Riders to Watch

Ståle Sandbech

Birth Date: June 3, 1993

Hometown: Rykkinn, Norway

Sponsors: Oakley, Burn, Rome, ThirtyTwo, Hoppípolla

Video: RK1 Season Recap

Interviewed by John Poulin

After one year of high school, Ståle Sandbech knew that his life was on the road, snowboarding. So he hit it, started living life “easy style,” as he calls it. But the 2012 TTR Overall Title winner is bidding for a spot on what’s sure to be a heavily stacked Norwegian squad at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, already his second Olympic appearance. It’s no school paper, but it’s one hell of a project. —J.P.

Three corks, one jump? Wonder if this was on a bet… Vierli, Norway. PHOTOS: Frode Sandbech

Did you always have a drive to become a professional snowboarder?

Well I always had the dream, but I never stressed about it. I don’t know, it just came naturally. I was riding a lot with Alek Øestreng at our home mountain, Kirkerudbakken. We were neighbors growing up. We’d make bets on doing certain tricks, so we’d learn a lot that way. It was a super good little hill with a bunch of dudes, riding around snaking alpine skiers, doing something weird every day. We were just riding every day after school.

Who has influenced your riding the most? 

My brother was a big influence because he hooked me up with a snowboard and was with me my first day, but just Alek and all my friends—too many to name. I saw Mikkel Bang at Kirkerudbakken a couple times when I was a kid, and he was like my biggest idol, I was just, “holy shit.” Just the vibe there, just people riding and smiling was the thing, you know?

Did you grow up doing contests? 

Yeah, there was this Norwegian “Cup” or whatever you’d call it, that’s where you met everybody from the whole country. All the parents were around, just a bunch of us kids. It was fun, mellow. So for sure, I did them growing up, but back then we were just messing around, it was just riding, and then all of a sudden it was your time to drop and you’d have to rush up there. Now with contests it’s just waiting around. But it’s still fun, you know, if it’s not fun then it’s not worth doing.

What is the Norwegian snow culture like? 

We’re kind of old school, like the priorities are cross-country and alpine skiing. Ski jumping gets all these new facilities but there are no new ski jumpers. They spend so much money building a new resort for them and they have more jumps than jumpers. Snowboarding is definitely a cool sport for young people, but still… The owners of the resorts, they’re old school skiers, so it’s still kind of hard for them to see the benefits of putting money into the parks. It’s making progress, though, and we have a bunch of parks around, but it’s not like in the US where they have the biggest budget for the parks and stuff. Hopefully in a couple years.

You went to a snowboard academy for a while, right?

I went there for one year but I was never there, so I dropped out after a year of high school. We’ll see when I finish; I put it on hold, but when you have the chance to travel and just do what you like, why not take it? You can always do school, you can’t always snowboard like this, travel and do it as a living. I was away like 110 days the first year, and the next year I was gonna film and do contests so I would have been gone even more. It got stressful and my grades got worse because I was never there. I didn’t learn anything, so I just figured I would learn more traveling around and snowboarding. And I think I did. It’s not a basic education, but not as many people have this kind of experience in the world.

What do you think about the X Games becoming part of the TTR?

I think it’s great to get one big ranking going. It’s weird they didn’t figure it out earlier. I’d like to see one big tour, with bigger high-profile events but a fewer number of stops throughout the year. Like in surfing, they have it pretty figured out right now, that’s what I would like instead of doing a contest every weekend and never having time to just go ride.

Are you trying to go to the Olympics? Are you hyped on them? 

Yeah, I’m competing a lot so I’ll go for it. There are so many good slopestyle riders in Norway. The Olympics are a huge contest, for TV and all that stuff, and it will help grow your name, but to ride the FIS qualifiers the year before is a lot of hassle and stress. I like the normal snowboard contests but it’s so big, you know, such a huge event. It’s hard. I don’t know what I think about it. I was at the Vancouver Olympics for pipe. It’s pretty cool to just be around. It’s still kind of wack though, what they did to the snowboard tour back in the day. But FIS just runs the qualification for the Olympics, not the Olympics. Like the old school snowboarding was so sick when everyone was so loose and it was all about rock ’n’ roll. Now it’s getting way more serious. But I just try to go with it.