Twofer: Sage and Ingrid Interview Exclusive
Twofer: Sage and Ingrid Interview Exclusiveby Robert de Luca
Last week, we had the privilege of sitting down with two of the biggest names in professional skiing, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Ingrid Backstrom, for an in-depth interview. In the last five years, Sage, 27, and Ingrid, 29, have achieved legendary status in the freeski arena, winning multiple awards for their video segments and impressing the hell out of the ski industry. Both Ingrid and Sage are pushing the sport further than we ever imagined possible, and we are excited to have them on the newly formed Tramdock Team. But as we found out, there’s more to these two than AK first descents—they also love to play Scrabble, cook, and inspire others.
We called Sage and then, because we’re jerks, we put him on hold while we figured out the speakerphone.
Sage, what’s up man?
Hey, what’s up? I was just listening to your hold music; it’s pretty good reggae.
Yeah, we like to keep you entertained while you wait.
Well, if you’re gonna have elevator music, might as well not be elevator music, y’know?
That’s the idea. Ok, really quickly: this is who I am and what I do.
My name’s Sage and uh, I’d say I’m someone who likes to have fun, an artist, and a skier and really all about the good times.
Everyone here was blown away when we heard you were on the Tramdock Team. Any initial thoughts about riding for Tramdock?
I was excited as well when we first started talking about it. I was curious about the online aspect of the industry. When Jonny [Atencio, Backcountry.com’s Athlete Wrangler Extraordinaire] asked me to consider it, I had already been thinking about something like this so I was stoked. Online’s never going to replace the physical store, you know, in your base village or your town, but with online you get to reach a larger audience and create a community, and that’s my job: to spread the word and keep people stoked.
Well, we’re stoked for sure. Where’d you grow up, and how’d you get to Utah?
Well, I was born in Alta, Wyoming, and my parents split up when I was little, so I spent summers in Oregon and winters in Wyoming until recently. In college, I met Chris Collins at Mt. Bachelor and he convinced me to come to Utah. Then I met Kris Ostness and some other guys and they were all stoked on it, so I went. That was my first winter in Utah, and we were there with Ostness, who was shooting for TGR, and Steve Rosendahl was shooting Volume Video, and in the spring we headed out to Pyramid [Gap], and I met Candide [Thovex], but there was no guarantee I was going to be in the video... but then at the TGR premiere, there I was in Chris’s segment, so that was rad.
Last year was my first year here for the summer. Having a home base has been great, and Utah’s super nice. I travel a ton in the summer, so it’s nice to have a place to stow my gear and not have to worry about it. I miss Oregon sometimes ’cause it has a lot of nice rivers, and cool summer chillout spots...Utah’s a little warmer than I’m used to. Yeah, the heat’s been the biggest difference, but there’s tons of mountain biking, and places to go cool down if it’s way hot.
From 2000 to now, you’ve blown up, and I don’t want to give you a big head, but we wouldn’t be the first to tell you there are a lot of kids out there who look up to you as one of the biggest names in skiing. How do you handle being in that role...or do you even think about it?
It’s a real cool aspect of my job, because inspiring people is totally rewarding. But also, I’m just a dude like anyone, so while it’s nice, I don’t think about it...I just try to be friendly to everyone, you know? But then when I meet guys like Glen Plake, it seems a bit crazy that people might think of me in the same way.
So who inspires you?
As a kid skiing, there were the major guys like [Seth] Morrison who were... are still... just so sick, and they definitely inspired me a lot with my skiing, but now I find influences all over the place, in art, and music...a lot of underground stuff that’s on the fringe, like graffiti and street art. It changes the way I think about things, so I can realize there’s always a different approach to anything.
A totally ripping skier from another planet comes to Earth and lands in your backyard...where would you tell him to ski and why?
That’s a tough question...well, first off I’d say you landed in the right place...I mean I live in Utah for a good reason...plus there’s an airport nearby so that makes traveling easy. People ask me all the time “Where’s your favorite place, man, where’s the best place to ride?” and it’s hard to say because everything’s so unique. It’s sick here in Utah—the amount of snow, and terrain, and variety is amazing. People always expect the most exotic places are the best, and I definitely love high alpine terrain because it’s wacky like you wouldn’t believe... windlips, and rock spires and ice features... it’s so science-fiction that I feel like I’m on another planet... but skiing trees feels more... normal, I guess. So, I’d tell you that if you want to ski crazy shit like you probably do on other planets, head on up to AK. If you want to ski the greatest snow on earth, let’s shred here in Utah, and if you want to go someplace remote, we could go check out the Caucasus Mountains in Russia near the Black Sea. The coastal effect makes this sticky snowpack that clings to features, like in the Sierra, and it ends up really cool but not heavy at all.
We asked you where your favorite place to eat was, and you said “at home”. That was too short for us, so now, if you were going to have your teammates over for dinner, what would you cook and why?
I’d probably go with my chicken mole surprise. It’s pretty easy, and it makes a ton so I have a lot of leftovers. Basically I’m a sucker for anything I can put on a tortilla, so that’s how I cook.
Can we get that recipe?
No. It’s a top secret handed down through many generations. You wouldn’t want the ghosts of my family spookin’ you out for the rest of your years would you?
When there’s down time on a big trip, you hear everyone bitching about it. Is it really that bad, or do you just sit around, get blitzed and hang out?
Everyone always talks in the videos about, you know, “down days, ohhhhh”, and it’s like, “oh, poor us, we’re these pro skiers and we’re in Alaska and there’s been five down days and we have to sit in the lodge...” so it’s really not that bad... but seriously, we’re hoping to get a couple good days. We spend a lot of money to get up there and we could walk out with nothing, you know? It’s the closest thing to gambling I know of. It requires efficiency and patience to stay focused and ready to turn it on at a moment’s notice.
It’s not just a big brewfest? People are what, like, stretching and knitting hats?
Well, you know, I bring my yoga ball and my computer, and we go for hikes and cruise around, but it could clear up at 4 and then we’re going out, ’cause in Alaska it stays light really late. Or, we might be getting up crazy early to go hit it the next day. If you were heli-skiing, you’d just go, you know, but for filming everything has to be crazy perfect. Great snow, good light, good conditions, everything. So in the end I almost look forward to the downtime. No phone. No communication. No stress. It’s like a retreat. We’re putting together slideshows on our laptops, and someone’s painting, and someone’s cross country skiing, and someone’s building a snowfort or a minipark...
What’s your favorite piece of gear? The one that you’re totally bummed out if you forget? Obviously your skis, but anything nobody would think about?
Well I have these mini-speakers and I love those when I’m mountain biking, but I’d love to make some sort of sound system to blast while I ride. I guess that doesn’t count since I don’t have it yet. For skiing, I like to bring a balaclava on storm days to keep snowlocks from forming in my shag. I also roll with a couple extra lenses and throw ’em in my cargo pockets. They sort of cup my quads, almost like extra protection, plus they’re nice to have when conditions change.
How about the “steeze effect” on skiing? It seemed like skiers used to be more function-focused and now we’ve got major style creators. Is a preoccupation with style helping or hurting skiing?
Well there are a lot of people who bite the—you know—big headphones and baggy pants and bandanna stuff, but there definitely are snowboarders who wear stuff that’s pure function too, so it goes both ways... I like my gear baggy cause it keeps me mobile, but in the end who’s to say that a jacket should look this way or that way? Of course, sometimes I laugh at the little gangster dudes in the park, but I think it can be a draw into skiing for younger riders and that’s great. The perception a while back was that snowboarding was cool, skiing was nerdy, but that’s changed partly due to style. Who cares what you’re wearing, anyway?
When you were younger did you think this is how things would end up?
When I was a young kid, I watched ski vids, and you know I loved that, but I was really into art and graphic design, so I figured I’d do something like that after college. I raced when I was little so there were also guys going to the Olympics, but that was a little out of my spectrum. When extreme skiing was coming on I thought, man, I would love that, but nobody thinks “I’m going to be an extreme skier.”... I thought about joining the IFSA tour, but then I started filming with TGR, and that was it.
What’s going on with skiing now that people in the future are going to look back on and say, “Wow, what they were doing was rad—that must have been a cool time to be skiing.”
Well, it’s not anything I’m doing, for sure I don’t think... what Nature’s doing, though, that’s the big question. I really hope people aren’t going to have to look back and say, “What’s that white stuff all over the place that people are sliding on? That looks fun”. ’Cause it is.
Ingrid calls us back right as we’re finishing up with Mr. Cattabriga-Alosa. Coincidence, or pro-skier hive mind telepathy?
Hey, who are you? Give me one sentence for the few people on Earth who have no idea.
Haha, well, my name is Ingrid, and I’m a skier I guess. I love skiing and the outdoors, and I’m lucky to be able to do that as my job.
So, when I spoke with Sage earlier today, he had just gotten back from the TGR tour in San Fran. You were gone last week, too. Where were you?
I was in a river canyon in Arizona, on a product testing trip with The North Face. We hiked and camped with some of their pack and tent development team, and a couple other athletes: Peter Croft, who’s a climber/adventurer crazy dude, and Jim Zellers, who’s a snowboarder/adventurer. We flew into Tucson, then camped where Edward Abbey apparently wrote Desert Solitaire...which I’m now going to go back and finish since I have a better perspective. I’m a big fan of his fiction but haven’t been able to get into his non-fiction.
What are you up to now?
Home for a day and a half, then going to San Fran, then leaving on a P.R. tour for this new extreme skiing documentary, Steep.
Niiiice. So, back to the beginning: what was it like growing up in Seattle? How about a super-quick grom-to-adult timeline?
Well, Seattle is totally awesome, lots of good mountains and the ocean’s right there... so it’s a great place to grow up if you’re into the outdoors. Both my parents were on the ski patrol at Crystal Mountain so I skied there growing up until I turned 18 and went to college. I raced for a while when I was younger, but I was really bad...like 5th to last in every event.
Hwhaaa? No way you were “really bad” at skiing.
Oh yeah—once when we were doing video analysis, my coach, in front of the whole team, stops the tape when I’m coming over this knoll, and points to my stance—knock-knees, and everything, and just starts screaming, “How can you ski like this? How can you go down a hill with your body positioned like this?” I’m telling you it was bad.
Wow, what a dick. That’s a pretty formative experience though. Was that when you said, “screw racing, I’m going to be the rippingest freeskier ever?”
No, I kept racing! Kept on plugging on, and it was my friends and brothers who brought me into freeskiing. I used to miss racecourse inspection and just go skiing, because that’s what I loved to do. Then, I went to Whitman College in Washington and raced there with a great team, and got a lot better. I think it really kept me going at school, going away to ski every weekend. Otherwise, I don’t know, college was kinda weird. I actually had a job when I left, well, an internship—as an accountant with the World’s Fair in Germany. The people were sort of corrupt, but it definitely confirmed my interest in traveling, and that’s when I decided to be a ski bum for a bit and moved to Squaw.
So if a shark bit your legs off tomorrow, would you be a German World’s Fair accountant next week?
Hm. I don’t think so...I think I’d go back to school and get an MBA or a culinary degree. I’d like to tie baking and business in with the outdoors somehow. Maybe inventing a new kind of Clif Bar or something like that would be cool.
Alright, then, if you were going to make dinner for the rest of our team, what would you cook?
I’d probably make this great vegetable red curry we had recently... maybe with some chicken or tofu or salmon or something. I’m kind of picky with what I eat and where it comes from. I’ve been reading about the meat and dairy industry lately, so I try to get locally-raised, free-range meat and organic produce when I can.
That sounds way too healthy for us. Yet, you say you love donuts.
Oh, no...I really like donuts. There’s a vegan donut bakery called Mighty O in Seattle that’s amazing.
Vegan donuts? Sounds like sacrilege. So are you excited to work with us and the rest of these guys?
For sure. A resource like your site lets all of us reach a much wider audience, and I’m excited about connecting with people outside of my local area in any way that I can. Plus, being able to go online to get your gear and have it sent to you is totally key.
What’s it like being a skier role model? Do you ever think about that and freak out?
Well, I try not to think about it too much. It’s flattering, you know, to hear that people think I’m a role model, but it’s not something I’m very conscious of. My mom was an awesome role model while I was growing up, and she still totally charges, and Wendy Fisher and Lynn Hill have always been a huge inspiration to me, so it’s great to think I might be someone’s inspiration.
So...a totally ripping skier from another planet lands in your backyard and wants to know where to score the sickest lines on Earth...where would you send him?
A really ripping alien skier? I assume you have alien superpowers that keep you from getting hurt, right?
We have really sweet helmets.
Ok, and you can just fly your spaceship anywhere? And land right on top of mountains anywhere in the world?
Um, Sage didn’t ask this many questions.
Well, I would say that Alaska is the craziest place on earth to ski, cause it’s so wide open, there are no defined areas, and you wouldn’t need a heli if you could just land your spaceship up there. But if you were here on more of an anthropological mission, I’d have to say I’m kind of biased to the West Coast. Squaw in particular, but Tahoe in general has a great scene, or there’s Crystal Mountain...
Seriously, Crystal Mountain?
Yeah, it’s where I grew up skiing, so I love it. Check it out.
So when you go to Alaska, but you can’t film and can’t go skiing, what do you do when it’s socked in? Do you get crazy and party? Do you ever get cabin fever and want to kill each other?
Well, sometimes it gets crazy. I try not to party too much, because there’s nothing more crushing than being hung over AND depressed that you can’t go skiing, or trying to ski hung over from the night before. I try to get some exercise every day, and then have some sort of distraction. I love going to local art studios, and exploring the town if there is one. We also play a lot of Scrabble.
Look out. Any wild stories besides Scrabble? Who are the best people to go with?
Everyone’s cool, but guys like Shane [McConkey] and J.T. [Holmes] are great. They just can’t sit still, so they end up finding weird, fun stuff to do. Once, Shane went to a local fish hatchery in Bella Coola, and convinced them to lend us drysuits, so we could go float down a freezing cold river. It depends on where you are, but there’s something fun to do everywhere. Once I heard of someone bringing a folding exercise bike. I bring my yoga ball, too.
Favorite piece of gear on a big trip?
I would say my helmet, or my mouthguard probably. It was custom made by my dentist, and my mom asked me to wear it, so it’s turned into a bit of a superstition.
What do you think about one-pieces and the crazy styles that are catching on in skiing?
Well, you have to feel good to have fun, and looking good makes you feel good. It doesn’t matter if you’re a skiing grandma or Joey Donuts in the park, skiing is a social sport and style’s always going to be a part of that. I’m lucky that I get a lot of great gear sent to me, but I try not to be too serious about my style...I try to make people laugh. If you’re trying too hard to be fashionable, or you’re too concerned with how you look and you’re not having fun, then that’s weak.
Looking back, what in your mind was the textbook decade for skiing, and what are people going to look back on and say about today?
Well I think right now is definitely an amazing time, because you can go super fast on these new skis, and get to peaks in helis and on sleds, and everything’s just getting bigger and better. The birth of extreme skiing in the ’80s was definitely cool, but I’m more jealous of the time before Alaska was even in the picture. It’s still huge, but back then nothing had been skied and it was all lawless. Of course, it’s a lot better known now, which is good because it’s all checked out, but still, that would have been cool.
Thanks for chilling with us. Any shoutouts you want to give? Any words of advice for the skiing public?
Sure, no problem. Hi to all my family and friends, and thanks to you guys and all my sponsors. Everyone else, just get out there, ski as much as you possibly can and have fun.