Words & Photos: Ethan Stone
Ah, the spring park session: few things in skiing can compete. Once the frenzy of winter, with its early rises, powder-day scrambles and lift line shuffles has subsided, a golden era of sunny days and slushy snow emerges like a blossom from the spring melt. It’s a time when the park calls back home even those freestyle-turned-freeride powder fiends with skis too fat and bindings too light—back to fast laps with a crew of friends in a slushy dream park with a blazing sun overhead.
The spring vibe: Lucas Stål-Madison is feeling it.
Among all the venerable spring park sessions among the continents, each with its own flavor, the Scandinavian jams recently have acquired a special culinary exceptionality. From Klaus Finne’s weeklong Open Klasse public jam in Myrkdalen, Norway and the legendary Finnish event Ski or Die, now held in Ruka, to newer entrants like Oliver Karlberg’s Aioli Cashout, the spring scene is alive and well among our northern shred brethren. But perhaps no other event has acquired the same renown as Kimbo Sessions.
With humble beginnings as a small, homegrown Armada shoot organized by team rider Kim Boberg in his home resort of Kläppen, Sweden, over five years Kimbo Sessions has blossomed into one of skiing’s premiere spring jams. With all signs pointing to yet another groundbreaking session this year, your trusty Downdays reporter decided to join the growing stream of migratory skiers making Kläppen a stop along their routes. Here’s my experience at Kimbo Sessions 2018.
Welcome to the session.
from Stockholm to Kläppen is a four-hour excursion into the Swedish countryside. Traditional red-sided homes dot the hills and forest clearings, while the land teems with water from the spring melt. The rivers and lakes are all full to the brim, their winter ice covers dissolving into slushy morasses in the gleaming spring sun.
Roadside views on the drive to Kläppen.
A final stretch of road along one one such river flanked by a low snow-capped ridge, and we’ve arrived at our destination. Kläppen is a small ski area occupying a bump of a mountain, the only terrain the eye can see that looks reasonably skiable. There’s not much here, just a small campground and a meandering subdivision of vacation homes at its base. But it’s out here, in the middle of nowhere in rural Sweden, where Kim Boberg has created a session that’s inadvertently become the “it” event in skiing.
Even Kim himself seems surprised at what Kimbo Sessions has become. “I can’t believe that so many people want to come here,” he tells me. “The first year it was fifteen people. Last year, it was forty. This year, it’s something like seventy.”
Looks like a session.
It’s true: Kläppen is in the throes of an invasion. From far and wide they have come, beckoned by the siren call. Some of the best competition skiers are here, guys in the Olympics and on national teams. Some of the best film skiers are here as well, guys who star in ski movies, and the social media skiers and swervers are out in force.
For headliners, there’s what I can still get away with calling the Inspired crew: Henrik Harlaut, Phil Casabon, Emile Bergeron, not to mention special guest Tanner Hall. There’s the Norwegian triple-threat of Johan Berg, Ferdinand Dahl and Øystein Bråten. The SLVSH crew around Joss Christensen has returned to film more bangers. Noah Albaladejo and James Woods are here, and Antti Ollila made the 20-hour drive from Finland. Most of The Bunch is in the house. There’s an American pack of transition skiers—Torin Yater-Wallace, Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunk—and an American pack of more swervy skiers—Jake Mageau, Alex Hackel, Forster Meeks, Abner Wyman—and yet another American pack of contest guns-slash-young-psychos: Colby Stevenson, Alex Hall, Quinn Wolferman. Parker White has made the journey along with Freedle Coty of Level 1 Productions. Of course the Swedes are well represented, from Kim Boberg, his stylish accomplice Oliver Karlberg and a pack of hungry local riders to the trick-smashing trio of Oscar Wester, Hugo Burvall and Emil Granbom. Even Japan is represented with freeski legend Yoshiya “Bull” Urata and Yohei Maruyama.
James Woods and Joss Christensen are down to session.
The lure for all these skiers, as it turns out, is a simple but ideal combination of ingredients. The ski resort is closed, so we’ve got not just the park, but basically the whole place to ourselves. Kimbo literally has the key to the park T-bar, and has no problem letting the lift run until the last rider is finished riding. Speaking of which, it’s May in Sweden and the daylight lasts until after 10:00PM, so sessions start in the early afternoon and run on for hours into golden evenings. We’re lodged in classy weekend-getaway-from-Stockholm vacation homes courtesy of the ski resort, complete with saunas and hot tubs. There’s a daily barbecue on the hill and exactly two scheduled meetings for the week: an opening-night bonfire and a closing ceremony. Everything in between is skiing, hot laps on a beautifully sculpted Kimbo Sessions park created by Kläppen park boss Kristofer Olsson. Let the games begin.
at Kimbo Sessions 2018 begins amicably with a noon start. Kim is off helping some riders get skis mounted, so there’s an impromptu hike session on a challenge rail at the bottom of the park until he arrives with the key to the lift. The challenge is a long quad kink with a donkey at the end, and the success rate is about one in twenty.
Torin Yater-Wallace completes the challenge in style.
Eventually Kim rolls up and gets the T-bar moving at full speed, the session migrates to the main park and by the 2:00PM the jam starts to pick up. The grill is fired under the Monster Energy tents at the top of the park, and Kimbo Sessions is officially on.
Oliver Karlberg, casual style.
The skies are cloudy and many riders have just arrived, so it’s clearly a warm-up day in preparation of a long week ahead. Still, the session runs until after 9:00PM, and is followed by an opening-night bonfire in celebration of Valborg, or Walpurgis Eve. This Swedish tradition of lighting a big bonfire and drinking to celebrate the start of spring corresponds perfectly this year to the start of Kimbo Sessions; the local riders say that the Valborg parties are the first time most of them ever got drunk.
persists in being cloudy, even adding a morning snow flurry into the mix, as if the winter is fighting back against the inevitable thaw. Eventually the soup clears enough for a wet afternoon session, again kicking off with a heavy rail session, with more makes on the challenge rail, before moving to the park. There’s heavy traffic on the “Kimbo-style” features, namely the roller at the top of the park and the up rail to jump knuckle following it.
These classics are where much of the banger shots from the session will be produced throughout the week. There’s simply something about the design of these roller features that sets them apart from the other roller and knuckle set-ups in the world. They are simply the perfect dimensions, set in the right time and place, to allow skiers to do tricks that have never done before. It’s mentioned multiple times that park builder Kristofer Olsson pushed the setup without a single speed check to see that the features would work; he’s obviously a master of this terrain and of these kind of features. “I’ve never had a feeling like that,” Tanner Hall says wonderingly of the roller jump.
Tanner Hall gets comfortable on Kimbo's signature roller jump.
The apparent function of the roller and the up rail to roller is to expand a seemingly unlimited number of trick possibilities with the addition of the words “nose butter,” “tail butter,” “hand drag” or “hand drag back to switch.” If it’s humanly possible to add any or all of these flourishes to a given trick, the chances are good that it will be performed here this week.
Parker White: on point.
sees the weather improving, and the riders are warm and feeling the flow. Daily starts have by now been loosely set at around 2:00PM, leaving time for a leisurely breakfast, computer work, shopping trip, stretching or bull session before heading for the hill. Today all parties are chomping at the bit, and a heavy session gets underway as the afternoon sky begins to light up. A pack of flying Norwegians and Swedes opens up the first session on the big kicker, while local ripper Anton Linden abruptly ups the ante with an attempt at a triple cork 1080 on one of the side hits to the landing of the roller. Linden quickly becomes a rider to watch, as does another local, Johan Lilja, who’s out for his first day of the session and is going nuts on every feature in the park.
With the send-o-meter running high, Quinn Wolferman turns to Oscar Wester at the top of the park and says casually, “How about a double backflip?”
Oscar thinks about it for a minute; shrugs, says “Why not? Fuck it,” and drops in to cheers of encouragement. He straightlines in to the roller and lays out a massive double backie off the side hip hit, lacing it perfectly while the peanut gallery erupts.
Oscar Wester incoming.
Towards the evening, the session intensifies on the jump and the hip below it, with riders beginning to boost all the way over the hip to the backside landing. Johan Lilja lets loose a massive switch backflip over the hip that goes down as one the best moments of the week. Meanwhile, we photographers who’ve been waiting for a proper sunset for a few days now, are treated to Kläppen’s finest as the sky begins to light up in interesting ways in three different directions.
Colby Stevenson floats a switch 5 over the hip while Nature provides the mood.
It’s now full-on sunset mode, riders hot-lapping the big jump and people with cameras jostling for angles. On the horizon behind the jump, beams of light erupt from the clouds into a photographer’s dream background. It’s straight-up Jesus light, heavenly rays streaking the sky. Shutters click in rapid succession and the photogs shout encouragement as the riders pound out tricks.
Quinn Wolferman gives praise with a blunt 5 into the sunset.
Just when the show seems to finally be over, a last solitary sunbeam pierces the clouds on the horizon—a fiery red eye of light as a grand finale. The light has gone from “Jesus light” to “orgasm light.” Five photographers packed into the same angle shout for riders to DROP NOW! and groan in collective ecstasy as the precious frames are recorded. I’ve been looking forward to experiencing my first proper Swedish sunset, and this day certainly delivers.
James Woods heard the photographers yelling and knew he needed to drop fast. "I came off the T-bar and dropped straight in!" he said. Good hustle, Woodsy.
is the winter’s last day of resistance to our session. With rain clouds threatening, I elect to stay at the house and finish this interview with Freddie Grann, whose scultures adorn the Kimbo Sessions park. After a few hours in the rain, the riders come home wet but as stoked as ever. Tanner Hall is extra hyped after landing a switch double off the hip takeoff of the roller.
kicks off a weekend forecast of sunshine straight through. It’s a bit hazy into the afternoon, then clears out for another brilliant evening session. By now every feature in the park has had double-digit bangers landed on it, and it’s getting hard to remember everything that’s happened.
Observing a session through the viewfinder of a camera gives you a unique perspective on riders’s styles—who’s popping the tricks, who’s capping the grabs. Kim Boberg’s style, for example, is somehow session-defining: catlike, silky, never forced, constantly capping blunt and making difficult things look easy. Oliver Karlberg’s presence stands out in photos as well, even those he’s supposedly “taking it easy” this week, with grabs always on point and effortless air awareness. I shoot photos till I fill up my memory card, dash back to the house to dump it, and hustle back to the park to keep shooting.
Kim Boberg: the session's defining style.
This is Kimbo, this is his session.
Another heavy jump session develops in the afternoon. Alex Hall is trying to do a switch cork 5, 180 pretzel back to switch. Lucas Stål-Madison is going ham with flawless switch cork 3s, switch doubles and other hammers—he’s got a big trick list he’s been picking away at. Meanwhile, the crew from SLVSH has filmed an Instabanger with James Woods. In the late afternoon, a crew organizes a massive backflip train through the park; utter pandemonium ensues. The session goes past 10PM. Kim looks very satisfied as the last stragglers finally depart the hill into the dusk.
After a week
of off-and-on weather, it’s finally, officially on: the weekend and sun’s out, guns out—a balmy 17 degrees C with a high risk of sunburn on pale Scandinavian skin. Time for shirtless laps, sun loungers and bags of salt. The spring thaw is on and the park is starting to show it, with rivulets of meltwater and patches of dirt appearing across the slope. With two days of great weather in the forecast, Kimbo Sessions has reached high tide.
The park has achieved maximum camera saturation: a filmer on every knuckle, stacking shots. Riders are lapping everything. Kim Boberg is everpresent, applying style and grace to every feature. Jake Mageau, currently your favorite skier’s favorite skier, is roaming unobtrusively around the park looking a bit like Jimi Hendrix, seemingly always in the periphery of your vision, trying some insane trick you’ve never even thought of before on a different feature every lap. Parker White is ripping around shirtless in a NASCAR jacket. There are many others killing it, far too many to keep track of.
Mister Mango, trying something new.
Saturday and Sunday melt away in long, sunny afternoons and spectacular sunsets that last for hours. At a certain point I have to put down the camera and join in the action, putting in some fast laps and feeling the snow beneath my skis. The Kimbo vibe is contagious: it’s hot laps, sun and fresh air, new friends, new tricks. Both days, the session goes late into the evening—on Saturday night, Alex Hall is still straight-airing the jump in near-darkness at around 10:45PM.
Lucas Stål-Madison was going hard on the jump.
On Sunday evening a quick awards session is held at the top of the park. Johan Lilja wins the golden rake for the “Hardest Worker” throughout the week, Anton Linden takes home a custom Kimbo Sessions pow surfer as the Sendiest Rider. Rider of the Week, by popular vote, goes to Eirik Moberg, aka Kryptoskier, winning a one-of-a-kind painting by Kim’s dad and a gold Kimbo Sessions chain. The day, and potentially the whole week, is capped off by Jake Carney’s madman attempt to gap from the side kicker of the roller to the end of the waterfall rail, a cockamamie scheme that only he could cook up.
Johan Lilja wins the golden rake.
Anton Linden is the sendiest.
Kryptoskier was unfortunately not present to claim his painting and chain, shown here by Kimbo.
All too soon, the session has come to an end. It’s been a glorious week of perfect spring skiing, give or take a few rain clouds. Enough shots are already out to swamp Instagram, and there are plenty more edits still to come this summer recapping the insanity. There’s already some talk about more accommodation and maybe a bigger park next year. Long live Kimbo Sessions.