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[Age Gap] Andrew Pollard interviews Chris Benchetler

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[Age Gap] Andrew Pollard interviews Chris Benchetler

At first glance, Andrew Pollard and Chris Benchetler seem to have little in common. Pollard, a rising star on the Freeride World Tour, is recognized from his Alta-inspired, fall-line choices on the biggest competition stage in freeride skiing. Benchetler, who has honed his skiing style for over two decades, prefers to surf and slide his way through flowy terrain, leaving marks more akin to a snowboarder than a big-mountain skier. But both are students of their craft—insatiable consumers of ski media, pupils of freeriding’s roots and purveyors of its future. Pollard and Benchetler are also both artists, adopting similar designs in their personal illustrative work. When it came time for the second installment of Age Gap, we pinged Pollard to see who he wanted to chat with—anyone at all—and Benchetler was top of the list. 

“I wanted to interview Chris because I’m inspired by skiers who use their ability to portray their creativity to the ski community. I’m also inspired by his artwork and his drive to make these colorful pieces stand out in an industry that can sometimes seem black and white.” — AP


Back to your roots, what inspired you to pick up a pen or pencil and start making art?

Professionally, it was having the opportunity to make skis with Atomic. But my dad was an art major—he sadly passed away before I could really learn a lot more about him as an adult—and he clearly had influence in my life without me realizing it. My mom was [also] really good at drawing. But I was just always super drawn to art. I used to enter the coloring contest at Von’s or Safeway or whatever, and I always had a pen or pencil in my hand, always scribbled doodles on my homework and whatever else. It was something that, from an early age, I was really inspired by. Once I started becoming more of a teenager and into adulthood, I shifted focus completely to the outdoors because I just loved being in the mountains—climbing, surfing, all these things—so I didn’t have time to sit down and create as much. Once I had a ski and a reason to hone that energy again, it rekindled that inspiration and, now, it’s turned into all kinds of things.

When did you know you wanted to shred for the rest of your life or make skiing a part of your career?

That was ingrained in my brain early on, too. I don’t remember a conscious decision, saying “This is what I’m going to do.” But my mom saved this book I had to make in 2nd grade—I had to draw and write a book—and it was essentially me saying I wanted to be a professional skier when I grew up. [As a kid] we only got to go on weekends and a lot of my friends who had equal or more talent than me, because they had more access to [skiing], lost touch with it. I kept going with it and kept on the path.

SKIER: Andrew Pollard
PHOTO: Dom Daher
LOCATION: Verbier, CHE

What is your favorite Benchetler ski design from over the years?

That’s tough. It’s really fun to evolve and keep experimenting, pushing my mind and tapping into more of the spiritual and mental journey that art [presents], diving deep into translating abstract versions of the stories you want to tell through your art. Each ski has a clear influence, when I think back on them, but the first couple were so [heavily] influenced by my time in Japan. JP Auclair and I were some of the first to really discover what Japan could be—we went in January before “Japanuary” was a thing. We were there filming “Reasons,” and on that trip I was skiing prototypes but they didn’t have a graphic yet. [Creating those graphics] was the first time I learned how to use computer programs for drawing. Now, as you look at the progression of my skis, you can see a mix of mediums—sometimes there’s paint, sometimes it’s digital. In more recent years, I’ve been exploring fluid acrylics and reactionary movement within the paint, trying to get a bit more abstract. So, personally, just because it’s my evolution as an artist, I like the more recent skis. Each one tells me something different and brings back great memories, but exploring my mind deeper every time is a fun process. 

Who is your favorite skier or snowboarder to watch these days?

I have two children, so I don’t watch enough videos anymore. I love videos so much—video segments between snow, surf, whatever, have impacted my life so much. Music, flow, style, everything—[Eric] Pollard and the crew at Poor Boyz would make fun of me sometimes because I was such a footage junkie. But, more specifically, anytime Candide [Thovex] puts something out, I’m excited because it’s going to be insane. Pep [Fujas], Pollard, Andy [Mahre]—my decades with Nimbus will always inspire me, too. I don’t have a specific skier that I look forward to seeing… even what Henrik [Harlaut] and Phil [Casabon] are doing, all the creativity, nose-presses and butters. For snowboarders, even though he’s controversial these days, Nicolas Müller will always be one of my favorites. He’s been canceled, but I hope he keeps putting out edits. 

SKIER: Chris Benchetler
PHOTO: Christian Pondella
LOCATION: Mammoth Backcountry, CA

Before diving into filming, did you ever compete?

I did. I had a very, very short window. Just slopestyle. I was focused on park and progression… and then I just realized early on the other aspects of skiing—the creativity, the art, the lines that you could draw. Those were so much more inspiring to me than trying to win a competition. I don’t have that cutthroat, “gotta beat everyone” mentality. So I just kept on my own path.

Do you think there’s any hope for skiing to bring back events like Line Catcher, Cold Rush or the Back 9. Or do you think it’s useless, like judging art?

In speaking with Travis Rice, I found he has a huge mission to mirror what the WSL [World Surf League] is doing with competitions and, I think, skiing will head that way eventually. He actually approached me to talk about that because he thinks that competitive skiers are looking for something totally different. If I were to help Travis design a course, it would be exactly what he’s already doing [for snowboarders]. Once skiing wraps its mind around what kind of skiing it wants to highlight… I see huge potential there and hope that we can get there. Skiing needs all of its different aspects—filming is important, soul shredding is important, mountaineering is important. We’re all chasing passions that drive us for individual reasons, and we need to highlight and support all of those things.

But it’s all about recognizing what’s important to you: If you want to focus on filming or if you want the Back 9 to be revived, you have to go and put yourself out there. It’s not an easy task but if you want something badly enough and you keep pushing, anything is possible. My Grateful Dead film is a perfect example: I hit so many roadblocks and spent personal money to make sure that that film happened. The only reason I got the rights to the music and introduced to the band was because of passion… they owed me nothing, they had no reason to say yes. 

All my friends, all my managers, anyone that I would turn to for business advice told me it was never going to fucking happen. But I just kept going and it totally worked. I guess the [takeaway there] is to put your neck out there and chase your passion at any given cost. 

SKIER: Chris Benchetler
PHOTO: Christian Pondella
LOCATION: Mammoth Backcountry, CA

Now, onto my favorite question: Who was the first person to butter in powder?

I bet it’s either Pollard or Pep. For me, Pep was the first person I saw do it on hardpack… that was when the light bulb went off in my mind. Like, “oh, skis are becoming soft enough that you can actually play through the flex.” I grew up with [snowboarder] John Jackson and those guys were buttering around since I can remember, but just knowing who Eric was, he was probably on that path pretty early, too. 

From your Nimbus Independent days, do you have a favorite memory or moment? 

Holy shit. Best times of my life right there. I miss those days a lot. Without those 10 years of my life, I wonder where my skiing would be… I feel like the ski culture really needed those Nimbus webisodes and needed Pollard’s creativity to bring them to life. But, to answer your question, the craziest memory, skiing-wise… Pep always did something… he was just a ninja. He would always pull something off where you’re just like, “What on Earth just happened?” It was usually pillow-related, dodging a tree or death somehow—he was good at that. 

Were there any Nimbus trips that went wrong? You can think it was all fairy tales, but there must have been some moments when things went awry.

Trips would go wrong in terms of conditions or whatever, but I think the joy—the bouncy houses and the other shit we would do—people still enjoyed watching. If you actually look back at the webisodes, there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t feature the greatest skiing, but it didn’t matter because we weren’t trying to push the next greatest thing [in the sport]. More often than not, it was just about the people we were with and enjoying the good times. 

SKIER: Andrew Pollard
PHOTO: Mia Knoll/FWT
LOCATION: Fieberbrunn, AUT

As skiing finds its newest trends of progression, do you always think there will be a space for people like yourself who aren’t doing the biggest spins or tricks but, rather, focusing on style? 

I don’t have the crystal ball, but if my life and my trajectory offers any confirmation I would say yes. I’ll use Rob Machado as an example because he is a fantastic role model and [I appreciate] how he views surfing. He’s different than me because he was one of the greatest competitive surfers of all time, but the art of a turn in skiing has been so unexplored. I am still trying to dig deeper within my creativity… to push ski technology to the next level, even if it’s small batch concepts and ideas that work for specific days. 

Talking about triples and all that stuff—it’s freaking crazy and I have so much admiration and respect for it but, at the end of the day, gymnastics and freestyle have always been there. So, [this progression] isn’t anything new, skiers in our genre have just mastered it differently. What we don’t have are people changing how a skier does a slash or a turn or butters—that side of skiing will always inspire me and there’s so much potential that hasn’t been explored. All the way down to tapping rocks a certain way or tree taps, getting artistic with jumps or super small trannies. Using Müller again as an example, there was a viral video that went live a few years ago where he did a front 5 into a butter, and he just held it for so long. I’ve tried iterations of that and it’s so hard to hold a butter on skis where you just stay pressed, so it’s now about figuring out ski technology that might allow for that kind of riding. It’s hard to convince the brands to build those skis and that’s what is so cool about surfing: There are so many trippy shapes out there meant for one wave or one day. The simplistic versions of skiing, the creative lines, outside of [flips and spins], and the skis that make it possible will always inspire me. 


LIGHTNING ROUND:

Favorite place to ski?

Home… Mammoth. 

Favorite pow day song? 

I don’t really listen to music while I’m shredding, but it’s gotta be something from the Grateful Dead.

Health food of choice?

Acai bowl. 

Secret to making your body last for lifelong skiing?

Only ski powder… and rock climb. It’s like vertical yoga.

Ski plans for this winter?

Doing a “one line” inspired by Candide. I did one last year and it got picked up by SportsCenter and Good Morning America, the response was huge. I have another concept for that, riding a different zone I frequented as a kid.

Any art projects in the works? 

So many murals. 

Favorite jump spot?

British Columbia backcountry… Pemberton area.

Favorite rock climb?

“The Incredible Hulk.” But there’s a close second (because I’ve done it about 20-something times) called the “OZ” or “The Ounce” in Tuolumne. 

You’re stuck on a desert island. To take the edge off, you can have some beer or some weed. Which would you choose?

Can we add mushrooms into the mix? 

Graupel or Blower?

Blower, but not if you can feel the bottom.

Skiing without poles—hot or not? 

For some people. 

Freeride World Tour—hot or not?

The idea is cool; execution could be better.

Goofy or regular?

Regular.

Left or right?

I’ll go left.

This story originally appeared in FREESKIER Volume 24.
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