We’re all waiting for the 2023 Xtreme Verbier to go down—which has just been confirmed for tomorrow—but few of us have the same sense of anticipation as Reine Barkered. This week, the legendary Swedish skier and 2012 Freeride World Tour champion known as the “Mayor of Stomptown” will make his last appearance on the Tour. We used the down day in Verbier on Sunday to catch up with him before this momentous occasion.
Interview by Klaus Polzer
It wasn’t widely communicated beforehand, but it also wasn’t a secret: Reine Barkered is currently in Verbier to make his last run at a Freeride World Tour event. To celebrate this, his sponsor Dynastar made a little booklet which celebrates Reine’s outstanding journey on the FWT circuit, and I am now a proud owner of No. 274 of the limited edition of 400.
This occasion brings back memories. Reine’s name is almost synonymous with the Tour; he’s been competing on it since the year after its inception. It was also a major part of Reine’s life as he not only claimed numerous podiums, won the overall ranking once and came close at three other occasions, but also—more importantly—met his wife, fellow freeride legend Jackie Paaso, along the way.
Among all of that, Verbier’s Bec des Rosses definitely holds a special place in Reine’s competitive history: He won the famous event three times, and finished in second place just as often. So there’s no better place to end this unique chapter of FWT history.
Let’s hear to what Reine had to say about his long run on the FWT, even though with his typical Swedish understatement, he might not make it seem as spectacular as it really was.
The Mayor of Stomptown... Photo: Klaus Polzer
Klaus Polzer: Is the competition here your last appearance on the Freeride World Tour, or is it your last freeride competition ever?
Reine Barkered: That’s a good question. It’s my last comp on the Freeride World Tour, but I won’t stop skiing. If there is a fun competition somewhere that I would get invited to, I might do that. But I plan to take it easy with competitions at least for a few years, so I’d say this is going to be my last serious, professional freeride contest for sure.
How long have you been on the Tour?
I have been on the Tour for 15 years now, and I also did the qualification events for a season before that.
That’s a long time!
Yes, it is. The Tour started in 2008, and I came in 2009. And even when you look back to the beginning of the Verbier Xtreme, I have been part of it for about half its existence.
...and how he earned that nickname. Photo: FWT/Jeremy Bernard
Would you say that the Freeride World Tour defined your career as a professional skier?
Yes, 100 percent. It was instrumental to my whole career as a skier. I got into [freeride] skiing and found out early that competitions were kind of my thing. But back then, there were only smaller stand-alone competitions like the one in Riksgränsen. Then when the Freeride World Tour started, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a thing, but I thought I should give it a try, and managed to qualify in the first year. Then it took off from there. So you could look at it this way: I was very lucky that the Tour was created, because that was what I built my career on. But the Tour didn’t exist before I did it. So it was perfect timing, I would say.
my second year on the Tour, Candide Thovex won the whole thing, and he threw a 720 right off the top of the tram tower in Palisades. So the tricks always existed.
How would you sum up the evolution of the Tour over that timespan?
People think that there have been massive changes, but actually I think that isn’t quite true. When people talk about changes, it’s mostly the freestyle aspect that people refer to, but let’s not forget that on my second year on the Tour, Candide Thovex won the whole thing, and he threw a 720 right off the top of the tram tower in Palisades. So the tricks always existed, but they didn’t score as much as they do today and people were not landing them as consistently as today. Nowadays all the riders are very solid with landing backflips and 360s in all kind of conditions and terrain. Also when I just got started, it was probably the last, last years of the really extreme billy-goating period of the sport, when you really had to go to the scariest place of the venue to score well. That was actually already gone back then, but you could see this approach still here and there. Now, it seems like the pendulum is swinging again, and the really young generation, which is so solid in the freestyle aspect, seems to gravitate back to the really tough lines. But they want to show freestyle tricks there, whereas for a while, the freestyle tricks were dominant in maybe a bit easier lines. So you might say it has come full circle.
The kids may be throwing other tricks these days, but the classic freeride backie has long been a part of Reine's repertoire. Photo: FWT/Bernard
You’ve been known as the old hand on the FWT for a while, but in Fieberbrunn I realized that the new veteran might be Carl Regnér-Eriksson, who is actually quite a bit younger than you. The field of the Freeride World Tour has become pretty young recently. How do you feel about that?
I don’t know. Carl is ten years younger than me, but we have seen that before and there seems to be like a ten-year generation shift or something. Like in Sweden, there was Kaj Zackrisson and Sverre Liliequist, who are ten years older than me, and then there was almost noone before me and Henrik Windstedt came along. And the next generation is Carl and Kristofer [Turdell], and now it’s Max [Palm]. So there seems to be some rule of nature [laughs]. But it’s clear that there is a much bigger influx of younger riders nowadays, because when I started, all the riders were crossing over from racing or moguls and noone was starting with freeriding. Now the kids are already starting with freeriding and they get a good education from early on, so it’s normal that there are many more young riders entering the scene who are already on a very high level. It will be interesting to see if there will be riders in the future staying around as long as I have, since it hasn’t been tested how well the body holds up doing freeride from such a young age, but I don’t think it will be a problem for the people who can stay motivated. The only problem that I see is that you lose a lot of experience when a lot of the older riders drop out at the same time. For example here in Verbier, I think it is only me and a snowboarder in the field this time who have ridden the Bec des Rosses from the top before, ever. For me it was super valuable when I got into the comps that I had ten or more riders at the events who I could ask everything, because they had been at all those competitions before. That gets lost a bit now, but I am sure the younger guys will figure it out themselves somehow.
It will be interesting to see if there will be riders in the future staying around as long as I have.
What are your plans for the future?
I think I still have a few years left in me as a professional skier. So far I have always been very involved with the Tour and didn’t have much time for other projects; basically I am buying that time back now. Unfortunately I cannot tell you any details yet, but there are many good ideas and I have several projects in the making. I just need to consolidate everything into a project timeline before I want to go out and tell everybody about it.
Reine atop the Xtreme Verbier podium in 2017. Photo: Sjöström
Could you see yourself coming back to the Tour some day in a different role, maybe as a judge or as a coach?
That could happen, but it will depend on how well other projects will evolve and how my life in general will go, particularly with my family. Being part of the Tour involves a lot of traveling. Basically so far I have always left Åre [Reine’s hometown] in January and never came back before April or even later, which is tough. People don’t realize how far Åre is away from the Alps. So for the future, I want to stay home a bit more, but at the moment nothing is off the table.
Reine met his wife, fellow freeride legend Jackie Paaso, while competing together on the Tour. Photo: FWT/Dom Daher
One final question: You’re the Mayor of Stomptown. Now that the mayor is leaving office, who might move into that role?
I don’t know. It feels like they are all stomping big stuff now, so it could be anyone. Max Hitzig has stomped a couple of really, really big things lately, but so has Kristofer Turdell in recent years. I guess they have to earn their own nicknames, and I am sure they will.
Congratulations Reine on a career that won't be forgotten anytime soon, and best of luck on your future endeavors. Photo: FWT/Bernard