The Swede Life

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The Swede Life

Big-time avalanche scares aren't unusual for professional athletes pushing the steep-and-deep envelope, and as aficionados of today's wild ski videos will attest, are par for the course on a big-mountain shoot. Still, to keep those skiers safe, someone needs to monitor the risk-identifying and assessing objective hazards.

"We were standing on this breakover on a slope that we'd already skied about 1,500 feet of vertical on," recalls skier Richie Schley. "We were scoping out another air, but our guide kind of sniffed around and said, 'Naw, I think we'll pick up here (with the heli) because I don't really know the snow profile at this elevation.' We turned away from him to walk to the pickup area, and the entire bowl below us ripped out. He just nodded as if that was exactly what he figured might happen."

He could have been any of the platoon of mountain guides overseeing film gigs in western North America. In coastal British Columbia, though, it could only be one person: the Swede.

PETER "THE SWEDE" MATTSSON, 47, is a study in contrasts. At just over six feet tall, the gruff, gorilla-stanced skier is an unassuming poster boy for the simultaneous consumption of aquavit, snus, and hand-rolled tobacco-just another northern Euro who loves slam-dancing, Iggy Pop, and Frank Zappa. He is also the most in-demand guide and film coordinator to the worldwide snow-sports film industry that frequents his adopted town of Whistler, B.C. He serves the same function for the mainstream advertising, TV, and feature-film juggernaut that rolls through Whistler from Vancouver, L.A., Toronto, and New York. How did a dirt-bag Swedish cowboy, a true Whistler original whose mountain baptism came in the testosterone-laced waters of the extreme-skiing movement, come to occupy such an exalted post?

"Hey, in mountains like these, people are clueless. But since they keep coming, somebody has to keep them from getting killed," he declares with unmasked self-appointment. "Besides, they pay well. Ha!"

"The Swede has this rough, wiry exterior," explains freeskier Chris Winter, who worked with him for two seasons in B.C.'s new heli-ski nirvana of Bella Coola, "but you peel away the layers, and he has more tales than anyone you've ever met. He's well traveled, educated, and, of course, opinionated. And I'm not sure that anyone knows B.C.'s Coast Range any better."

"He's kind of crusty, with a really dry sense of humor," says long-time friend and photographer Bruce Rowles. "He's confident in the mountains, scary when he's drunk, and everyone loves him."

TODAY, LOOKING LIKE A CRAZED CAMP counselor, the Swede is working with the film crew for Colorado-based Matchstick Productions (MSP), including photographer Scott Markewitz, cinematographer Tom Ericson, Wendy Fisher, and Schley. Clasping his clipboard, he is somewhat disheveled in track pants and a hoody, his dirty-blond hair barely escaping the confines of a soiled baseball cap. He barks news updates and weather reports to the group assembled at a heli-pad near Pemberton, B.C.

But despite clear skies, it's too windy to fly. The high wind means snow hammered to windward and badly loaded on lee slopes-two things you can do without when you're spending bank on film and heli fuel. Besides, they have several good days' worth of shooting in the can-and Schley's ripped bowl wasn't the only avy scare. So nobody's that disappointed when the Swede declares the shoot officially over.

Heli-chips cashed in, most of the group decides on a relaxed tour off Blackcomb Mountain for the next day. At 9 a.m., the appointed time, I join Markewitz, Fisher, Schley, and Schley's friend Marcus, who edits a German mountain-bike mag. But where's the preternaturally punctual Swede?

Suddenly, a commotion at the base lodge catches our attention. Out tumbles the Swede, talking loudly over his shoulder to no one in particular, waving a hand in which he clutcs a huge dripping slice of pepperoni pizza. It begs two questions: Who cooks pizza this early? And, who would possibly eat it?

"Whaaaat?" erupts the Swede in his cliché Scandinavian accent, wiping cheese from his chin and answering our incredulity by spreading his arms in mock protest. "It's got all the food groups-except beer. But I had some of that last night, so I'm good. Hey-what are you guys waiting for? Let's go!"

With his troops in tow, the Swede is off and running for another day.

MATTSSON GREW UP IN UDDEVALLA, Sweden, where he learned to ski on local hills. At 19 he entered the hospitality industry, managing a hotel restaurant in à…re, Sweden's rising-star version of Whistler. He did plenty of partying and skiing but wasn't quite ready to stay put. So he went to restaurant school, traveled the world as a cruise-ship cook, spent winters in the Alps and summers at Scandinavian sailing resorts. In 1978 he landed in Steamboat, Colorado, where he worked as a chef before returning to Stockholm to help his brother open a restaurant.

In Steamboat, Mattsson had heard about a place called Whistler, just north of Vancouver on Canada's rugged West Coast-huge mountains, no people, wild and unexplored. It sounded good. In 1981 he emigrated directly from Sweden to Whistler. A small town at the time, Whistler had only two buildings in its village; Blackcomb was just being developed, so there were two huge ski mountains and few skiers to crowd them. He had one of the best jobs in town running the restaurant and bar at the old Highland Lodge. But with a series of big winters pounding the mountains, it wasn't long before that got in the way.

"It was tough because I had a really professional job with a lot of responsibility and would hire my ski-bum buddies to help out," he recalls. "They were hard workers but never showed up on time if the skiing was good. Pretty soon, even I couldn't show up on time and gave up the restaurant lifestyle to ski and climb more."

THAT MATTSSON HAS SKIED AND climbed almost every inch of the seemingly infinite Whistler backcountry is evident as soon as we start our tour. After an hour of lift riding, followed by a brief boot-pack and traverse across the top of Blackcomb Glacier, we follow him up the long zigzag skin track behind Disease Ridge. At the top, he leads us over a blind 50-degree roller, down a short face resplendent in deep, cold April powder, then across a short saddle toward the top of a pencil couloir called Johnny's Jam-named for the first of Mattsson's buddies to balk at its sketchy entrance and deep-cut, no-fall walls. The Swede plumbs and absorbs topographic features as if each contour were etched in his mind. Drinking in the vista of massive blue-tongued glaciers and black volcanic spires, we doff skis and down-climb into the chute's constricted throat. Descending the couloir without incident, we track spring slop across a big apron, then straight-line down changeable but forgiving snow to the surface of a frozen lake.

So in tune is the Swede with the labyrinthine convolutions of the Coast Range that it's hard to imagine he's ever lived anywhere else in Canada. But he has. And that brief hiatus from Whistler would ultimately reverberate around the ski world.

Mattsson spent the winter of 1982-83 at Apex Mountain in the B.C. interior. It was here he first met two greenhorns named Eric Pehota and Trevor Petersen.

"They were total rubes at the time-like 18 years old-and just ate up everything I said. I told them about Whistler and that I was going back there; they decided to go, too. Who could have known?"

In the late '80s and early '90s, Pehota and Petersen brought Euro-style, self -climbed, big-mountain descents to the North American consciousness. In a series of memorable RAP films, the dynamic duo's exploits would further the freeride vibe laid down by Greg Stump as a vanguard of the "extreme" movement (though they would demure in one humorous interview, conceding only that their style be construed as "severe" skiing). Tragically, Petersen was killed in an avalanche in Chamonix in 1996.

Once in Whistler, Mattsson and the boys fell in with a crowd that was getting into big-time climbing and ski mountaineering, especially around the uncharted territory of Blackcomb.

"At the time, few people were skiing Blackcomb, and we had powder for three days after a storm-a week if you hiked or toured," Mattsson says. He recalls the relatively small group of about 20 off-piste pioneers-hardcores like Pehota, Petersen, Steve Smaridge, the Charon brothers, and Peter Chzranowski. "We skied hard and partied harder because there wasn't much else to do," says Mattsson. "The only girls here were so fat they had to walk sideways through the bar doors. It was like the Wild West-even the mayor was a cocaine dealer."

A global depression in 1985 hit the town hard, but things picked up again around 1988, as Whistler's reputation blossomed. Not that Mattsson and company noticed. They were too busy playing to care: bagging big peaks and new icefalls, racking up a huge list of first ski descents. After an hour or so of slogging up the steep, north-facing Decker Glacier, it becomes apparent to us just how many, as the Swede starts pointing out pioneering routes on every horizon, his wild gesticulations and facial expressions testament to his brio.

"One time I'm on the face of Turner over there," he recalls, "and f-ing Pehota buzzes me in his plane. He flew so close that I thought he was going to knock me off!"

"How 'bout Wedge?" someone asks, referring to the massive, towering peak to the east, one on which several people have perished.

"Holy shit...I skied the northwest couloir maybe six times," the Swede says. "Back in the '80s, we used to get dropped on top with cappuccinos and croissants...south side is hardly ever in shape, but we got it once in knee-deep powder...five and a half thousand vertical on a single 40-degree slope...some crazy shit went down on Wedge."

Lost in fond reminiscence, he eventually points southeast toward Mount Tremor and a fearsome central couloir that pinches out after about 1,500 feet, requiring a big air to exit. "That was Trevor's line...," he says, lapsing into brief silence, the only true break from his prolixity we will know all day.

It wasn't long before the Swede's group gained a reputation that quickly spread through the mountaineering grapevine. They got involved with high-altitude climbing, including participating in all the training climbs for the 1991 Canadian Everest expedition-summiting both Denali in Alaska and Argentina's Aconcagua.

"We were living a real wild life, doing things that no one had done before," the Swede says. "Adventure was life. It was pretty much like a movie."

Perhaps it was kismet then, that Mattsson would find his way up from the vicissitudes of ski bumming, through the morass of guiding, and into the movies.

SEARCHING FOR AN OCCUPATION THAT could keep him outdoors, Mattsson turned to guiding in the late '80s. Extreme skiing was big, so he and Petersen started a company called "No Wimp Tours." One of their first trips-to B.C.'s Pantheon Range near Mount Waddington-was with writer, photographer, and then Powder magazine editor, Steve Casimiro.

"Casimiro was shitting himself," recalls Mattsson, cackling at the memory, "because the only camping spot was a small green patch surrounded by hundreds of grizzly bear tracks.

"Nevertheless, the subsequent magazine story helped launch the young business. Mattsson did most of the guiding because Petersen-a big-name skier by then-was busy with family, sponsors, and film work. The Swede also guided locally for Whistler and Tyax Heli-Skiing, Klondike Heliski in northern B.C., and a nascent heli-skiing operation in Greenland. It was during this time, as his reputatould demure in one humorous interview, conceding only that their style be construed as "severe" skiing). Tragically, Petersen was killed in an avalanche in Chamonix in 1996.

Once in Whistler, Mattsson and the boys fell in with a crowd that was getting into big-time climbing and ski mountaineering, especially around the uncharted territory of Blackcomb.

"At the time, few people were skiing Blackcomb, and we had powder for three days after a storm-a week if you hiked or toured," Mattsson says. He recalls the relatively small group of about 20 off-piste pioneers-hardcores like Pehota, Petersen, Steve Smaridge, the Charon brothers, and Peter Chzranowski. "We skied hard and partied harder because there wasn't much else to do," says Mattsson. "The only girls here were so fat they had to walk sideways through the bar doors. It was like the Wild West-even the mayor was a cocaine dealer."

A global depression in 1985 hit the town hard, but things picked up again around 1988, as Whistler's reputation blossomed. Not that Mattsson and company noticed. They were too busy playing to care: bagging big peaks and new icefalls, racking up a huge list of first ski descents. After an hour or so of slogging up the steep, north-facing Decker Glacier, it becomes apparent to us just how many, as the Swede starts pointing out pioneering routes on every horizon, his wild gesticulations and facial expressions testament to his brio.

"One time I'm on the face of Turner over there," he recalls, "and f-ing Pehota buzzes me in his plane. He flew so close that I thought he was going to knock me off!"

"How 'bout Wedge?" someone asks, referring to the massive, towering peak to the east, one on which several people have perished.

"Holy shit...I skied the northwest couloir maybe six times," the Swede says. "Back in the '80s, we used to get dropped on top with cappuccinos and croissants...south side is hardly ever in shape, but we got it once in knee-deep powder...five and a half thousand vertical on a single 40-degree slope...some crazy shit went down on Wedge."

Lost in fond reminiscence, he eventually points southeast toward Mount Tremor and a fearsome central couloir that pinches out after about 1,500 feet, requiring a big air to exit. "That was Trevor's line...," he says, lapsing into brief silence, the only true break from his prolixity we will know all day.

It wasn't long before the Swede's group gained a reputation that quickly spread through the mountaineering grapevine. They got involved with high-altitude climbing, including participating in all the training climbs for the 1991 Canadian Everest expedition-summiting both Denali in Alaska and Argentina's Aconcagua.

"We were living a real wild life, doing things that no one had done before," the Swede says. "Adventure was life. It was pretty much like a movie."

Perhaps it was kismet then, that Mattsson would find his way up from the vicissitudes of ski bumming, through the morass of guiding, and into the movies.

SEARCHING FOR AN OCCUPATION THAT could keep him outdoors, Mattsson turned to guiding in the late '80s. Extreme skiing was big, so he and Petersen started a company called "No Wimp Tours." One of their first trips-to B.C.'s Pantheon Range near Mount Waddington-was with writer, photographer, and then Powder magazine editor, Steve Casimiro.

"Casimiro was shitting himself," recalls Mattsson, cackling at the memory, "because the only camping spot was a small green patch surrounded by hundreds of grizzly bear tracks.

"Nevertheless, the subsequent magazine story helped launch the young business. Mattsson did most of the guiding because Petersen-a big-name skier by then-was busy with family, sponsors, and film work. The Swede also guided locally for Whistler and Tyax Heli-Skiing, Klondike Heliski in northern B.C., and a nascent heli-skiing operation in Greenland. It was during this time, as his reputation spread through the ranks, that he started doing film work.

"My first job was guiding snowboard crews for Adventurescope," says Mattson. "There weren't many people making movies then, and it wasn't common to have a guide, so at first we were just hired to do safety. Nowadays, we do a lot more and don't even call ourselves guides-it's film coordinators and producers."

"The Swede is pretty much a co-director of our films," says Murray Wais, a principal of MSP. "He does an incredible set-up job, then runs daily meetings on location to update rules, conditions, and what we plan to accomplish. Plus, he's a great motivator-his enthusiasm carries our films a long way."

The Swede, of course, is more stoic about his vocation. "It was pretty natural to get into film," he says, "I knew the area, how to organize people, pick runs, and do safety stuff like snow conditions and avalanche prevention. After all my guiding, I also knew about heli-logistics and how to keep fuel costs down. Pretty soon I was setting up the whole f-ing trip-booking, guiding all day, and cooking at night. I don't do the cooking anymore, though. Ha!"

What really set Mattsson apart, however, were his intuition and powers of observation in the mountains. Word soon got around about the Argus-eyed guide, and in 1996 Mattsson started another company-Mountain Sport Productions-to specialize in film work year-round. And not just snow-sport films, but also the lucrative, increasingly frequent advertising and feature film shoots around Whistler.

But there's another reason he's indispensable to the makers of today's ski videos, and why he lists five MSP films and four for Tahoe-based Standard Films on his résumé.

"Basically he's a cowboy," says Schley. "He'll let you ride stuff no one else will. He'll give you his opinion-when there's sure to be trouble-but he'll tell you how to manage it. Then he'll stuff a rubber chicken in your pack when you're not looking. It takes the edge off."

Schley recalls the time a slide broke loose under him on an MSP shoot in McGillvray Pass, B.C. As he rocketed downward, the guide at the bottom was already running toward the runout with his transceiver switched to "search." The Swede was on a ridge watching the whole thing with apparent unconcern. According to Schley, "Later Brad Holmes tells me, 'Man, I couldn't believe it. The Swede was sitting there smoking and he just kind of pulls this hand-rolled from his mouth, yells, Avalanche!, then goes back to smoking.'

"His renegade style sometimes makes me uneasy," adds Schley, "but Americans love it because things are so tightly regulated down there, and they don't get to do this 'Wild West' kind of stuff except in Alaska. How many guides do you know who'll call you a pussy? He'll hassle you to step it up where others might tell you to rein it in."

"A lot of what he lets us do is beyond what's(generally) considered safe," agrees Wais. "He takes what most guides do in commercial operations, and ratchets it up a notch for the pros so they can do their job in a safe, professional way."

"I pay my guys $100 a day more than commercial heli-ski guides because it's all high-risk-although in some ways it's safer than(commercial) heli-skiing," Mattsson says. "The people we're doing safety for are all pros who don't freeze up when things go wrong. Look at that versus 10 beginners floundering behind you in deep snow."

ALL DAY, MATTSSON'S BEEN HECTORING Marcus-who's touring on 130-cm approach skis and falling far behind on steeper sections-to catch up. On top of Decker Mountain, our goal for the day, Marcus finally pulls even and dons his regular boards for the descent of an untracked western slope. Entreating Marcus to drop in first, Mattsson then tries to incite World War III by referencing the controversy surrounding Europe's new currency. As Marcus sinks into his first face shot, the Swede leans over the cornice and yells after him: "Hey-Germany über alles, eh? Can you f-ing imagine? Now you have the same money as the French!"

There's plenty of spunk left in the ol' wind-up Swede after the sun drops. At dinner that night in one of Whistler's ritzier eateries, he's predictably loud and obnoxious. While the waiter hovers, he yells toward the kitchen, "Hey, I want rack of lamb-not lack of lamb!" The chef sticks his head out, nods, and the Swede ends up with a half a sheep on his plate.

His restaurant connections might be intact, but Mattsson's strongest bonds remain with those he makes turns with. Currently, he's developing a new heli-ski business in Bella Coola with a couple of long-time ski buddies. And a few winters back, he worked as location coordinator on a feature-length National Film Board of Canada documentary titled Ski Bums, which headlined several friends and acquaintances.

"That job was all about fun," he smiles, pausing to weigh his words in a rare display of self-regulation. "But then, all my jobs are. Ha!"

For the filmmakers, however, it was about more than just fun. They needed someone to rally the frequently hung-over troops, find the right runs, dig snow pits, administrate a tight heli-budget, distribute peanut-butter sandwiches, buy beers at the end of the day, and keep everyone laughing throughout.

In Coastal B.C., that could only have been one person: the Swede.

Pete "the Swede" Mattsson is starting an experts-only heli-operation, Bella Coola Heli Sports, with cinematographers Beat Steiner and Christian Begin. Contact him at bchelisports@hotmail.com or 604-932-4336. If you're a filmmaker, try Mountain Sport Productions: mspswede@telus.net

spread through the ranks, that he started doing film work.

"My first job was guiding snowboard crews for Adventurescope," says Mattson. "There weren't many people making movies then, and it wasn't common to have a guide, so at first we were just hired to do safety. Nowadays, we do a lot more and don't even call ourselves guides-it's film coordinators and producers."

"The Swede is pretty much a co-director of our films," says Murray Wais, a principal of MSP. "He does an incredible set-up job, then runs daily meetings on location to update rules, conditions, and what we plan to accomplish. Plus, he's a great motivator-his enthusiasm carries our films a long way."

The Swede, of course, is more stoic about his vocation. "It was pretty natural to get into film," he says, "I knew the area, how to organize people, pick runs, and do safety stuff like snow conditions and avalanche prevention. After all my guiding, I also knew about heli-logistics and how to keep fuel costs down. Pretty soon I was setting up the whole f-ing trip-booking, guiding all day, and cooking at night. I don't do the cooking anymore, though. Ha!"

What really set Mattsson apart, however, were his intuition and powers of observation in the mountains. Word soon got around about the Argus-eyed guide, and in 1996 Mattsson started another company-Mountain Sport Productions-to specialize in film work year-round. And not just snow-sport films, but also the lucrative, increasingly frequent advertising and feature film shoots around Whistler.

But there's another reason he's indispensable to the makers of today's ski videos, and why he lists five MSP films and four for Tahoe-based Standard Films on his résumé.

"Basically he's a cowboy," says Schley. "He'll let you ride stuff no one else will. He'll give you his opinion-when there's sure to be trouble-but he'll tell you how to manage it. Then he'll stuff a rubber chicken in your pack when you're not looking. It takes the edge off."

Schley recalls the time a slide broke loose under him on an MSP shoot in McGillvray Pass, B.C. As he rocketed downward, the guide at the bottom was already running toward the runout with his transceiver switched to "search." The Swede was on a ridge watching the whole thing with apparent unconcern. According to Schley, "Later Brad Holmes tells me, 'Man, I couldn't believe it. The Swede was sitting there smoking and he just kind of pulls this hand-rolled from his mouth, yells, Avalanche!, then goes back to smoking.'

"His renegade style sometimes makes me uneasy," adds Schley, "but Americans love it because things are so tightly regulated down there, and they don't get to do this 'Wild West' kind of stuff except in Alaska. How many guides do you know who'll call you a pussy? He'll hassle you to step it up where others might tell you to rein it in."

"A lot of what he lets us do is beyond what's(generally) considered safe," agrees Wais. "He takes what most guides do in commercial operations, and ratchets it up a notch for the pros so they can do their job in a safe, professional way."

"I pay my guys $100 a day more than commercial heli-ski guides because it's all high-risk-although in some ways it's safer than(commercial) heli-skiing," Mattsson says. "The people we're doing safety for are all pros who don't freeze up when things go wrong. Look at that versus 10 beginners floundering behind you in deep snow."

ALL DAY, MATTSSON'S BEEN HECTORING Marcus-who's touring on 130-cm approach skis and falling far behind on steeper sections-to catch up. On top of Decker Mountain, our goal for the day, Marcus finally pulls even and dons his regular boards for the descent of an untracked western slope. Entreating Marcus to drop in first, Mattsson then tries to incite World War III by referencing the controversy surrounding Europe's new currency. As Marcus sinks into his first face shot, the Swede leans over the cornice and yells after him: "Hey-Germany über alles, eh? Can you f-ing imagine? Now you have the same money as the French!"

There's plenty of spunk left in the ol' wind-up Swede after the sun drops. At dinner that night in one of Whistler's ritzier eateries, he's predictably loud and obnoxious. While the waiter hovers, he yells toward the kitchen, "Hey, I want rack of lamb-not lack of lamb!" The chef sticks his head out, nods, and the Swede ends up with a half a sheep on his plate.

His restaurant connections might be intact, but Mattsson's strongest bonds remain with those he makes turns with. Currently, he's developing a new heli-ski business in Bella Coola with a couple of long-time ski buddies. And a few winters back, he worked as location coordinator on a feature-length National Film Board of Canada documentary titled Ski Bums, which headlined several friends and acquaintances.

"That job was all about fun," he smiles, pausing to weigh his words in a rare display of self-regulation. "But then, all my jobs are. Ha!"

For the filmmakers, however, it was about more than just fun. They needed someone to rally the frequently hung-over troops, find the right runs, dig snow pits, administrate a tight heli-budget, distribute peanut-butter sandwiches, buy beers at the end of the day, and keep everyone laughing throughout.

In Coastal B.C., that could only have been one person: the Swede.

Pete "the Swede" Mattsson is starting an experts-only heli-operation, Bella Coola Heli Sports, with cinematographers Beat Steiner and Christian Begin. Contact him at bchelisports@hotmail.com or 604-932-4336. If you're a filmmaker, try Mountain Sport Productions: mspswede@telus.net

s after him: "Hey-Germany

über alles,

eh? Can you f-ing imagine? Now you have the

same

money as the French!"

There's plenty of spunk left in the ol' wind-up Swede after the sun drops. At dinner that night in one of Whistler's ritzier eateries, he's predictably loud and obnoxious. While the waiter hovers, he yells toward the kitchen, "Hey, I want rack of lamb-not lack of lamb!" The chef sticks his head out, nods, and the Swede ends up with a half a sheep on his plate.

His restaurant connections might be intact, but Mattsson's strongest bonds remain with those he makes turns with. Currently, he's developing a new heli-ski business in Bella Coola with a couple of long-time ski buddies. And a few winters back, he worked as location coordinator on a feature-length National Film Board of Canada documentary titled Ski Bums, which headlined several friends and acquaintances.

"That job was all about fun," he smiles, pausing to weigh his words in a rare display of self-regulation. "But then, all my jobs are. Ha!"

For the filmmakers, however, it was about more than just fun. They needed someone to rally the frequently hung-over troops, find the right runs, dig snow pits, administrate a tight heli-budget, distribute peanut-butter sandwiches, buy beers at the end of the day, and keep everyone laughing throughout.

In Coastal B.C., that could only have been one person: the Swede.

Pete "the Swede" Mattsson is starting an experts-only heli-operation, Bella Coola Heli Sports, with cinematographers Beat Steiner and Christian Begin. Contact him at bchelisports@hotmail.com or 604-932-4336. If you're a filmmaker, try Mountain Sport Productions: mspswede@telus.net

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