These are the things I’ve most often had pointed out to me about Sweden. The connections between Britain and Sweden are quite prominent in both cultures. With their national blue and yellow adorning the many Ikea stores dotted about our nation and the infiltration into our homes style which that brings. A football coach who constantly provokes an opinion as well as a football team who seem to cause us far too many concerns. Britain introduced Christianity to Sweden as well as their first steam engine. And then there are the countless invasions by those hairy warmongers in big ships…the Vikings. Despite this Sweden still seems to carry a faint air of mystique about it. Not a huge amount of Brits seem to have visited and experienced what it has to offer. Let alone those that have arrived in this long thin country with a bike to unearth what lays in its mountains.
With this intention to discover, and a generous invite to Åre for the Nordic Mountainbike event that is the ‘Mayhem Festival’, a phalanx of bike riders was gathered. With seven bikes, a few cameras and five people with differing riding styles and a variety of other skills, we were ready to take all that Sweden could possibly throw at us. Or were we just being cocky?
Being in Heathrow airport first thing on a Monday morning gave a strange sense of being at the start of a weeks work, as if flying off to negotiate some deal in foreign lands. After the airport bus driver’s conversation about when he used to work as a baggage handler (read: chucker) and how he used to shout “F–king bastards” every time a bike bag would come through, following it with a none too caring handling, as well as everyone looking at you like you’re mental for having such big luggage, it felt as if a definite issue would arise surrounding our excessive baggage. The group gathered at the check in desk and was swiftly met with a hefty enough charge for our loads of kit, despite a sterling performance at disguising the true weight of our cargo.
We had onboard; Nick Larsen, the man behind many ‘happenings’ in British biking, including his latest baby, Charge Bikes. Victor Lucas, the Irish snapper who seems to be everywhere all the time. Dave Wardell, one of Britain’s workhorse downhill racers with the most unique of hairstyles. Chris Akrigg, a trials legend and a rider with generally over-endowed all round bike skills. And myself, the third rider and your storyteller.
It rains everywhere, it’s not just in Manchester.
Arriving in Östersund airport we bumped into Henrik from the festival organisation, and a weather situation far too reminiscent of Northern England. Östersund is 100km from our destination, Åre, a mountain town that was, in the 19th century, originally famous for its ‘fresh air and the wondrous nature’. There was a small town there already, unusually large for being this far north in the country, it transformed into a resort as a retreat for the people to escape the pollution of the cities. Nowadays it has a wider attraction, mainly for its winter sports but now increasingly for biking in the summer, all the time keeping its original draw for the beautiful surroundings and fresh air. The wonders of the place were initially concealed from us by the dodgy weather but luckily for us all, the clouds cleared to reveal the splendour of the location and leave us with lasting sunshine to bask in.
A Good Variety
The vibe in Åre at the ‘Mayhem Festival’ is definitely a hell of a lot less competitive than the majority of other events and races out there. Less about outdoing each other and more about enjoying yourself as much as the man next to you. The word festival in the title is used very accurately. Like when you’re at a big music festival, and there’s different stages all over the site for you to check out, if you get bored of Hip Hop you can go get a dose of Electronica or Rock ‘n’ Roll or you can just go and find that guy with the wobbly jaw and a big grin. Now I’m not saying he was over here too but you get the picture. You’re not confined by big fences and fat bald men dressed in black either here, you get a whole mountain to explore. If you fancy jumps and berms in the vein of Whistlers A-Line then there’s a track like that. If you want a real man’s track then there’s the Swedish Cup track, we only managed to ride a little of it. It started getting confusing when Dave started calling it the Swiss Cup track, thinking we were actually in Switzerland, same first and second letters I suppose. There’s a track running from the top off the highest lift called Hällrajd, which translates to Hell Ride. But it isn’t as cheesy as the name suggests, as Häll actually refers to the rock the track is built on. And if you’re feeling man enough you can tackle the World Championships track from 1999. Me and Wardell had a run down this together with him periodically stopping and pointing out how the track had changed and what the conditions were like on that day many years ago. As well as the reminiscing about how he walked away from that race with a junior silver medal behind Nathan Rennie, as well as a few other incidents in Åre’s streets, which I’ll leave for another time. I remember it for watching Palmer crash on the last corner, which was tarmac, and wondering if all the grazes on his arms would mess up his tattoos. If all those tracks aren’t enough, there is a Scalatromilix of tracks, a total of 24 on the mountain to ride. If that ain’t enough for ya then I think you’re just a whinger who needs his bike confiscating and given to a grateful little Welsh orphan.
Who is Steve Romaniac?
“Hi, I’m Henrik from the Mayhem Festival”, as we were collecting our bags in Östersund. “Have you seen Steve on your flight?”
“I’m not sure, what does he look like?”
“I don’t know!”
Our guesses as to who was being referred to yielded no more than the possibility he was a maniac from Romania who’s parents had opted for a simpler Christian name. Turns out, Steve Romaniuk is a Canadian Freerider who is staying in the spare room in our apartment. He didn’t turn up that day or the day after but instead the day after that, due to flight confusions. He was part of a mini Canadian invasion on Åre, to bring a connection to the wider freeride world and an obvious connection to the modern home to this so called phenomenon that is the riding only entrusted on the free! Whistler. Fellow pond hoppers included Thomas Vanderham and The Ride Guide film crew.
The Kids are Alright
An event can be made or destroyed by the people. You could have the best organised event going and have a load of wankers riding and watching and it’ll be shit. Well this events vibe was simply pushed in a certain direction by the shear number of kids there. There were so many youngsters having a ball that it just had a sense of something so innocently and unpretentiously cool. Normally if something can be deemed ‘cool’ it’ll come with some kind of bullshit pretensions and preconceptions on how it should be done, but here was just a load of kids riding with their mates. Not much different to how they spend the rest of their summer holidays, except that here they were really pushing themselves a lot more. In the slopestyle there was a young lad called Pontus Duerlund, who is 12 and about a metre high, doing a four metre drop. He was that little that when he landed his feet would quite often blow off the pedals, not because it was a ropy landing, it was smooth as, simply because there was only about a couple of inch gap between his ass and the seat so the slightest bend of his legs and he could no longer reach the pedals. He’s recently been picked up by Oakley so we’ll surely be seeing more of him in the future.
Just because there was a lot of kids about didn’t make it feel like a crèche, with the youngest in our party being 25 we didn’t feel at all out of place. It was just nice to see the kids having an opportunity to flourish and enjoy themselves along with the rest of us. And there’s plenty to enjoy, with Slopestyle, Big Air, Street and 4X comps, Pro Rider bike clinics and the brilliant idea of showing bike films on a ridiculously massive screen at a local cinema every night at eight.
Every Party Has A Winner And A Loser
With the kids all tucked up in bed, and the organizers stressing the point to us that parties were an integral part, we felt quite at home when the evenings came. The Scandies know how to party and with the event being very sensibly organised so that there was an event one day, a party that night and then the next day free to recover, there was no reason not to throw ourselves in it head first. And with the kind folk at Oakley putting on a party one night with a load of cash behind the bar and getting us a load of drinks in it was made all the more enjoyable. The best moment for me was when I commented in amazement to one of the organisers, Dave, at how leathered (as in drunk) these Finnish lads were. He just turned to me and said, “They’re all like that over there, wait a sec and they’ll be falling over!” And as if on cue a couple of them, just talking normally, fell onto each other and then onto the table. They weren’t being too rowdy, they were simply just too pissed for their legs to work anymore. Pure Genius!
I Can See for Miles
Travelling to events can quite often just be a matter of getting there, doing ya bit and then heading home. It’s nice to get the opportunity to check out what else happens where you’re at. Sweden’s always been high on my list of places to check out and even more so since I’ve been involved with our teams Swedish clothing sponsor, WESC. So a priority of this trip was to check out the country as well as the riding.
One thing we all wanted to see was a Fjord, so one morning our baby blue tour bus headed in a due westerly direction in search of steep sided hills dropping down into sea inlets. Two of us slept most of the way on the mammoth drive whilst the all-seeing eagle-eyed Akrigg sat trying to spy possible riding spots. We spent at least four hours driving in the same direction before we hit any sea, but in the end we did come to a fjord. So we stopped admired it marvellousness, made a sandwich, got back in the van and the two of us went back to sleep and Chris carried on looking for riding spots. He didn’t find any places to ride but he did find a nice little pool to go swimming in. Chris quickly started swallow diving and black flipping in whilst Victor took some lovely shots and Dave complained that the water smelt like shit…literally. The most I managed to do was slip on a rock because of my injured foot and fall in, soaking my shoes and shorts. All that driving? But it was worth it to see sights we otherwise wouldn’t have.
One evening we headed off again, this time just up the road in search of a waterfall we’d heard about in the pub the night before. Directions were vague, but it was one of those described as, “You’ve got to see it”. I don’t think what we found was actually what we set out for, I think we set off in completely the wrong direction. All the same, what we found was amazingly beautiful. It was where the lake that sits at the bottom of the valley next to Åre rises up about twenty foot. There is a wide raging set of rapids cutting through the unique rock formations making a din like a war. Clambering over the smooth rocks that surround it you can get up close to the torrents, smaller flows and little pools. Until you reach the next broad mass of water that stretches as far as the eye can see, surrounded by dense forests. We saw all this with the sun setting on it. The lone house by the side of this exquisite place is the first to have conjured the thought in my head of…“I’d quite like to retire to here”. I’ve never been bothered about living past 50 but the notion of sitting out front of this beautiful house, with a fishing rod and a cold beer, well, that’d just ding dang do for me! A 20 year old Swedish darling with a cute ass wouldn’t spoil this picture too much either!
Do You Want to Know a Secret?
On our final day Mattias Fredriksson, a local photographer (who had a photofolio in this very publication a few issues back, #56), said he’d take us up the mountain and show us a secret track that not many people know about. It was a track built in one of the world wars by some pacifist Swedes who much preferred to spend a day digging on a mountain than being off somewhere else shooting people. Quite understandable really wouldn’t ya say? Somehow they managed to persuade the powers in charge that it was a good idea and their efforts are still there today. I don’t think their original plan was for it to make a good downhill mountain bike track but they did! Some of the sections on it rate up there with some of the best sections I’ve ridden on any track. Some big rocky wide open parts, peppered with a good handful of tight turns, was the name of the game up high, then nearing the bottom it darted into the woods and had some class rocky and rooty singletrack. There were some flattish parts but only what you’d expect from a track that’d probably take you at least an hour to do non-stop. We didn’t get this opportunity as we needed to get some photos but I’m sure you’d be quite relieved for the rest if a continuous flight down the mountain was on.
Sacrifice Yourself to Sweden
In a similar way that problems with European visitors were encountered in 829 with King Björn of Sweden’s celebrated human sacrifice, so was this trip a little vexed by our human sacrifice. In a continuing selfless attempt to capture some great shots, us three riders literally threw ourselves in head first. On the first day of shooting, Chris jumped straight over a berm and disappeared down a steep bank with only his pisspot helmet and goggles to protect him. With his helmet now strapped to the side of his head he appeared nursing a real sore elbow. One down. Later that day, I clipped a rock with my pedal and slipped down into a rock field to break a toe and twist an ankle. Two down. Me and Chris continued to ride for the rest of the week, albeit in pain. Dave held strong till the penultimate day when he crashed, doing some downhill practice runs, into a hole. As his bullhead was raging on, his shoulder had decided to stop in a hole. There was only one answer, separation. So a void between the two parts of his collar bone was created. All three down. Three riders, three injuries, King Björn would be pleased.
The Rumours Are True!
I’m sure you can tell from the pics that the scenery is amazing and I’ll tell ya the saunas were cracking. The Volvo’s, what can I say? They’re everywhere…old ones, small ones, fast ones, classy ones and the blondes are stunning too. Not just the blondes though, there are brunettes, well in fact the majority of the girls were stunning. This is a phenomenon I’ve spend quite a while thinking about since my early teens, I feel glad I had the chance to investigate if there was truth behind this great myth. And the reason for this phenomenon? Despite their reputation as big hairy brutish stupid ‘gets’, the Vikings were in fact very advanced people. Not only did they find America a good five hundred years before Christopher Columbus, they also struck on the good idea that when they invaded a country and took slaves they should pick the prettiest girls and take as many of them as they could. But they weren’t that sexist, their women had the right to own land and to a divorce if they wanted, pretty open minded for them times. And the beers they drank were around 11-13% alcohol. Pretty smart lot I reckon, I’m definitely coming back!
Check it Out:
If you’re wanting to head over to check out the Swedish delights then it’s easiest to fly to either Östersund via Stockholm or Trondheim, in Norway, via Oslo. www.mayhemfestival.com has loads of good info to help ya.
Dreamride Holidays is a new company being started up by Royal Clothing’s Swedish importers and they are going to be running all sorts including: package deals, transfers, accommodation, lift cards and guiding, as well as back up if you need a trip to the local A&E and all the background knowledge on the local eating and drinking holes. As well as looking into more direct chartered flights.
Thank Yous: A raucous cheer to John, Dave and the rest of the Mayhem festival organisers for the invite, a thunderous applause to all at Hot Wheels and Charge Bikes for making it possible, a graciously polite whispering in the ear, but none the less heartfelt, thank you to all my travelling companions for all the good times, especially the LarsenHead for organising so much.
These are the things I’ve most often had pointed out to me about Sweden. The connections between Britain and Sweden are quite prominent in both cultures. With their national blue and yellow adorning the many Ikea stores dotted about our nation and the infiltration into our homes style which that brings.