Elias Elhardt : Snowboard like no one's watching.
Words: Blair Habenicht
Photos: Darcy Bacha
Elias Elhardt grew up in a small place in Germany near the Austrian border, just far enough from the closest village to make it not that close to anything. His family lived with another family or two in a big old house that had been a water mill. "We were a bunch of people," Elias told me. "The region was nice. Village-like."
Germany has mountains that no one ever talks about, and I have always assumed they are probably not that good. But the fact that Elias moved to Innsbruck, Austria, discounts my theory.
"What I was looking for in Innsbruck was to make snowboarding as natural as possible, to just go out the door and go snowboarding like you would go skateboard. That's possible here. That's why I like it so much."
Reading through past interviews, I learned Elias was heavily focused on competition at some point before I met him. Before that, I knew his riding through Pirate Movie Production. He goes huge. Can do tricks with more rotations but often chooses to go massive distances with less and holds the posture. In the last few years, he seems to have focused more and more time, budget, and energy into the Alaskan heli season. Elias spent a month this past season camped in a motor home in Haines, waiting for the sun. His patience paid in full and landed him the ender in Insight.
When I think about him now, his head floating in a cloud in mine, I see his huge smile that is always pushing his cheeks up and reddening them a bit. It's a nice way to remember a person.
I had trouble reaching you for this interview. You were busy finishing summer semester at the university in Innsbruck. What are you going to school for?
Psychology. It's awesome having this other world besides snowboarding. Fills the summers with thoughts from a different spectrum. I love the balance of them. I realize I can appreciate snowboarding so much and have this addition as well.
Do snowboarding and your studies relate?
Yeah. I see big connections between the two of them. Snowboarding has so much to do with how you feel; everything does, but especially snowboarding. Dealing with difficult situations, situations where you interact with a crew— there is a natural connection between both.
Is there a way to combine your schooling with your current profession? Would you want to?
I would like in the future to work in a way that takes qualities from both and forms them into something new. The world of moving—the physical world—and the mental world, I am so connected in both. I couldn't imagine just being a psychotherapist, sitting there, but I couldn't imagine to just keep snowboarding or guiding. I feel like there is a good way in between where you could use your body, outdoor experiences, all those things that we get to experience through snowboarding, and the perspective of psychology to combine into something good. That could be, for example, working with youth that are struggling in society, try to get them out there, and also talk to them. There are various programs like that, and I could see myself working in that direction.
How did you make the connection with TransWorld to film for Insight?
The Pirates, who I've filmed with for a while, have been media partners with TransWorld for the last couple of years, so I'd been talking with them more and more. When the Pirates decided not to make their own movie because they were producing the Union team movie, for me it was most natural to see what was up with TransWorld—if they were down to film with me. It ended up being a great chance to do something different, ride with different people, different terrain. The people of course make the biggest difference, always. Whatever work you have, whatever holiday, it's always about the people, right?
It was a different crew this season, and it was great. I really love riding with Gigi [Rüf], who I was mostly riding with when filmming for the Pirates, but it was cool to be in a crew with both of the Victors—De Le Rue and Daviet—and J-Rob. I've known J-Rob for so long, but since the People days, we haven't filmed much together, and we've always looked for ways to do so. This year we got to do the whole Alaska trip together.
How was Alaska?
Alaska was the most troubling place, of course. Alaska is Alaska, and it's always troubling. The whole deal there, it's been really—I don't know how to say it—tense at times. So many crews, difficult conditions.
More than other years I have been to Alaska, it was fueled with high ups and downs and insecurities. It was a trip for sure. It's always a trip. It's hard to draw a line in the middle and say what it's been, because it's been everything. Insane moments.
I spoke with Jason Robinson about the trip. He told me you were very calculated in your riding up there and that you meditated daily. Does the practice have anything to do with bettering your performance on the board?
Not specically for riding. I honestly feel pretty loose, like I need a structure. This is something that I really long for, having a certain structure to follow. Meditation is one of those things; I can wake up anywhere and just have those 10 minutes in the morning to be with myself. I kind of start the day in a silent way. That's one part. On the mountain, especially in Alaska, I try to stay in a zone where I can start to play and know when to put a fence up.
If you could change one thing about snowboarding, what would you change?
Well, that's a very open question because, in which way? In the snowboard scene?
I do have one thing in mind I'd love snowboarding to be more open about: I think snowboarding should not be taken—the freestyle aspect—so seriously. How many times have we heard, "Oh, there are no rules. Everything's allowed." Why then does it often feel so narrow within the scene? Why do we restrict ourselves with what's cool or what's not cool? How freestyle is that? That's the opposite of freestyle. My idea of freestyle is to go out there and do what you want, what you feel like. Look however you like. I enjoy seeing people go out there and look as though they're on a dance oor, just doing the moves they feel like doing.