Ten years later
In 2023, Riksgränsen Banked Slalom celebrates its 10 year anniversary. It all started like the legendary banked slalom in Mount Baker, and has today grown into one of the finest closing parties above the Arctic Circle. It’s well known that Riksgränsen in Swedish Lapland is legendary snowboard terrain. The best skiers in the world have also always come here to finish off the season.
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A standing invitation
The competition King of the Hill in Riksgränsen prompted a massive international response when Ingemar Backman pulled off an eight-meter-plus high backside air and ended up on the covers of all the snowboard magazines in the world almost 30 years ago. That jump didn’t just grant Ingemar instant cult status and a professional career, photographers and filmmakers who were there to capture the jump also made a career out of it, such as Calle Eriksson and Pierre Wikberg among others.
But Riksgränsen’s strongest feature has always been the entire mountain. Not just a single jump or track – the whole terrain is perfect for snowboarding. The marketing manager at the hotel at the time, Robert Gustavsson, understood all of this. At a time when many resorts were actually discussing whether to prohibit snowboarding from their facilities, all the great snowboarding stars at the time had a standing invitation to Riksgränsen. The American snowboarding icon Craig Kelly put the location on the map for an entire generation of snowboarders, then the rest came.
Before breaking his back, all Niklas Ekstedt wanted was to be a pro snowboarder. In April 2021, Niklas made a performance at Niehku Mountain Villa in Riksgränsen, Sweden. A place and a mountain he has known for decades.
The art of the turn
It was Anders Neuman, former editor of Transition Magazine, who came up with the idea of Riksgränsen Banked Slalom. The concept already existed, as mentioned, in many other places in the world. The most famous banked slalom competition in the world is that in Mount Baker, USA. It’s also called Legendary Banked Slalom and has been running since 1985. The competition was created by board builder Tom Sims, among others. Apart from making his own boards he also won the first event. Famous snowboarders like Craig Kelly, Terje Haakonsen, Shaun Palmer, Maëlle Ricker, Xavier de la Rue, Victoria Jealouse and many others have entered the Legendary Banked Slalom and won.
"There are few similar competitions where amateurs of all ages get the opportunity to compete against international professional riders"
– Anders Neuman
Being able to turn has always been an important part of snowboarding. Just being able to get down the mountain. But sometimes this has been put in the shadows by jumps and tricks and rails.
– When we started Riksgränsen Banked Slalom, 60 people entered. Now there are several hundred, says Anders Neuman when we have a chat.
– These days snowboarders from several countries participate. Ages range from, like, nine-year-olds to those in their sixties. There are few similar competitions where amateurs of all ages get the opportunity to compete against international professional riders.
– The first generation of snowboarders are becoming grandparents, says Neuman and smiles. They want their kids and grandkids to love riding just like they did themselves back in the day.
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Riksgränsen Banked Slalom is a part of a movement within the sport to "reclaim the carve". Every year the main focus behind the event is trying to embrace the snowboarding spirit and connecting the past with the future.
It’s a party
The event became an instant success when it started. 60 people registered in the first year and now there more than 300 participants. One thing to keep in mind though, is that this is a party. Grandpa and grandma bring their grandkids, father and son, mother and daughter, partners and friends, everything to bring the vibe of excellent boarding to as many as possible. People do show up as well.
– Yeah, but no wonder, filmmaker Pierre Wikberg adds, it’s the best snowboard event in all of northern Europe.
This is how lifestyle photographer Mattias Fredriksson’s career took off in Riksgränsen back in 1990s. Today is one of the most published in the outdoor world. In 2021 he celebrated his 500th cover. In this film he returns to Riksgränsen, a ski resort in the north of Sweden, where it all started.
Norwegian snowboarding legend Terje Haakonsen has won the competition in Mount Baker several times, and he’s won Riksgränsen Banked Slalom a few times as well. Terje is arguably the greatest snowboarder of all time, even if that kind of claim can be discussed forever, of course. What no one can take away from Terje is his drive to be the best. To compete, and to win. He’s also got that great feeling for snow. To ride, to turn, just to be there on the snow.
"Riksgränsen has lots of good terrain, slushy snow and always a whole bunch of old acquaintances"
– Terje Haakonsen
A couple of years ago, he was on the starting line in Riksgränsen wearing a pair of new goggles he was testing. He’d just received them and had forgotten to remove the protective film from the glass. Ordinary people would have had a hard time going downhill without being able to see much through the glasses. Terje, he won. He says:
– I probably come up to Riksgränsen just because it’s Riks. The competition is fun, of course, I like competing. But Riks is more than that for me – there’s lots of good terrain, slushy snow and always a whole bunch of old acquaintances.
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"What's really amazing is the group of people involved in creating the competition. Our common approach is what has paved the way for the event's development and gotten Riksgränsen Banked Slalom to where we are today." – Anders Neuman
The perfect way to end the season
Just like everything else with Riksgränsen, the event is also about the weather. This is what you could call the outer limits, what is first and foremost affected by the powers of nature. Riksgränsen is like Iceland in that sense; it doesn’t get weather at all – just samples. One minute there’s a snowstorm outside: hard work for the course team, but a party as far as everyone else is concerned. Next, the sun re-appears, and the mountainside is bathed in its warming rays. The party can continue outside.
– It’s fun to see that there’s a bit of a ‘competition vibe’ going on because it is a race, but at the same time you can tell from young and old that it’s mostly a party, Anders Neuman says.
– It’s the perfect way to end the season, together with family, friends, new and old stars. A couple of hundred snowboarders going down Norgesvängen together is a powerful sight.
All you really have to do is to love your own turns and dare to make them bigger. That’s what all the others are there for as well.