A Skier of Circumstance: Why Karl Fostvedt owes his career to a single flip (of the coin)

A Skier of Circumstance: Why Karl Fostvedt owes his career to a single flip (of the coin)

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When he was 7 years old, Karl Fostvedt’s family flipped a coin.

“To determine whether I was going to join the ski team or the snowboard team,” he says.

“They just flipped a coin, and it landed heads, so I joined the ski team.” I breathe out, forcefully through my nose, incredulous.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say.

“I kid you not,” he responds. “They just flipped a coin.”

With four brothers, two half and two full, who are all snowboarders and a sister who skis, joining the ski team made Karl Fostvedt the odd brother out. But a single coin flip doesn’t guarantee anything, certainly not the success that Karl has found in the ski industry. Seventeen years later, Karl is on the leading edge of our ever-evolving sport. He’s featured in movies from Poor Boyz Productions, Teton Gravity Research, 4BI9 and Sweetgrass, including inimitable segments from locations like Detroit (with Poor Boyz), Sarajevo (with a 4BI9 crew contracted by Teton Gravity) and a nearly snowless forest in Washington state (with Sweetgrass). Last winter also brought contest success for Fostvedt, who stood atop the podium at War of Rails and finished second at Total Fight Freeski and third at the VARS Tournament. All the while, he has been juggling schooling; he’s about to finish a degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies at the University of Utah.

Stylish, confident, talented. Those are all qualities that make the world of ski media take notice. Thoughtful, humble, independent. These virtues don’t always guarantee attention. In my mind though, Karl is next in a line of skiers who combine both sets of traits, indelible names in our sport including Eric Pollard, Michelle Parker, Dash Longe, Pep Fujas, Mike Hornbeck, Adam Delorme and more, all who have made their names not by scoring higher but rather by playing an entirely different game.

Skiing is a fickle sport. Skillful skiers toil in anonymity—they blow minds on their local terrain but never make a dollar. Daredevils with generational skill never share their talent beyond a local resort’s website. Every once in a while, though, a small window opens, and if the constellations of talent, desire and luck align, a new athlete ascends to a higher level.

Watch: Poor Boyz Productions’ shreds Detroit.

In the fall of 2013, Karl made that leap, winning Rookie of the Year honors at the iF3 Film Festival. In February of that year, snow was falling on the Front Range of Colorado, and Pete Alport, who was filming with Poor Boyz, was driving in a raging blizzard, keen to take advantage of the conditions. Poor Boyz’s standard street-skiing crew was unavailable—filming elsewhere or dealing with the pain-in-the-ass travel circumstances inherent in a life always traveling into a storm. So Alport called me and instructed me to watch some videos of a new kid who might perform before the cameras until the others arrived. I hadn’t met Karl yet, but I had already seen most of the clips. They showed pure skiing talent, sure, but until you see firsthand how a person deals with the ups, downs, pressures, failures and successes of a shoot with the likes of Poor Boyz, there is no guarantee that they’ll mesh with the crew.

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