Interview by Mikko Hietala
Freeskiing as a sport, a hobby or a movement is on the definitive rise. With young professional athletes hucking themselves dizzy on slopestyle courses or giving it all they've got in intimidating pipe structures, one could say that major progression is just another 180 away and the crowd will roar once again. Others, however, see skiing in a different light. A desolate alley behind a public school playground, blazoned with both magnificent and undermined graffiti, suddenly turns into a scene of crime for a crew of young skiers ready to wreak some havoc, back flipping off swings, balancing on slides and launching into wall rides from rails that many wouldn’t have ever thought of simply hitting in the first place. While the deeds call for consequences and dedication, all you can ever see are smiles on their faces.
Real Skifi, a creative group of four from Finland sees skiing in a different way – Janne Korpela, Juho Kilkki, Ilkka Hannula and Verneri Hannula give us their opinion on what skiing is all about.
Once again, Jyväskylä, the seemingly apparent birthplace for urban skiers in Finland, has brought upon us another fresh and exhilarating skiing group. What is it about that town that paves the way for so many innovative skiers?
Janne: Jyväskylä is home to many known rail heroes, including Oskari Raitanen and Toni Kerkelä, so no one even wants to do tricks off jumps around here anymore, it’s just natural progression. I’m kidding, but I do think that our local hill, Laajavuori, just offers people better resources to become more skilled with rails instead of jumps and it really shows when people start getting more creative.
Juho: Like Janne said, it’s related to the fact that there have never been any big ski centers, big jumps or large features around here, so we all just become more focused on rails and eventually drift down to street level and end up filming our exploits.
Ilkka: I’d also say that the Nipwitz crew has been a major influence for us and others, and we’ve even filmed with them on one occasion. Jyväskylä just happens to have an amazing amount of good spots with lots of variety.
Rock 'n' Roll.
You are a crew 17 to 19-year-old guys. Does your young age and position provide you with more time and opportunities to indulge in skiing, and do you think the situation will change in the following years?
Juho: During the winter there’s just not enough time for everything you’d want to accomplish. I can’t really predict how things will look like in the future, so let’s just live in the moment and enjoy it.
Ilkka: We either have too much time or very little time on our hands, but the hardest part is to find times and opportunities that are suitable for each of us when it comes to filming.
Verneri: Like Ilkka said, the scheduling for filming sessions is always quite hard, even though we’ve been able to make more time during the winter by shifting around our high school class schedule accordingly. As it’s compulsory for Finnish men, we have to go serve our country in the army in the coming years, so that might be a major issue for time spent skiing, but me and my brother are trying to get it over with during a summer period.
No time to lose, think of something before the snow melts!
Your filmer/editor Janne Korpela is a snowboarder himself and doesn’t appear on camera other than in the function of a narrator. Does his direction and ideas from another similar sport bring you fresh perspectives into your tricks and locations?
Janne: Well, I can honestly say that I’m giving out ideas and suggestions from time to time, but they’re usually a bit...megalomaniac.
Juho: The funny thing about Janne is that always during filming, at every single spot, he’s trying to get me to huck some doubles!
Verneri: He makes our tricks and antics look amazing on camera, which is a big plus in these circles. On top of that, he is a good motivator, egging us on from behind the camera to try again and again and again. Luckily he always gets cold at some point, so we don’t have to keep trying infinitely (laughs).
Doing what they do best.
Your videos have garnered over 100,000 views and gained praise and attention, especially on Vimeo. Do you think that your different approach to skiing will also attract the interest of people who aren’t familiar with freeskiing?
Juho: Actually...we’re already at over 330,000 views at the moment! (laughs)
Ilkka: I for one believe that a many of our viewers wouldn’t bother to watch us if we weren’t doing something innovative and a bit different from the norm. Looking at normal park skiing can get really boring after a while.
Verneri: I’m sure that even regular joes think that our approach to urban spots is pretty neat. We do have a certain style to make use of places and objects that you don’t normally see too much in skiing, such as playgrounds, swings, soccer goals...and snow tunnels (laughs).
The little regular joes aid the crew during their ventures.
Much like another aforementioned Finnish group of skiers, in addition to your skiing, your music choices and clothing style have raised some hateful discussion in a few places. Do your stylistic choices reflect yourselves or are they conscious decisions to separate yourselves from the masses?
Janne: We choose the music based on what kind of feel we want to portray for any given episode. I guess we are trying to veer away from using stereotypical rap songs in the background, and concentrate on finding something a bit more original or different, but I also think this decision compliments our skiing and videos.
Juho: I can’t say much about the music, but when it comes to clothing, I’m an avid supporter of a very new, underground style movement that very few people have ever heard of. The idea is that you can wear whatever clothes you want to wear! I know, it might seem like a bit of a crazy idea, but damn, it’s worked well for me.
Ilkka: Using large clothing, especially pants, isn’t my thing. It’s much more convenient to put on pants that don’t get in the way all the time or hang unnecessarily. Skinny jeans may be tight, but they don’t hurt my skiing and c’mon, they do look damn cool!
Verneri: The main idea behind what we do is to keep doing our own thing the way that we feel good about it, not to separate ourselves from the crowds or try to please people. Will people like what we do, that’s another thing entirely.
Their own thing.
Instead of toil and hard work often related to getting urban shots, your webisodes often emit the feeling of just having fun and the joys of accomplishment. Do you think some of the difficulties behind your tricks and spots may go unnoticed due to this sense of ease and fun?
Janne: Having a laid back and happy feel is very important to me and I believe it’ll make a video that much better. On the other hand, maybe our episodes don’t often show the amount of time and dedication we’ve used for any given spot.
Juho: I certainly don’t! On the contrary, the fact that we are portraying a feel good and relaxed vibe just makes them all the better. Even during competitions, the judges won’t deduct you points for having a smile on your face – at least I hope so! (laughs)
Verneri: The fun of doing this is completely genuine, so it just shows in our videos by itself. We are doing this whole thing essentially for our own enjoyment and I can hardly remember a time when we left a spot without smiles on our faces. It’s true that many shots don’t carry over how much we suffered to get them done, but I think it’s only positive if we can make our skiing look fun, easy and effortless.
That's a smile right there.
You’ve been seen building your very own winch bungee for urban sessions before you got your new Banshee Bungee this winter. Do you have a lot of technical experience and will you keep creating new apparatuses to aid you in the future?
Janne: We did build a winch last winter and it turned out to be a working solution, but I think this season’s LED project took out most of the eagerness for constructing things, at least from Juho!
Juho: (Laughs) It did. Building the winch was a nice little project, but we couldn’t have done it without our very own gear head Ilkka. He’s that guy who is always carrying a screw driver and a roll of duct tape on him and fixing each and every problem that arises.
Ilkka: (Laughs) Well, it is always fun and interesting to really focus on something and start thinking of ways to make things better, and that’s exactly what happened with the winch, and I for one enjoyed building it from scratch! The LED project that we started early this season was a bit of a disaster though. We wanted to illuminate our shoots with loads of LED lights to save us from having to buy an expensive generator, but although as a whole it came out great, the lighting just wasn’t bright enough for our shoots.
Verneri: I think that whole LED issue speaks volumes of our overall technical experience (laughs). The idea was there, the will was there, but no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t make it work in the end.
Banshee Bungee...straight to the face!
You seem to favor producing short and tight-knit webisodes. Is this format a conscious decision to awake more interest and hype to people craving for more, or have you also thought about lengthier productions?
Janne: Our first decision when we began filming was to push out short webisodes, and as a small and close-knit group working on this, the format suits us the best. We don’t really have the resources to start competing with full-length ski films.
Juho: Yeah, by doing multiple episodes per season we’ll get much more views and visibility compared to putting out a single, full-length film in the fall. If we did do that, it would just get drowned in the masses of professional releases. Either way, people are getting so impatient these days that they’re not too bothered to check out lengthy movies, and would much rather watch five minute-long webisodes.
Ilkka: I believe that people who know nothing about freeskiing are much more inclined to watch a compact, five-minute clip than anything longer than that. One of the things we want to accomplish here is to get people from outside the sport excited about what we are doing and what skiing is about!
Creativity comes in many forms - much like this makeshift cam guard.
In Real Skifi Episode 3, you are at your local hill Laajavuori, and on top of operating a snowcat, you seem to be doing whatever you want on the slopes with trails, rails and even the T-bars. Is this a regular thing at Laajavuori, or how did you get the permission to do all this?
Janne: Last year we got a really good thing going with Laajavuori, thanks to Antti Tuukkanen. I hope we’ll get as much free reign there this year when the hill closes down.
Ilkka: Antti Tuukkanen, as mentioned, is a former snowcat operator and he helped us out a ton. There is no way we could have accomplished the things we did without him.
Verneri: True. For the T-bar jibs, Antti did what we wanted and actually started running the lifts for us, even though they had been closed for more than two weeks. We have already planned a similar session later this spring in Laajavuori; I hope we get the same kind of positive reaction that we got last season!
The local hill Laajavuori offers another opportunity for trickery.
Not taking your Laajavuori sessions into account, you have focused completely on urban skiing in your webisodes. Do you have any interests for jumps and other areas of skiing?
Juho: I really love all aspects of skiing. On the other hand, skiing or shooting pipe would get boring fast as I’m not very good at it; I don’t think anyone would be interested in watching a “Juho Kilkki Pipe Edit”. It’s much more fun to stick with what you know best and possibly even be able to amaze people.
Ilkka: Well, I guess skiing a regular park is fun and all, but nothing beats the feeling you get from a successful day of filming.
Verneri: Skiing in the park is cool, yes, but there’s always some kind of limiting aspect to it which you don’t encounter on the streets. Competing is pretty lame as well, because there’s always a terrible tension in the air and you only get a few chances for which you’re evaluated. When filming, you can take all the time and tries you need, and there is no judge to blame for “a bad shot” – only yourself.
The infamous Tongue Twister.
Last year you were nominated for Best Webisode at the IF3 Film Festival. Do you have any expectations of being nominated again this year, and did last year’s nomination garner you any contacts from industry people?
Janne: I don’t think many people contacted us just because of the nomination, but this year we definitely want to be in again, hopefully with an even better webisode and a better result.
Verneri: It felt great to be nominated alongside all the big names, no less due to the fact that we actually made it a long way in the final results. It’s undeniable that even if we do this for fun, it’s that much more rewarding to see that people actually dig what we are doing.
Do you have any intentions of lifting off to film spots around the world or even Finland, or are you simply focusing on innovating in your hometown for now?
Juho: We actually took our very first filming trip out of Jyväskylä this last weekend. I have to say that it was an amazing trip, even though our destination was less than an hour away from home! (laughs)
Ilkka: We really have to get out more, as the spots and ideas are starting to run thin. Besides, it’s a fresh experience to see how well you can get some new ideas going in unknown environments.
Verneri: It would be great to film more in other towns and areas, but putting a trip like that together is always such a hassle, which is why we’re not thinking of venturing outside Finland at this time. However, given the opportunity, trips like that would be beneficial to us and worth all the hassle.
Real skiing on real streets, personified.
As a group of skiers, you seem to have a clear picture and idea of what skiing means to you and what skiing can become. What do you feel is the next step for freeskiing?
Janne: I bet skiing will slowly start diverging in every possible direction. The Olympics will push the sport in a very serious tone, while film groups will proliferate even more than now and start taking skiing into varying, stylized directions.
Juho: Like Janne said, skiing is developing into so many directions right now, which is nothing less than amazing. I’m more for seeing skiing go in the direction that we also represent for our part. Although both things are great, I would rather watch a crazy urban part than a live stream from the Olympic halfpipe.
Ilkka: If anything, I hope we would head more into the direction of snowboarding. I for one get my inspiration from watching really creative snowboarding, and if someone could emulate some of the stuff they do on skis, they would go very far!
Do you have any fears or thoughts about the future, considering that you would move away from each other’s proximity for studies or work, and the Real Skifi as we know it would cease to exist?
Verneri: Yeah, we might move to different places for possible studies, sure, but if we are really enthusiastic about filming, I think we could make it work with a little fine tuning.
Juho: Sometimes I do wonder how we will end up. Personally, I’m at the point in my life where I have to start making big decisions of what I’m going to do with my life. The thought of how skiing will fit into everything else is often in the back of my head. Optimistically, it would be a blast to keep Real Skifi going for a very long time. We’ll see how it goes, hopefully well!
Grouped on top of the awning.
Finally, if you had one thing you could say to people participating in our explosively growing sport around the world, what would it be?
Janne: Have fun while skiing!
Juho: Skiing is supposed to be fun – and it is!
Ilkka: Wear tight pants!
Verneri: Good luck to everyone for the Olympics! Still, remember to have fun!
Real Skifi - Episode 5
Real Skifi would like to thank their sponsors Atomic and Orage for
all their help, and you can find more info on Real Skifi and their webisodes at http://www.realskifi.com.