manliness is in the eye of the beholder. If you judge masculinity by such qualities as strength, determination, athleticism, and perseverance, you'd say Jon Olsson, the freeskiing superstar the event is named for, is the studliest man of all. While the gangsta-clad Americans ogle the beauties indoors, Jon (it's pronounced "yewn") is out in the bone-chilling cold, throwing back Red Bulls and shoveling snow onto the giant jumps the competitors are here for. He's been shoveling day and night for a week, and despite the weather, the strain, and the hour, he doesn't look the least bit tired.

If, on the other hand, you gauge manliness by flannel shirts, trucker hats, and hip-hop swagger, Jon falls far short. He shovels in style, with his streaky, tousled blond hair streaming from a designer beanie above baggy hot-pink trousers and leaf-camo rubber hunting boots. A bright blue lower-back brace-visible when he leans over for a big scoop of the heavy spring snow-becomes another smashing accessory.

With a head a bit too big for his lanky body, a surfer's tan, and giant blue-green eyes, Jon, 23, looks like some oddly fashionable action figure-a tweaked-out plastic superhero, Ziggy Stardust crossed with Hello Kitty. For the past five years, he's been a staple of ski movies and contests. He's won more medals than anyone in Winter X Games history. He parks his car-a souped-up Subaru WRX-anywhere he wants. He also skis so perfectly in competition, the judges think he's not trying.

That's Jon the skier, but there's also Jon the fashionista. Last year, he signed on with the Swedish high-fashion designer J.Lindeberg. He speaks enthusiastically about his ability to highlight his girlfriend's hair. In his native land there's a term to describe his aesthetic: "Jon-style." As in, "party Jon-style," which according to Nic, a DJ at a nightclub in à…re, involves "wigs, glasses, dancing on the table, you never know. He's going to get drunk and crazy in a positive way."

In a sport where the intricacies of style-more than straight-out airtime-differentiate athletes from one another, the particulars of personal aesthetics can separate the men from the boys. A whole crop of larger-than-life American new-school skiers have taken their hip-hop image to such an extreme that the real guys, the humble, clean-cut kids from Bozeman and Salt Lake are unrecognizeable. On first glance it appears that Jon has taken the same over-the-top approach with his fashionable cosmopolitan androgyny. Except Jon didn't dress up special to come out and build jumps after dark; he simply always looks glamorous.

["The Chronology of Olsson's Career"]

SUPERHEROES ALWAYS HAVE ORIGIN STORIES. Spiderman ts bitten by a genetically altered arachnid. Superman was a castaway from his doomed home planet of Krypton. The Incredible Hulk was zapped by gamma rays. Jon Olsson grew up in the middle of Sweden, picking blueberries.

1992, MORA, SWEDEN: The blueberries are ripening in the woodlands under a late-summer sun. Jon is obsessed and focused. He has superhuman blueberry vision. When he's older, he'll use his uncanny visual abilities to make dangerous and complicated aerial maneuvers look like child's play. Now his goal is to fill buckets with berries. The dark fruits blend into the green leaves, but Jon never misses one. He's a nimble urchin with indigo fingers, denuding the bushes in a blur of activity. Blueberries fly into buckets at a rate of 20 liters per hour.

At home, 11-year-old Jon is designing his own technically detailed ski clothes, which his mother produces for him from sketches and completes with labels taken from other garments. Aesthetics are important, but the family can't afford fancy gear. Jon is comfortable practicing the domestic arts, baking and sewing with his mother. She refers to him as "my little girl."

The Olsson family picks berries together and, like everything else, it's a contest. Jon's parents, Monika and Anders, met when they were alpine racers on the Swedish ski team, and Jon and his younger brother Hans have both skiing and competition in their blood. "No one likes to lose," laughs Monika. In the woods, Jon picks enough blueberries to pay for a one-week ski trip to Norway's highest mountain, Galdhopiggen.

SPRING 1999: Jon enters his first big-air contest. The Jump is a yearly event held in the à…re town square. While reindeer graze on moss and lichen up at the à…re ski area, Jon is busy modifying a pair of Rossi twin tips. His racing sponsor, Head Skis, doesn't make twin tips yet, and Jon wants to take off and land backward. To satisfy his sponsor, he designs a new set of graphics that transform the skis into Head twin tips. Jon takes first place at The Jump and wins a Breitling watch worth thousands of dollars. He trades the diamond-studded timepiece for a mountain bike.

That fall, a mogul skier shows Jon 13, the ski film by Johnny Decesare featuring Canadians J.F. Cusson, J.P. Auclair, Mike Douglas, and Shane Szocs-the founders of the new-school skiing movement. Jon and his pal Henrik Windstedt watch until the soundtrack wears out. They memorize the tricks in each segment. Scrutinizing misty flips and rodeos and spins in slow motion, Jon visualizes himself in the air, mimicking the skiers on the tape. "You just picture something and you got it," he says. "Then you just try it out."

FALL 1999: Jon leaves Mora for the Jarpen Ski Academy near à…re. His homemade clothes and pinball wizardry make him an anomaly among his peers. Instead of eating with the rest of the students, Jon spends a little of his lunch money on french fries-and uses the savings to indulge his pinball obsession. If he isn't working the paddles, he's skiing. "When he wasn't training, he was on his skis having a good time," says a former teammate, Dan Lang. "The rest of us, when we weren't racing, we were tired of being on skis."

Teenage Jon is never tired of being on skis. He sees the possibilities of the mountain beyond racing gates. He's off-piste, exploring and taking chances. He brings the discipline of racing to his freeskiing, and he begins experimenting with jumps-inspired by snowboarders and friends on the mogul team. In October, Jon and Henrik hike to the top of the à…re resort, where they build a kicker and spend 10 days figuring out how to do every trick they've seen.

["Dreads, Knitwear, and High Fashion"]

FEBRUARY 2000: The Swedes drop everything they have on plane tickets to the U.S. Freeskiing Open in Vail to compete against the guys they've been studying on film: Moseley, Auclair, Cusson. Jon recognizes them the second he sees them. He's a shy, star-struck Swedish kid, a complete unknown. But he feels he knows them.

Jon looks at the jump and visualizes himself soaring through the air. He replays the action in his head, and then launches over the crowd, gracefully executing a big, floaty 720 D-spin. Jon's internal movie projector is running in perfect focus. His jump takes second place in Big Air. The new-school world takes notice.

Jon returns to North America in summer to ski Mt. Hood and Whistler. His smooth, easy style makes him the talk of the glaciers. He hooks up with a handful of sponsors and makes connections with filmmakers and photographers. The 19-year-old is a godsend for companies marketing to the freshly created demographic of new-school skiers-especially in Europe, where skiing still reigns over snowboarding. "He had these red and blond dreads sticking all over the place," says Oakley team manager Greg Strokes, "and he was doing all the tricks with super-sick style." Jon rarely wipes out, he never gets arrested, and he consistently tailors his moves for the camera. Just one year after seeing 13, Jon gets a segment in Johnny Decesare's new movie, The Game. He quits racing and dedicates himself to traveling the world, making films, competing, posing for photos, and promoting himself and his sponsors. He is now officially Living the Life.

POP A SWITCH 1080 TO 2003: Jon, a seasoned megastar, is sitting in the Stockholm airport-knitting a beanie. He is seen everywhere with needles. Whenever he flies somewhere for a contest, he visits the local yarn shop. He doesn't use patterns, but has an intrinsic understanding of how to build clothes, and he likes the control he has over their construction. When he makes a cable-knit sweater for his girlfriend, Olivia, he uses freeskier Kristi Leskinen as a dressmaker's dummy to check fit. His penchant for wool is detailed in Swedish knitting magazines and on television, making the hobby popular with Swedish boys. Every time he's home, he's in à…re's local yarn shop, Kaki, and Katti, the owner, says yarn sales are way up since Jon began knitting in public. But as quickly as he masters a skill, he drops it. He likes to start trends, but he despises being like everybody else. Now he's into bowling.

JANUARY 2005, THE X GAMES: Jon shows up in Aspen in a turquoise leather-and-rabbit-fur ensemble, causing a near-riot among the jeering preteens unable to reconcile the femininity of dyed leather with the radness of a 1080. Jon's decision to change clothing sponsors from Oakley to J.Lindeberg, a high-fashion Swedish brand just breaking into the ski market, has tongues wagging. Being a top Oakley athlete was a pinnacle achievement, but Jon is unfazed. "I could wear the same baggy Oakley clothes and look like everyone else," he tells Mike Douglas, the elder statesman of jib. "Or I could wear this stuff and hang out with supermodels in Milan." Concerned about his perceived masculinity, he's done some research. "And it turned out the girls I met kinda liked what I was likin' but didn't wear it...before I got it confirmed that it was looking all right. Or something like that," he says.

POWERSLIDE A THROATY WRX TO MARCH 28, THREE DAYS BEFORE THE JON OLSSON INVITATIONAL: Jon, arguably the best new-school skier in the world, is helping a young up-and-comer. Shaggy 16-year-old Sammy Carlson from Oregon arrives in à…re a few days before the event and plops down at Jon's kitchen table with his iBook. His number-one goal for the trip is to find a lovely Swedish girlfriend, but he's exhausted after his flight and wants to chill out with some music for a few hours. He's wearing baggy clothes made by his sponsor, and a brown baseball cap pulled low over his forehead.

Jon didn't have an older skier watching his back when he was coming up through the ranks, and he feels it's his duty to help younger skiers. He pulls off the cap and starts with Sammy's hair, lecturing him about the importance of looking good-especiallyk Swedish kid, a complete unknown. But he feels he knows them.

Jon looks at the jump and visualizes himself soaring through the air. He replays the action in his head, and then launches over the crowd, gracefully executing a big, floaty 720 D-spin. Jon's internal movie projector is running in perfect focus. His jump takes second place in Big Air. The new-school world takes notice.

Jon returns to North America in summer to ski Mt. Hood and Whistler. His smooth, easy style makes him the talk of the glaciers. He hooks up with a handful of sponsors and makes connections with filmmakers and photographers. The 19-year-old is a godsend for companies marketing to the freshly created demographic of new-school skiers-especially in Europe, where skiing still reigns over snowboarding. "He had these red and blond dreads sticking all over the place," says Oakley team manager Greg Strokes, "and he was doing all the tricks with super-sick style." Jon rarely wipes out, he never gets arrested, and he consistently tailors his moves for the camera. Just one year after seeing 13, Jon gets a segment in Johnny Decesare's new movie, The Game. He quits racing and dedicates himself to traveling the world, making films, competing, posing for photos, and promoting himself and his sponsors. He is now officially Living the Life.

POP A SWITCH 1080 TO 2003: Jon, a seasoned megastar, is sitting in the Stockholm airport-knitting a beanie. He is seen everywhere with needles. Whenever he flies somewhere for a contest, he visits the local yarn shop. He doesn't use patterns, but has an intrinsic understanding of how to build clothes, and he likes the control he has over their construction. When he makes a cable-knit sweater for his girlfriend, Olivia, he uses freeskier Kristi Leskinen as a dressmaker's dummy to check fit. His penchant for wool is detailed in Swedish knitting magazines and on television, making the hobby popular with Swedish boys. Every time he's home, he's in à…re's local yarn shop, Kaki, and Katti, the owner, says yarn sales are way up since Jon began knitting in public. But as quickly as he masters a skill, he drops it. He likes to start trends, but he despises being like everybody else. Now he's into bowling.

JANUARY 2005, THE X GAMES: Jon shows up in Aspen in a turquoise leather-and-rabbit-fur ensemble, causing a near-riot among the jeering preteens unable to reconcile the femininity of dyed leather with the radness of a 1080. Jon's decision to change clothing sponsors from Oakley to J.Lindeberg, a high-fashion Swedish brand just breaking into the ski market, has tongues wagging. Being a top Oakley athlete was a pinnacle achievement, but Jon is unfazed. "I could wear the same baggy Oakley clothes and look like everyone else," he tells Mike Douglas, the elder statesman of jib. "Or I could wear this stuff and hang out with supermodels in Milan." Concerned about his perceived masculinity, he's done some research. "And it turned out the girls I met kinda liked what I was likin' but didn't wear it...before I got it confirmed that it was looking all right. Or something like that," he says.

POWERSLIDE A THROATY WRX TO MARCH 28, THREE DAYS BEFORE THE JON OLSSON INVITATIONAL: Jon, arguably the best new-school skier in the world, is helping a young up-and-comer. Shaggy 16-year-old Sammy Carlson from Oregon arrives in à…re a few days before the event and plops down at Jon's kitchen table with his iBook. His number-one goal for the trip is to find a lovely Swedish girlfriend, but he's exhausted after his flight and wants to chill out with some music for a few hours. He's wearing baggy clothes made by his sponsor, and a brown baseball cap pulled low over his forehead.

Jon didn't have an older skier watching his back when he was coming up through the ranks, and he feels it's his duty to help younger skiers. He pulls off the cap and starts with Sammy's hair, lecturing him about the importance of looking good-especially given his goals for the weekend. "When you meet the people, you gotta be jeeked out," he explains. He brings over some gel and musses up Sammy's hair, making the messiness appear intentional. Sammy looks in the mirror and shrieks. The ratty cap goes back on.

["Progress Without Fear"]

THE MAGIC OF JON OLSSON IS THAT HE MAKES IT ALL LOOK so natural: the looks, the girls, the wheels, the swag, the bling, and, of course, the skiing. He's got a wall of medals, including one for last year's Scandinavian Big Mountain Championships in Riksgransen, Sweden. It's the world's longest-running extreme comp, and Jon, the park and pipe specialist, beat some of the world's best big mountain skiers at their own game.

If Jon has a flaw, it's that he's too good. "He needs to look like he's taking a chance," says Douglas. But when Jon sails through the air, changing directions from jump to jump or reaching down to grab his skis as he's flying, he looks as relaxed and laissez-faire as when he's tying his Louis Vuitton sneakers.

Not that it's easy; Jon is nonchalant in a focused, calculating way. Which is why he's still shoveling the day before the Invitational. There's plenty of shaping and smoothing to be done, but even though T. J. Shiller, Josh Bibby, and Sarah Burke have landed in à…re, no one wants to pick up a shovel and help. "I'm really anal about jumps," Jon says. When they aren't perfect at contests, he won't ski. Period. Though it's given him a reputation as a prima donna, Jon argues he's doing it out of concern for the future of the sport. This year, within one week, he watched both Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont crash. Tanner broke both ankles, and Simon broke his pelvis. Earlier in the season, he was on hand when Norwegian skier Lars Veen overshot a jump at Mammoth and was paralyzed from the waist down.

"I want to progress, but I don't want to progress in a way where I have to fear for my life. I felt a lot more peace of mind when I came to that conclusion. This year, I'm going to let the others be gnarly. I'm going to be the guy doing a good event, helping out in the park, but not being the craziest guy."

A new crop of 17- to 19-year-olds is poised to take over the sport, and the skiers seem only to get younger. Even at the ripe old age of 19, T. J. Schiller claims he's on his way out. "There are 13-year-olds at my hill doing the same tricks I do, and doing them better," he says. Which makes Jon almost an old man.

["The Jon Olsson Invitational"]

THE JUMPS FINALLY GET JON'S seal of approval just before the morning practice session. The weather cooperates, throwing down full sun for the skiers who've flown in from all over the world to compete. The night event draws thousands to cheer on an international posse of elite skiers, some as young as 13, and they scream when Jon, in pink pants and jacket with a white rabbit-skin vest, falls on his face after doing a back flip. Jon rarely flails, but he gets up laughing. He's already told the judges that he didn't want to win. What kind of person invites the world to his backyard just to one-up everyone? That night, a bunch of Americans show up sporting "Jon-overs"-clad in Jon's clothing, their hair artfully clipped and gelled.

The next morning is cloudy, so a photo shoot scheduled for noon has been canned, giving Jon some time to be more expansive. "I want people to realize that to be a pro skier is a lot of work. You don't get up at 12 and ski around for a couple hours. You get up at five and get on your sled and film for five hours." While he's eating pancakes, a boy around eight years old asks him for his autograph. Jon chats with him in Swedish, then signs his name on a napkin. A few minutes later, the boy comes back with his own signature scrawled on a napkin along with his phone number and the words "COMING STAR." "Better save this," says Jon, folding up the napkin and tucking it into his vest. "You never know."

NOVEMBER 2005ally given his goals foor the weekend. "When you meet the people, you gotta be jeeked out," he explains. He brings over some gel and musses up Sammy's hair, making the messiness appear intentional. Sammy looks in the mirror and shrieks. The ratty cap goes back on.

["Progress Without Fear"]

THE MAGIC OF JON OLSSON IS THAT HE MAKES IT ALL LOOK so natural: the looks, the girls, the wheels, the swag, the bling, and, of course, the skiing. He's got a wall of medals, including one for last year's Scandinavian Big Mountain Championships in Riksgransen, Sweden. It's the world's longest-running extreme comp, and Jon, the park and pipe specialist, beat some of the world's best big mountain skiers at their own game.

If Jon has a flaw, it's that he's too good. "He needs to look like he's taking a chance," says Douglas. But when Jon sails through the air, changing directions from jump to jump or reaching down to grab his skis as he's flying, he looks as relaxed and laissez-faire as when he's tying his Louis Vuitton sneakers.

Not that it's easy; Jon is nonchalant in a focused, calculating way. Which is why he's still shoveling the day before the Invitational. There's plenty of shaping and smoothing to be done, but even though T. J. Shiller, Josh Bibby, and Sarah Burke have landed in à…re, no one wants to pick up a shovel and help. "I'm really anal about jumps," Jon says. When they aren't perfect at contests, he won't ski. Period. Though it's given him a reputation as a prima donna, Jon argues he's doing it out of concern for the future of the sport. This year, within one week, he watched both Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont crash. Tanner broke both ankles, and Simon broke his pelvis. Earlier in the season, he was on hand when Norwegian skier Lars Veen overshot a jump at Mammoth and was paralyzed from the waist down.

"I want to progress, but I don't want to progress in a way where I have to fear for my life. I felt a lot more peace of mind when I came to that conclusion. This year, I'm going to let the others be gnarly. I'm going to be the guy doing a good event, helping out in the park, but not being the craziest guy."

A new crop of 17- to 19-year-olds is poised to take over the sport, and the skiers seem only to get younger. Even at the ripe old age of 19, T. J. Schiller claims he's on his way out. "There are 13-year-olds at my hill doing the same tricks I do, and doing them better," he says. Which makes Jon almost an old man.

["The Jon Olsson Invitational"]

THE JUMPS FINALLY GET JON'S seal of approval just before the morning practice session. The weather cooperates, throwing down full sun for the skiers who've flown in from all over the world to compete. The night event draws thousands to cheer on an international posse of elite skiers, some as young as 13, and they scream when Jon, in pink pants and jacket with a white rabbit-skin vest, falls on his face after doing a back flip. Jon rarely flails, but he gets up laughing. He's already told the judges that he didn't want to win. What kind of person invites the world to his backyard just to one-up everyone? That night, a bunch of Americans show up sporting "Jon-overs"-clad in Jon's clothing, their hair artfully clipped and gelled.

The next morning is cloudy, so a photo shoot scheduled for noon has been canned, giving Jon some time to be more expansive. "I want people to realize that to be a pro skier is a lot of work. You don't get up at 12 and ski around for a couple hours. You get up at five and get on your sled and film for five hours." While he's eating pancakes, a boy around eight years old asks him for his autograph. Jon chats with him in Swedish, then signs his name on a napkin. A few minutes later, the boy comes back with his own signature scrawled on a napkin along with his phone number and the words "COMING STAR." "Better save this," says Jon, folding up the napkin and tucking it into his vest. "You never know."

NOVEMBER 2005

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