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Sean Jordan: The Quest for Norwegian Handrails

Sean Jordan has made a name for himself as one of street skiing's hardest chargers, unafraid of the biggest drops and gnarliest rails. Alongside fellow skiers Clayton Vila and Cam Riley, Jordan spent his winters cruising urban wastelands in search of steel handrails and large concrete structures. He did more powder skiing than urban skiing last season, but linked up with longtime co-conspirators Riley and Vila for a strike mission to Scandinavia.

For a look at the planks that Sean trusts in the most hectic of situations, check out K2's Poacher.

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Think he's gonna make it? Nic Alegre photo.

So, you went to Norway with Clayton Vila and Cam Riley to film an urban segment. Would you give me a quick rundown of the trip?

Clayton, Cam, and I went to Norway, and we basically bounced between Lillehammer and Oslo depending on snow conditions. Norway is a very wintery place, but also sees some pretty warm temperatures as well, so we had to play the typical urban game, which is “chase the snow.” We were quite mobile; we actually showed up and got situated in our first place, Lillehammer, and had to make a couple of audibles in terms of location, just to make sure that we were in the right spot to be productive, and get some good shots. Norway was cool because it has a huge ski culture, but actually very opposite of street skiing, so it was cool to go to a place that had such a long history of skiing and bring a bit of new light to some different types of skiing. We had about three weeks in Norway, and we just chased wherever the most snow was. We scoured that place unlike anywhere else to find every piece of metal that we could slide or building that we could jump off of.

So finding spots was a big part of the trip. Did you show up with any spots in mind?

We did some typical Google Maps searching, which is what we like to do with a lot of new locations. Luckily with technology these days we can get a lot of good photos of the areas using Google Maps, and find some spots that way. We also reached out to a couple of people who were familiar with the area and watched whatever movies and content we could find from those areas. But, to be honest, it’s not really a mecca in terms of urban skiing, so we did have to do a lot of searching on our own. That said, being in urban skiing for as long as we have has made us pretty good with time management and trying to figure out locations that would be beneficial for us, such as schools, parks, anywhere that’s got a steep incline. Certain towns and cities have more industrial vibes to them, which can produce better handrails for us. To be honest, we did run into a good few roadblocks in terms of finding features in Norway. There were a lot of cool-looking things that our mouths would water over, and we’d pull up in the van and realize that it wasn’t the right metal, aluminum, or it wasn’t metal at all, or there was a break in the rail, or something like that, but that’s pretty typical in urban skiing. Not everything is as hittable as it looks when you’re driving by on the highway and checking it out. Luckily, we were with a crew who’s worked together for an extensive period of time, so we made it happen.

This symbolizes how Sean feels trapped by his addiction to stacking clips. TGR photo.

You guys have obviously worked together for a while. How’d that get started?

So, we all came from the East Coast, which kinda forced us into getting into urban skiing. We didn’t have the luxury of huge mountains and deep snow, and a lot of the stuff growing up there was these dinky little terrain parks, so we each got attracted to rails pretty quickly. Just through skiing and the grapevine we all met up here in Colorado. We were all familiar with each other on the East Coast, but we really got the program going once we got out here. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with the same group of people for a really long time. Going on urban trips, it’s really good to know how everyone operates and trust that they know what needs to be done so we’re not wasting time, or not arguing, or anything crazy like that. I love working with those dudes and it’s really nice to have our system dialed in so that when we get to a new city that’s maybe not the easiest place to find spots, we can capitalize and get done what we need to get done.

RELATED: Sean Rides K2, and So Can You!

Clayton was telling me about some of the pranks he and Cam like to pull on you. Sounds like a good time.

Spending the amount of time together like we do, in normally pretty confined spaces... Let’s just say that we don’t always take the most luxurious trips, so to keep our sanity we’ll poke fun at whoever seems easiest, and sometimes...well, for the most part that’s probably me. If you’ve ever spent any time with us in the streets we might sound like we’re even speaking another language. We make stupid jokes, and we laugh at things that aren’t really funny, and for an outsider to come in and see that— they’re probably a little confused, even a little concerned, but that’s how we keep our sanity. It’s not always hunky-dory out there, so we try and at least lighten the mood with little jokes and pranks here and there.

That seems like a pretty universal response to high-pressure situations.

Well, in certain positions there’s just so much pressure, and obviously a lot of risk management. Sometimes all you need is for your buddy to whack you on the back and crack a stupid joke before you drop in, just to remind you that what you’re doing is fun. I don’t think that’s the right word, but we’re out here to enjoy ourselves and create cool content. You’ve got to be serious about your work, and consider different factors, but you also gotta keep it light and enjoy yourself.

No, you can’t lose sight of that.

It is our job, but it’s still also our passion. That’s what we want to be out there doing, hitting rails, so as tough as it does get sometimes, or stressful, or risky, you gotta remember that we want to be out there doing that. This is what we do, so might as well try and enjoy it.

See any rails over there? TGR photo.

What was the scene in Norway? How did people react to seeing you guys skiing in the street?

Anywhere you go you’ll get some head turns, some looks, but in Norway people were generally minding their own business. We had a couple of people stop by who were interested in what we were doing, but we were never getting those massive crowds like you might see in the States, where it actually becomes an issue because they’re kinda exposing you. I think it’s more of a Scandinavian/European vibe where everyone is on their own program and they got things to do, so people would stop by and maybe watch us give it a couple of tries. I found it nice, because sometimes those crowd situations get a little bit intense. You’re a little vulnerable when you’re hitting rails: you get upset, frustrated, and you don’t necessarily act like you normally would in other scenarios. I liked the fact that we were, for the most part, left alone to get the job done and not worry about crowds. I’d say that people in Norway were intrigued, but they weren’t causing a scene.

Any funny moments?

I feel like I saw a lot of middle-aged people who were super active. At one point the rest of the crew went to shoot scenics, and Nick [Koldenhoven] (a cinematographer) and I ended up at this bar mid-day. It was after a women’s cross-country race, and it was quite a scene that I have not really encountered before. It was a lot of middle-aged women and men who were hitting it like it was Saturday night in New York City. We had a bit of time to kill, so we’re like ‘Hey, let’s go grab a beer.’ We heard a little bit of music coming out of this bar in the corner of a little backlot in Lillehammer, and it was like a disco dance club in there. We were in our ski gear, and everyone else was too, but walking in wearing the gear that we were— maybe a hoodie that’s a little bigger than normal, and some baggy pants, no Scarpas or fast shades... We actually had a couple of people come up to us like ‘What the hell are you guys doing here,’ so we had to explain to them that we’re on a trip filming for a movie, and that we ski in the streets, so that was definitely a trip. On the whole, though, Norway is full of friendly people. The food, well, there were a couple of odd food items that we tried to dive into just to see what was going on, but for the most part I feel like you can go to Eastern Canada and be dealing with more of a language barrier and food barrier than you have in Norway. Everyone was welcoming and most people spoke English, which made things easy for us. Everyone is down with skiers, and we got to partake in the whole thing, so I’d definitely recommend it if anyone ever has the chance to go. 

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