Words by Mikko Hietala
Photos by Ville-Petteri Määttä & Antti Raatikainen
While freeskiing is continuously being pushed forward and our imaginary limits are set straight over and over again, the discussion of our sport plateauing and stagnating seems never-ending year after year. In January 2010, a fresh gale of innovation and dedication was carried over to the freeskiing world from the Northern reaches of Europe. Nipwitz, a stacked and talented crew mixing both amateur and professional ski and film miscreants from Finland released their first self-titled webisode, and needless to say, they were here to stay. Many of their webisodes rank high on the elusive ‘WTFs per minute’ scale and have even boggled the minds of many top-level riders. As a result, it was high time to sit down with the people behind Nipwitz to take a deeper look into their creative minds and team spirit, which have helped all of us realize completely new ways to tackle urban environments and what it actually means to be a skier.
It seems that Jyväskylä, the unofficial birthplace of Nipwitz, has become a hot spot when it comes to newschool skiing and creativity. Did you always view the town and its surroundings as an open source for new innovations?
Jyväskylä's urban tradition dates back to the beginning of the new millennium. During that time locals Tuukka Terva-Aho, Mart Perendi and the Lahtinen brothers, all of whom were skiing in the Solid Powder film trilogy if anyone can recall, started hitting street rails which was pretty much unheard of in the Finnish freeskiing scene. They were the pioneers that we looked up to and thus tried to copy. When time passes on, we seem to find more and more ways to use our dear hometown in our urban filming missions, often even revisiting spots after brewing up new and exciting approaches to features.
You can’t do magic without magic boots.
A lot of crud has been thrown at Nipwitz on various forums for wearing tight or deviating clothing as opposed to “accepted” outerwear trends. How do you feel about this criticism and do you think it may affect you negatively now or in the future?
It's great that our clothing raises debate. A fundamental part about this sport is that everyone can be different and rock whatever they like. We like to give our legs a full range of motion by using tighter, stretchy pants and if someone thinks it doesn't look ‘cool’ that's completely fine. It won't affect us in any way and we respect other people’s opinions as much as we stand behind our own. A unique style and character means a lot for a skier and for a person in general: something blank and completely mainstream is, honestly, very boring.
The criticism just proves that Nipwitz has invoked reactions and feelings in people and they’ll probably remember us better as well. It is strange that some kids watch a webisode just to say that ‘Tight pants are gay”, but on the other hand at least they watched it. There are tons of park edits with gangster rap and endless fisheye follow cams and we think people are becoming fed up with them, even though they might not get as much visible criticism as we do. However, there hasn’t been that much negative feedback - we expected much more considering how different we are and we see ourselves at an advantage due to those differences.
Oskari focuses while surrounded by strategically placed lights.
Joining up with Flatlight films has shifted your focus to the aesthetic aspect of shots over the tricks themselves, leading to some criticism over the shorter length of your webisodes. Do you see this as a positive aspect or do you think some skiers wanting more will shift their attention towards more frequently updated series instead of Nipwitz?
The partnership with Flatlight Films was a great move for us, and the level of filming and visual beauty has definitely increased. We have always wanted to make all spots look as good as they can possible be visually - the visual part of a shot is very important if you think of an episode as a whole, seeing as just one ugly, poorly filmed or badly planned spot can ruin the entire vibe. Building and envisioning something from scratch may take time and effort, but skiing in those self-made spots is much more rewarding and fun and we hope our viewers can feel those exciting vibes from special shots and tricks.
As for the more frequent series, making a two-day edit in a park won't take too much time. From a skier’s aspect park shoots also get pretty dull quickly - after all, you are working in an environment that has been designed for someone else by someone else. While no one is making the rules how web series should be, we see Nipwitz more as a movie that’s released in parts rather than a ‘traditional’ webisode.
Their attempts to compete with Chug on male nudity were futile.
Many Nipwitz members have been skiing ”normally” before the crew’s formation. How have you envisioned skiing before and how do you see it now and in the future?
Oskari Raitanen: I've always had the same mindset about skiing, but skiing's rapid evolution has reformed it quite a bit. I used to take part in a lot of competitions, but I quickly got tired of contests’ repetitive nature and started to concentrate more on filming. As I saw the movie scene blow up and later saw it was stuck in the same routines and formulas, it made me wonder how we could make filmed skiing more interesting. I'm so glad to see new innovative crews such as Real Skifi pop up and try to widen the boundaries of our amazing sport. Let's hope the future holds a lot of new aspects for skiing, whether it's new styles of sliding rails or new creative ways to use the backcountry.
Matti Räty: I have always wanted to stand out from the mass, even though it is rather hard in the competition scene. When you’re competing, you have to follow a certain pattern if you want to succeed and I think that’s alright, but I hope that doing something outside of that restrictive pattern of ‘Be the best in ____’ gets more recognition in the future, because progression happens outside of the competition circuit as well.
Kalle Leinonen: I’ve got a ski racing background, so when I started freeskiing I naturally felt pretty comfortable about competing. I wanted to learn tricks that I could win competitions with and that was it. Then I got into watching ski movies and finally ended up making some small flicks with my friends - that’s when I figured out the more artistic side of skiing. I still enjoy training hard and aiming for the top of the podium, but it’s good to know that there are also other options to push your limits, and that those limits don’t necessarily require triple flips, but rather just the right mindset and a group of passionate people to support you.
Kalle remains vigilant even in the presence of an ominous hobo.
How would you describe the average formation of getting a shot? How much planning do you need for the actual physical aspects of the tricks and the visual aspects of looking good on film?
On average, we think the visual side gets more attention than the trick itself. It's not that hard to decide which trick you're going to try and once that's done it's time to help put up the lights and make the spot look perfect and so on. After that it's normally just a matter of time when we either get what we came for or not and head over to Mickey D's to get some burgers in and feel refreshed.
As for choosing setups, sometimes things just click; you’ve thought about some trick for a while and visualized it in a certain way and place - then the perfect spot comes by. After that it’s an easy job of building and shaping, as you know what you are going to do and what kind of setup could make the trick work, and most of all, look good on film. That's the ideal way; we rarely pick our tricks after building obstacles.
If you can’t see it, it isn’t true.
In Episode Two of Season Two, a memorable moment is a wall ride session on a large, abandoned boat in the middle of a frozen lakeshore. Could you tell us a bit about the story of how you imagined this session coming to fruition?
That boat is actually located in an old oil harbor in Matti’s hometown of Kuopio in central Finland. We saw it this past summer while wakeboarding and instantly thought how crazy it would be to make a wall ride out of it on a wakeboard. Seeing as our skills lacked in that area, we decided to wait until winter. After the lake was frozen, we had to navigate our way to the boat through the now closed-off and quite terrifying dock areas. The session itself was one of the best we’ve had and easy to set up, but encountering an irate dockworker wasn’t a warm welcome. He calmly told us of ‘The Law of the Docks’ and hearing about the silent pact the workers have with the local police to promptly lay down their own, swift justice on any wrongdoers was not exactly an uplifting experience.
Riku attempts to escape rabid dock workers by becoming a stowaway. Photo by Antti Raatikainen ©
In 2010 you were nominated for the Best Webisode in the Newschoolers IF3 Awards, in both the North American and European iterations. You won the award in Annecy, France, but were left in the cold in Montreal. Could you tell us a little about your trips and what happened to Nipwitz industry-wise during your travels?
Taking part in the IF3 Montreal show was such a great trip and a learning experience. We sat on the invite for a while because of the expenses of the trip, but it was most definitely the correct decision to fly over to glorious Canada. We got many new contacts to the industry on the North American side of things and met a bunch of great people. The trip may have been a good booster to get more exposure for our project, but mainly it was just about having fun and visiting the beautiful city of Montreal.
Our producer Miikka Niemi was at IF3 Europe in Annecy because of his short film ”Hello”, and it was some time before Flatlight Films was working in collaboration with Nipwitz. Annecy is a gorgeous town located next to the mountains in front of a shimmering lake and we can recommend it as a great place to spend your holidays. The festival itself was great and well organized, although the speeches and information were only available in French, which should be taken into account when organizing next year’s event. Finally, it was time for the big night of the awards and Nipwitz took home the gold. Miikka informed us dwelling in Finland of the award and we celebrated accordingly – modestly and professionally.
You have taken one special trip abroad in Central Europe, but it didn’t go too well weather-wise. Are you planning on revisiting and claiming a new stake for Nipwitz in the creative powder section, discounting city cliffs?
We would gladly take another stab at serious backcountry skiing given the chance. It was pretty hard for us trying to adapt to a totally different environment on the mountains, but maybe it’s just a matter of practice and repetition as always. There might be a lot of room for more creative skiing in the BC, so maybe that's something we need to take into account in the coming years, but urban is still our first and foremost love and has its undisputed place in our hearts.
“Look before you leap.”
Skiing is starting to diverge in the direction of other action sports – less conformity and more creativity when it comes to pushing styles, outerwear and even attitude. How do you see the future of skiing itself when it comes to trends and being fashionable?
In the past skateboarding has set the trends for snowboarding and thus snowboarding has set the trends for skiing. It’s hard to say whether this long-lasting continuum will change or not in the coming years, as skiing now has a slight edge over snowboarding since it has started to plateau.
Trends are hard to predict, but I'd say that there are going to be many different styles and genres arising. Deviation from norms will definitely become more accepted and we believe skiers want to bring their identity into the game, just like we all do in real life outside the skiing world. Hopefully we can all just chill and there won't be any beef between any gangs or crews.
Attitude is something you can use for gaining a certain ego within the scene, and some people are using that fact for the wrong purposes, trying to be something they're not. It’s seriously messed up, as you are what you are and ‘normal’ or not, just be yourself. It must be difficult for clothing companies, though, if people want to be as different as possible and you’re trying to sell thousands of similar products to the masses. Maybe just like for rising ski crews, being different from the rest will be the key element.
“Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?”
A lot of skiers are living examples of extreme addiction – no matter where they go, they see possibilities for jibs, drops and new aspects of tricks. Do you also envision these situations when, for example, you’re riding on a bus and see a new rail in your vicinity?
Envisioning is a dear hobby for every single one of us. Checking out alleyways, construction sites and similar locales comes almost automatically and we can't help it. Our non-skiing friends are always wondering how everything can be seen as a potential spot for filming, but most of the spots are just stored in our minds waiting for the right trick. Some of us have been close to crashing our cars several times when driving in a new city because of this strange, alluring habit of scouting for new spots. It really is like an addiction, as it keeps happening even in cities where we probably won’t ever even have the chance to ski in.
Especially in the summertime it’s hard not to enjoy good times in the warmth with your friends while scoping up places to hit at the same time. When you capture the spots on camera early on in the summer, it's that much easier to go back there in the winter when you have your tricks envisioned and you’ve studied the location. In some spots the possibilities for set-ups and tricks are quite easy to recognize, whereas others may require some time and thought to wrap it around your head. Sometimes you just have to walk past the same spot dozens and dozens of times before you ‘see’ it – and that’s a satisfying experience in itself.
There are many ways to tackle the same urban environments.
Is there anything you have wanted to accomplish for a shot, but after trying over and over again you have simply had to give up?
Every crew runs into situations where even relentlessness and dedication won’t help, and we’ve had our fair share. Matti, for example, had planned out a tree jib for ages and finally found a suitable spot in Jyväskylä, but it turned out to be trickier than thought. He crashed over 20 times hard on his side and was starting to reel out. Realizing that the trick just wouldn’t pan out, he did a simple tap and off we were on our way home. However, later on he started convulsing in horrible pain from his stomach and we had to get him to a hospital immediately. He was given their strongest intravenous painkiller and only the third dose stopped him from almost fainting from the pain. While it was nothing serious in the end, he’ll remember the session for a long time and now knows that it’s better to fail slightly than to fail horribly.
It’s just a circus – the traveling and flying ones were already taken.
Ending this on a totally positive note and not like a half-assed job interview, where do you see Nipwitz in five years time?
Isn’t it obvious? After podiuming in the Olympics, we are still celebrating and basking in the limelight while the current President of the International Olympic Committee gives us funding to start up our dream project – Urban Skiing in the Olympics!
A bulk of the crew (left to right): Tommi Kostilainen, Aarni Toiviainen, Matti Räty, Oskari Raitanen and Kalle Leinonen.
Nipwitz would like to thank everyone involved in and supporting the project and also to give a major shout-out to their own Aarni Toiviainen for being a diverse and creative maniac. Nipwitz and Flatlight Films would like to thank Atomic, Olympus Finland, Battery Energy Drink, Loska.fi, Downdays.eu, Newschoolers.com and the resorts Ylläs, Iso-Syöte, Syötekeskus, Saariselkä, Ruka and Pyhä for their continuing support.
Nipwitz One from Flatlight Films on Vimeo.
Nipwitz Two from Flatlight Films on Vimeo.
Nipwitz Three from Flatlight Films on Vimeo.
Visit http://www.nipwitz.com for all the new episodes and more information about the crew.