Fate has been kind to Frederik Kalbermatten and Nicolas Müller. For starters, it’s always a bonus to be born in a world class ski resort – which is exactly what happened to Fredi in the spring of ’81. As a member of one of the oldest local families in the Swiss town of Saas Fee (his father and grandfather were both mountain guides) it was almost inevitable that Fredi would find his way onto a snowboard sooner or later. Sure enough, he was introduced to the sport by his sister – when he spent his first day falling over in hardboots and swearing never to try it again – before spending his formative years hanging out in the best playground a kid could want. In the winter he would ride powder, and in the summer months he had his own glacier and funpark on which to hone his freestyle skills. Basically, Fredi was lord of his own Swiss manor.
Meanwhile, 11 months to the day after Fredi came into the world, Nicolas Müller arrived some 200km away over in Zürich. Their lives went along separately until, as luck would have it, Nico’s mother booked some accommodation in Saas Fee for a skiing holiday. The place she’d chosen to stay in happened to belong to the Kalbermatten family, and before long the two kids met each other and formed a lifelong friendship. They were both into skating and spinning records, both football fans, both (oddly enough) vegetarian, and of course, both loved snowboarding more than anything else. Shredding the mountain together day after day, Fredi and Nicolas pushed their riding on to new levels, learning quickly from each others’ strengths. It’s no coincidence that when you see the two of them ride today, there’s something similar about the way they cork their spins; the way they tweak their grabs super hard and appear light on their feet.
As teenagers, the two friends were picked up together by Burton, where they continued to impress on the rookie team. Eventually their sponsors couldn’t really justify holding them back any longer, and two mirror-image adverts appeared in White Lines (and just about every other snowboard mag on the planet) within the same season: ‘Frederik Kalbermatten, welcome to the global team’, ‘Nicolas Müller, welcome to the global team.’ Ironically it was at this point – when they’d both ‘made it’ as professional snowboarders – that their lives began to diverge. While Fredi now spends much of his time shooting in North America with Standard Films, Nicolas criss-crosses the globe putting the Absinthe movies together, and these days their paths rarely cross long enough to go riding together.
Thousands of miles apart they might be, but the style they developed as youngsters is still impressing the snowboarding public. On the competition circuit, Fredi represented Switzerland at the Olympics last February, while Nico claimed wins at the Toyota Big Air, Nissan X-Trail Jam and Oakley Style Masters. On film, their sections are always two of the most highly anticipated each year – ‘Stompermatten’ with that languid steez, those never-ending grabs and his uncanny ability to land… well, everything; Nicolas with his eye for a line, those crazy tweaks and his intuitive, cat-like flow that’s drawn comparisons with Terje.
Somewhere along the way, they’ve found the time to start their own clothing brand, Arcus, and to help David Benedek with his 91 Words and Gap Session projects (who can forget Nico’s classic line, “In snowboarding there is only one rule: to have fun”?) We caught up with the two of them during a brief break from travelling, when they were enjoying some well-earned holiday back home in Switzerland.
Home Town: Saas Fee, Switzerland
Stance: Regular, 21.5” wide Binding Angles: 21° front, -6° back.
Set-Up: Board – Custom X 160, Boot – SL9, Binding – CO2
Home Town: Zürich, Switzerland
Stance: Regular, 22.5” wide
Binding Angles: 18° front, 0° back
Set-Up: Board – T6 159, Boot – SL9, Binding – CO2
Where are you right now?
Fredi Kalbermatten: I’m at home in Saas Fee.
Nicolas Müller: I’m in my home in Zürich.
Is it good to be back?
FK: Yes, it’s nice to be back in Switzerland during summer for a change – even though NZ seemed warmer than the last couple of days here in Saas Fee.
NM: Yeah, it’s real nice. My roommate just moved out and now I got the apartment all to myself. It’s way nicer!
NM: Yeah! I’m redecorating and find some time on my own.
How did filming go this year? Where have you both been?
FK: Really good. I started filming in the middle of February, right after the Olympics. I basically spent the rest of the season in Canada, Tahoe and Whistler.
NM: I went to a lot of places – like China, Wyoming, Norway, Japan… The highlight yet again was AK though. It should be another good film – they just finished editing over in San Francisco.
What was your most memorable day riding from last season?
NM: Doing the jetpack cam shots!
NM: It’s what we called this new camera angle. Justin [Hostynek] hangs on a rope and follows the riders down the slope, filming from the air. It’s crazy.
FK: For me, the heli trip to Terrace B.C. was the most memorable time this season. In fact it was the best time I’ve ever had on a snowboard. Amazing terrain and perfect conditions.
NM: April 26th was the most memorable single day. We had bluebird skies after quite a heavy dump. In the morning we had this killer session, and then in the afternoon we experienced the biggest avalanche I’ve ever seen.
NM: I rode this line and was waiting way out in the flat as Travis [Rice] dropped in and triggered the whole mountain. Somehow he managed to stop between two rocks, the only place on the whole mountain that didn’t move! Fortunately everybody was alright. It was my last day filming as well, so it stands out for sure.
Wow. Is it in the movie?
NM: I think so.
Fredi – in your new film (Draw the Line) there’s some really clever footage where they’ve shot you over a kicker from a helicopter. Was that hard to set up?
FK: Standard Films did exactly the same shoot one year before but I was not there so I don`t really know how long it took them to get it right. This season they seemed pretty good at it. I mean, the two shots I was counting on made the movie. The rider is always ahead of the heli, and because I was really focused on jumping while hitting the kicker, I didn’t really notice the helicopter. Even though the shots look amazing, it was not much fun for me, just because the park kicker was too big for my taste. I was scared!
Did they use a special camera? How does it work?
There’s no special camera, just a 16mm one. The heli was following on one side, and towards the end of the trick it spun around about 90°. They were flying super low – maybe five metres? – it’s really hard to tell but most of the time the rider was higher in the air than the heli!
Do you set out with an idea in mind for how you want your video section to end up? Like, “This year I’m gonna hit all natural jumps” or “I’m gonna nail this or that trick”?
FK: I was trying to only hit big, natural jumps like windlips, cliffs and all that stuff. The terrain in Terrace was perfect for that. Back in Tahoe we built some cheese wedges as well, but only a few. It’s hard work – I’m trying to stay away from the shovel!
NM: I never really plan. I like to go out there and see what’s around on the mountain, then take it from there… Natural hits for sure. Building jumps gets old.
FK: I agree. Building jumps is for freaks
NM: Yeah, freaks! (laughs) The shovel belongs in the backpack.
Let’s take it back to the start. When did you guys first meet each other?
NM: In the Dorfblick, 9 or 10 years ago? Maybe earlier?
FK: Yes, way back in the dayz. I don`t remember exactly.
What’s the Dorfblick?
NM: The Dorfblick is the best house in Saas Fee!
FK: The Dorfblick is my house. It’s the closest building to the tram station in Saas Fee – and the dopest as well. Check out me crip! Word! (laughs)
NM: My mom booked a random apartment for a ski vacation, and it ended up being Fredi’s house. So that’s how we met. After that we rode together all the time.
Did you used to be competitive with each other, say during pipe or in kicker sessions?
NM: In a good way, yes I would say so. We were pushing each other to the next level.
FK: It was more like learning from each other I guess.
FK: Like I learned a lot from watching Nicolas ride
NM: I had a spy on Fredi! (laughs)
FK: Sometimes Nicolas would come up with a new trick or a new tweak that was super sick, so I tried the same.
Who broke more boards back then?
FK: I don`t really remember – maybe you cos you used to ride for that other brand??
NM: Hahaha! There was a time I definitely broke a lot of boards, even though I was super light. It all changed when we got to Burton…
FK: Yep! Burton boards are stable. So strong…Nice plug Fredi.
NM: Hey Fredi, what about the Killer Loop sunglasses you used to wear?
FK: What? I don`t remember (much laughter)
Were you both picked up by Burton at the same time?
FK: Pretty much.
NM: Nils Birkeland hooked us up at that time.
FK: As well as Brusti… and of course my main man Hasi!
NM: Yeah. We both had a meeting together for our first contract, with Hasi in Zürich.
FK: Hasi drove all the way to Zürich from the offices in Innsbruck to have lunch with us.
That must have been exciting?
NM: We were tripping!
FK: So was Hasi.
FK: Haha! Roadtrippin’…
Were there others in your crew back in Switzerland that went pro, or that maybe missed out?
FK: We use to hang out with the Buvoli brothers
NM: Yeah, the Buvoli’s! (laughs)
FK: And Pascal Barro. Do you remember?
NM: For sure. Yeah, they are pros for life! Mmm…Therry Brunner turned pro…
From riding together all the time, how did you wind up working with different film crews?
FK: Burton put me on the standard program.
NM: Brusti asked me on a film trip six years ago. Since then I’ve been hooked up with Absinthe. It’s the green fairy…
Did it bother you at the time Fredi? Would you have prefered to hang out with the Euro crew?
FK: Some times for sure. But the standard movies are great. I’m really happy to be in their movies. And no one from Switzerland ever used to have a full part in a Standard flick until I showed up in Tahoe. But yeah, I miss riding and hanging out with Nicolas and the Euros.
NM: Stompermatten goes West! (laughs)
FK: I am really looking forward to the time we will finally spend a whole season together chasing the snow. Just like back in the day.
NM: (Fake sniff) Yessss! We don’t really get to ride together anymore.
When was the last time you hooked up on the mountain?
NM: Last year
FK: Yeah, last November. Just a few days in the fall.
NM: Just cruising really.
Where was that?
FK: Saas diggity Fee!
Cool, back home!
FK: Yeah but November is not really the best time to shred. It`s too icy, cold but not enough snow yet.
NM: It was a mini shred.
FK: I stopped skating, it`s too dangerous. Nic is better.
NM: He’s the better DJ. I like to do other things as well as skate though, like play soccer or watch soccer – and of course djing myself.
Do either of you support an English team?
FK: I support Arsenal and my local team FC Sion – Arsenal because of Senderos and Djorou, they are Swiss.
Chelski? You do realize they’re owned by a dodgy Russian? Not cool!
NM: I’m just kidding. I know. I support FC Zürich.
FK: Chelsea players are like the Spice Girls.
NM: Haha! Yeah. Fredi and I like playing FIFA on the Playstation too, Except I have no chance of beating him, he’s too good!
FK: Actually I don`t have it anymore, the cats broke it.
I was gonna ask you actually – who was the cat you were stroking in 91 Words?
FK: That was Sheriff. I have two cats. The female is called Mia and the male Sheriff. They are special characters – they kill so many mouses and birds. It’s fun to watch them.
Did you both enjoy making that film? What do you think of David Benedek’s approach to movie making? It’s kinda different to Standard or Absinthe…
FK: It was really fun, even though we only spent one or two days filming with them. It’s a different atmosphere.
NM: Yeah I really enjoyed being part of it. The interviews were fun, you could say how you felt about the whole snowboarding thing. David’s sick! Christoph as well, they’re a good influence for our sport.
FK: It was also cool for regular riders to understand what we really do out there. It is good to see people like David being motivated to push the sport, and let the world know more about it. Big up to Benedek!!
NM: Yeah Beni!
FK: Hey, are you guys hungry? I am starving.
NM: I’m nagging on a snack right now… Swiss chocolate!
FK: Well I am gonna get an apple.
Swiss chocalate eh? I heard Belgian was better? Haha!
FK: Swiss is way better, of course.
NM: I like Lindt best.
FK: I’d like anything right now though.
(Fredi disappears to get a snack, then comes back)
OK, let’s talk about your clothing brand Arcus. When did you decide to start it?
FK: In the year 2000.
What are you trying to achieve with the brand?
FK: We want to represent Switzerland in the wider world.
NM: We want to do what we feel is right, and not what anybody else thinks.
Where did you get the name from?
FK: You picked it… right?
NM: Yeah. It’s from a latin dictionary. We had the idea and the concept but no name.
What does it mean?
NM: It means ‘bow, bridge’ We liked it. It gets across the idea of connecting cultures.
Who designed the logo?
NM: Mauro Paolozzi is our partner. He is basically the brains of Arcus. He does all the graphics.
Does it make things difficult with your other sponsors when you want to wear your own clothing?
FK: Not really. There are other Burton riders on Volcom or WE, so we’re not the only ones. And we only make street wear, not outerwear.
NM: When we snowboard it’s all Burton. Off snow we are Arcus. Arc = us!
The brand has been around for a while now but it’s only just getting easy to find. Are you trying to grow things slowly?
FK: Well we don`t want to be too much mainstream, you know?
NM: What we’re trying to do is provide cool stuff. That’s the priority. We want to grow in the right direction, but it takes time.
NM: In the UK we’ve found the right guys now. The Grounded [distribution] guys are rad and they are killing it. Now that’s what we are looking for in the rest of the world.
It must be hard to find the time to run a business as well as ride professionally?
FK: Hell yeah, we need more distributors in more countries.
Shit, I just realised I’m wearing an Arcus hoodie today, haha!
FK: Me too! That is really cool . BIG UP.
Back to riding for a minute – how did you find the Olympics?
FK: People make too big of a deal about one contest. It’s not that special, plus the pipe was not good.
Were you getting a lot of attention back home in Switzerland?
The commentator on the UK Olympic coverage mentioned that you think it’s better not to have much upper body weight to snowboard well. Is that true?
FK: I think it`s true. That way you fall lighter when you slam hard.
FK: Maybe (laughs)
What advice would you give to a young rider that dreams of going pro?
NM: Keep focused and visualize your dream.
FK: It`s always the same deal. Stay focused, try hard, never give up and have FUN. Do it with love, do what you love, love what you do.
NM: If you really want something you can do it. It’s that simple.
Does it feel like you’re living the dream now you’ve made it?
NM: It’s not really like a dream. It feels more like the right thing, you know? The job is not always easy – but if it was we wouldn’t learn and move on.
FK: I grew into it, and I don`t really know what it`s like to be doing something different. So I guess what I do for a living is normal to me. I think I lead a pretty normal life.
How much of top level snowboarding is about having big balls?
FK: It is not all about having big balls. You gotta respect the nature and calculate your situation right. Things can go down quick – it is more about how to find my personal limit I think.
NM: A lot of it is technique… and knowledge. As Fredi said, it’s about knowing Nature and your own limits.
Do you find yourselves under pressure to push those limits, maybe too far? Trying to land a better video part than last year for instance?
FK: Not really. A lot depends on the conditions, and every year it`s kind of different.
NM: I try not to. And anyway there’s more than just bigger, higher. A mountain gives so much room to be creative. That’s where you can be different every year.
Fredi, can you describe Nicolas’s style?
FK: It`s the best ever… perfect. Seriously, no one else has better style than Nicolas.
Nicolas: Describe Fredi’s riding style.
NM: He’s a smooth operator. A soul man (laughs)
With a full clip…?
NM: Do you wanna mess with this?
FK: Full blick! (laughs)
Speaking of music, do you get to pick the tunes for your parts?
NM: So long as it goes by the all Mighty Jah (Justin Hostynek), yes.
FK: Not every year. It depends on how good my segment is, I guess. I make suggestions but at the end of the day Standard Films put what they think is the best. This year though they really did use the song I suggested. I’m stoked!
Is style something you work consciously to develop, or do you think it comes naturally?
FK: It comes naturally. Well you can try not to flap, or to hold your grab longer and stuff like that, but the basics of style – how you float – comes naturally.
NM: It’s about what the individual does with the sport, that’s where it’s different than other sports. In soccer nobody cares about style, it’s goals. Snowboarding is about personality.
There seem to be similarities between the two of you in your riding style. Like you both like to cork your spins a lot. Do you think you picked stuff up from each other growing up?
NM: Fredi and I spent a lot of time together, you can see that in our personalities.
FK: Can you? (laughs)
Are there any tricks that one of you can do that the other one can’t?
FK: I can do frontside double corks. In the pow anyway.
NM: I can’t. But I can do one foot tail manuals!
Nicolas, you’re famous for doing crazy tweaks, like your Japans. Some of them look painful – do you do yoga or something?!
NM: No, in fact I bought a skate deck in NYC that says in big letters: FUCK YOGA.
FK: Yeah, fuck yoga!
NM: (laughs) I do ‘noga’.
As young riders growing up which pros influenced your style?
FK: Michi Albin
NM: Yes, and Terje, Johan and Ingo.
FK: All the Euro pros.
How do you think the European scene is different to the American one?
FK: We are more down to earth in Europe.
NM: And we actually snowboard more on the mountain.
Do you think riding the Alps gives you a better appreciation of backcountry riding?
NM: The mountains are much bigger and steeper, and you don’t get your pass taken away for going out of bounds.
NM: It gives you the opportunity to learn and feel comfortable out there. Not just in the park but on the whole hill.
FK: The cool thing about the Alps is that it doesn`t get tracked out so fast, and also that the terrain right off the chair is good. You don’t always have to hike.
Do American riders seem different in general? Or does it depend on the individual?
NM: It depends, like anywhere there’s some real shredders out there. But in general they are a bit more… lost and wrapped up in the whole thing.
What is the future for freestyle snowboarding? Will there ever be a limit?
NM: Only the sky is the limit. There are too many mountains out there – and even the same one is different the next year.
Do you think there’s more room for progression in certain areas? Like backcountry freestyle rather than park?
FK: Well, I don`t think people are gonna hit bigger park jumps than Mads last year. It is impossible and stupid.
NM: Creativity and style will always progress.
FK: In the future I would really like to do all my tricks in natural terrain, and put them together. Like in a double cliff line and stuff like that.
Is Alaska the pinnacle of snowboarding?
NM: There are great heli facilities over there, and the mountains are sick and untouched. But it’s not the only place.
FK: I wouldn’t mind spending all season filming in AK, but it`s too expensive
NM: And the life is rough
NM: For the last three years I’ve always looked forward to the spring. April is AK month and it is when you can do sick stuff for sure… but also you could easily kill yourself.
When you get the videos back and see your section, are you satisfied or are there things you wish you’d done better?
FK: I am never satisfied. If I was I would stop snowboarding. When you watch yourself you always find something you think you could do better.
NM: It keeps you coming back.
Do you ever criticize each other’s parts? Like, “Hey Fredi, you flapped that!”
FK: Not too much
NM: I’m always telling Fredi to land better! (laughs)
FK: I usually prefer Nico’s part to my own.
Was winning Snowboarder of the Year a big deal for you Nicolas?
NM: It’s an honour for sure, and it helps your career… but who really cares about it?
FK: Hey, I was riding today in Saas Fee and the park is the best I have ever seen. I am not kiddin`, better than Mammoth. You gotta tell the British riders to get over here!
NM: He gets commission! (laughs)
FK: That’s not true, but I wish I did. They owe me for all the advertising I have done in the past (laughs).
If you’re having problems with a jump and you’ve taken some slams, do you get angry and keep going till you’ve nailed it, or come back to it another day?
FK: It depends how I feel the moment I am there.
NM: I just take the next windlip.
FK: One thing is for sure, I’ve learned a lot. I know when it`s time for me to stop
NM: Yeah, listening to yourself is the most important thing out there.
Do you have any plans for when you’re no longer riding professionally?
NM: Riding unprofessionally
FK: I want to become a DJ.
FK: Strictly rap.
Do you think you’ve missed out on anything by pursuing a snowboarding career? Do you wish you could have gone to university for instance?
FK: No way. I am learning a lot by travelling and seeing the world. And we get to hang out with different people from different countries, which is not always easy.
NM: Not really. You learn about life better when you’re not learning other things instead…
OK, some quickfire questions.
Frontside or backside?
FK: Frontside at the moment.
NM: Backside (laughs)
Fresh powder or perfect pipe?
FK: What a stupid question! Guess?!
NM: Fresh powder pipe (laughs)
NM: Subjekt Haakonsen
FK: Subjekt Haakonsen
FK: Indy because I suck doing methods
Tail grab or nose grab?
NM: Nose pick
Corked or flat spins?
FK: Double corks. Ha!
Favourite place to ride?
FK: Saas Fee of course. And Terrace B.C
NM: Laax. And Haines AK
FK: Laax is wack.
One trick left before you die. What do you pull?
FK: Cab 9 because I always land it. Well, almost always.
NM: Fakie backside tail bonk till I die!
NM: Nice, thanks White Lines!
FK: Coolio foolio!