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)

Karl got the green light. The first feature I saw him hit was a closeout rail with a gap over another rail to a flat landing. He nailed it. We hit another couple of spots that day and built a monstrosity of an up-rail setup that went untouched, due to a hundred horse trailers being parked on the in-run when we arrived the next morning. Skiers Leigh Powis, Sean Jordan, Matt Walker and another filmer, Cody Carter, joined up, and over the next four days, Karl put together the foundation of the segment that would earn him Rookie of the Year distinction. He shoveled snow, told jokes, attacked sketchy features without acting scared, worked hard, stomped tricks, talked philosophy, nerded out about skiing and never got down (for more than a few minutes). He was the new guy, so he guinea-ed most of the features without complaint, including overshooting a big rainbow ledge and a step-down jump off a barn roof, both to flat landings. Karl joined Poor Boyz on
a handful of trips throughout the season and quickly graduated from rookie to regular.

Watch: Karl Fostvedt’s Topless Loop.”

“We could tell early on,” explains Karl’s half-brother Hans Fostvedt, “just by the mischievous looks that the kid would give us, he never was really scared of anything.” Hans is emphatic as he tells the story of Karl climbing a bookcase during a ski trip to Oregon and falling face first. “He just falls down, completely hurts himself and gets back up and starts climbing again like it’s nothing. That’s when I knew that Karl was different from the other kids.” Hans explains that the courageous streak was something more than just showing off. “He was always trying to be his own person, to do his own thing and be independent from the family.”

For all the independence exhibited by a skier who has made his name by going places outside the mainstream of skiing, Karl still arrows every conversation back to his family and mentors. As we wrap up an interview, he pleads with me to speak further with his brother, who is also his ski coach and the owner of the local sandwich shop in his hometown, Ketchum, ID. Somehow, in spite of his achievements, Karl still feels awkward discussing his own talent.

Today, Karl is sponsored by a range of companies, from anon. for eyewear to Dakine for accessories to Full Tilt for boots and even Tree Fort for the travel wallets always strung around his neck. He has a pair of pro-model skis with ON3P, and this is the most obvious association of his career, although the relationship didn’t come that easy. After hearing about Karl way back when, Scott Andrus, the owner of ON3P, tried to track him down. “We hadn’t heard from him in a while,” he says. “Finally I sent him a message on Newschoolers.” That did the trick.

“You see kids with a lot of talent, but they’re [not always] the ones who are on fire for it. There’s no such thing as a bad day skiing—of course that’s a contradiction—and [Karl has] always had that mindset.”

If you search online for videos of Karl skiing, an apparent starting point comes when he moved to Salt Lake City in 2009 for college. His style, even then, is unmistakable—even if he’s wearing an ill-fitting jacket and unstylish helmet and skiing on borrowed backcountry skis. When ON3P first partnered with him, it was because of that. “I always tell Karl he skis the way I wish I could,” explains Andrus. “He just has a really unique style, and you don’t see a lot of people doing the stuff he’s doing, in terms of body positioning and grabs.” Still, talent alone doesn’t guarantee great achievements in the ski industry.

How does a skier “make it”? Talent, yes, but the other side of the equation is passion. Ryan Dean was one of Karl’s coaches at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, the team that Karl landed on after the coin flip. “He was one of those guys who was totally into it, totally stoked and willing to send it,” says Dean, whose grandfather’s name graces Sun Valley’s Proctor Mountain and whose own children are some of the only sixth generation skiers in America.

“You see kids with a lot of talent, but they’re [not always] the ones who are on fire for it. There’s no such thing as a bad day skiing—of course that’s a contradiction—and [Karl has] always had that mindset.”

Both qualities, talent and effort, dovetail well with how he acts. Diving in to score a touchdown, catapulting a soccer ball into the top corner of a goal, throwing down a poster-worthy dunk: mainstream sports media loves to say that an athlete should “act like you’ve been there before.” And regardless of personal experience, Karl acts like he’s done it before. From the first day I shot with Karl, though, those exclamations of success have always been tempered by his actions. Karl lands the trick, kicks off his skis and asks what he should do next.

Last February on a trip to Sarajevo, I shot Karl as the sun went down over an abandoned hotel. I showed a photo to him. His body was stalled high on a wallride, and his shadow marked the wall of the ruined building. The random details of a photo shoot surrounded a pool of standing water in which the camera captured the reflection of his body. It was as good as any photo I’ve made in my career. He seemed pleased, but the next day our crew went back to the feature, and Karl was smashing his skis into the wall and eventually got a better trick on video with a photo to match.

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