Photo by Frode Sandbech
When he entered the half-pipe event at the Winter Olympics in 2010, Ståle Sandbech was a raw 16 year old plucked almost straight from his RK1 Crew, a group of friends who grew up riding together at Kirkerudbakken, a small resort near Oslo. Now the boy from Rykkinn is among the favourites for the snowboard slopestyle, one of 12 new events at the Sochi Winter Olympics this month – and worldwide recognition awaits.
Sandbech was leading the world snowboard tour rankings at press time, and his most recent result was a slopestyle win at Copper Mountain, Colorado, where he beat compatriot Torstein Horgmo and American megastar Shaun White.
“All the best guys will be at Sochi,” Sandbech says, over the phone from the Norwegian team camp at Breckenridge, Colorado. “It’s the same guys, and the same level, but this time there’s hype from the mainstream media – the world will be watching.”
Things have changed since snowboarding was first introduced to the Olympics in 1998, when Norwegian legend Terje Håkonsen led a group of riders boycotting the competition. Since then, the likes of White have led the charge in turning snowboarding into a big-money, mainstream sport. Recently, there’s been some griping that it’s become more about multiple flips and twists than style, especially the triple cork move (essentially three flips with spins), first pulled off by Horgmo in 2010.
As someone who’s thrived in the new era of the triple cork, Sandbech shares some of the reservations. “You know, hopefully it will stop at some point, otherwise it’s in danger of becoming aerial snowboarding. The triple cork is a heavy move – hopefully that should be the limit.”
As for why Norwegians are so good at freestyle snowboarding, Sandbech says: “It’s the Viking blood! Maybe it’s also got something to do with the smaller hills and not perfect conditions – you get good on an imperfect set-up. And because the hills are open after school, I grew up riding every day.” It’s an education that could soon pay off.