Hen­rik Harlaut is not who you think he is


Just in­side the apart­ment door, the smell hits. Pass­ing the bath­room lined with dozens of bat­tered park skis, it gets stronger, as if pour­ing di­rectly from the reg­gae-laced speak­ers in Hen­rik Harlaut’s liv­ing room.

Wu-tang and Mobb Deep CDS lit­ter the shelves, in­ter­spersed be­tween X Games medals, Dew Tour tro­phies, and a World Cup Big Air Crys­tal Globe.

Harlaut and three friends en­gage in a fierce video-game bat­tle; framed mag­a­zine clips of Phil Casabon, Tan­ner Hall, Mick­ael Deschenaux, and Travis Heed hang on the far wall. Harlaut’s friends lounge on the couch, but he sits apart, ma­nip­u­lat­ing his Xbox con­troller as he ped­als a sta­tion­ary bike. He only plays if he can sweat out a few miles at the same time—jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, he says, for sit­ting still off the snow.

The smell con­tin­ues to cir­cu­late, not from the table strewn with rolling papers and en­ergy drink cans, but from the kitchen. Gar­lic. Two years ago, Harlaut adopted a veg­e­tar­ian diet in an ef­fort to get stronger and leaner for ski sea­son. He’s been hooked on the bulb ever since.

From com­pe­ti­tion to films like Slam­ina and BE In­spired, to ev­ery back­coun­try booter and ur­ban wall ride in be­tween, Harlaut has re­de­fined what freeski­ing is sup­posed to look like over the past half-decade, putting em­pha­sis back on style when the sport was des­tined for Olympic spin-to-win monotony. But while it’s im­pos­si­ble to for­get Harlaut’s dom­i­na­tion of our sport, his un­char­ac­ter­is­tic ap­pear­ance makes it easy to over­look the steps he took to get there.

At 27, this is a man who just capped the sea­son with a Dew Tour win, two X Games golds (and a sil­ver), and an Olympic ap­pear­ance. It was al­most May when I met up with him in An­dorra where he out-built, out-hiked, and out-hit ev­ery­one on a step-up jump for nearly nine hours in the back­coun­try. Now, he was bik­ing.

“I just want to keep go­ing,” he ex­plains after din­ner. “When I love some­thing so much, when I know that what I’m best at in my life is ski­ing, I just want to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to see how far I can push it.”

Since Harlaut moved with his fam­ily from Stock­holm to Åre, Swe­den, as a wiry 9 year old, he has poured ev­ery­thing into the sport—study­ing ski movies as if they were SAT prep cour­ses, and chas­ing idols around the world just to breathe the same moun­tain air. Yet ski­ing has never re­ally known what to make of him. A dread­locked, perma-smile Swede that speaks like his fa­vorite old- school rap­pers, Harlaut is of­ten cast as a car­i­ca­ture rather than com­peti­tor.

Out of sight are the eight daily hours of self-driven, off-sea­son gym time. Over­looked is the choice to live thou­sands of miles from friends and fam­ily to train year-round in An­dorra—a coun­try barely on the map be­tween France and Spain. These are the types of moves that have made Harlaut one of his sport’s most rec­og­niz­able stars—and that have iso­lated him in the process. As he pushes fur­ther and far­ther away, Harlaut—for bet­ter or worse—is ski­ing in a world all his own.

“I think he’s al­ways kept true to him­self,” says Casabon, Harlaut’s long-time friend and ski part­ner. “It might have held him back at times from the heights he could have reached, but now he has made peo­ple ac­cept it.”

Casabon has wit­nessed Harlaut’s rise first­hand. For over a decade, the in­tro­spec­tive Que­be­coise and en­er­getic Swede have formed the most dy­namic yin and yang in ski­ing, their skate-in­flu­enced ur­ban style in­spir­ing a whole new breed of park and street skiers.

Drop­ping clas­sic on­line videos such as Muddy Win­ters, the duo honed their craft in parks and lo­cal hills, prov­ing that pro­gres­sion didn’t need a heli bump or a film bud­get. In 2012, they gal­va­nized a grass­roots fol­low­ing with the In­spired Demo Tour, trav­el­ing by van to 50 small ski moun­tains be­tween Maine and South Dakota in just 66 days to hit rails and but­ter small kick­ers with lo­cal kids.

In the mid­dle of that tour, Harlaut caught a plane to X Games in Aspen. After trav­el­ing end­less high­ways and ski­ing icy mole­hills for the past month, he stepped into the big air arena and landed a nose but­ter triple cork 1620—a trick he’d never at­tempted un­til that night—to win gold. That's right, Harlaut per­formed an un­prece­dented trick on the big­gest stage in freeski­ing just a few days after ses­sion­ing 300-ver­ti­cal-foot ski hills in the Mid­west along­side tall-t wear­ing kids ob­sess­ing over his and Casabon's un­con­ven­tional style.

“He’s on this stage where ev­ery fuck­ing ath­lete is a straight ar­row, and he’s a zigzag type of dude,” ex­plains Casabon. “I think he’s a per­son with the great­est willpower I’ve ever seen in my life.”

And yet, with all of this suc­cess, by his own vo­li­tion, Harlaut doesn’t even have an out­er­wear spon­sor. While ski ap­parel has moved on to flex­i­ble fab­rics and lighter con­struc­tion, he still prefers the baggy pants and over­sized

“You'll watch him scalpel out ev­ery lit­tle thing to learn—the move, the ro­ta­tion, the take­off—and then he'll put his own style on it. He took the best, and made it bet­ter.” —Mick­ael Deschenaux

T-shirts made pop­u­lar by freeski roy­alty like Hall and Deschenaux in the early 2000s. Nowa­days, that means the most dec­o­rated ath­lete in freeski­ing chooses to buy most of his gear on ebay.

“He doesn’t want things he doesn’t stand for,” ex­plains Erik Harlaut, Hen­rik’s fa­ther, who han­dles much of his son’s spon­sor­ship deals in be­tween run­ning his fam­ily’s cham­pagne busi­ness in Åre. He says Hen­rik has a dif­fer­ent set of val­ues when it comes to busi­ness.

In­stead of a souped-up moun­tain truck, he drives a 1987 BMW sedan with a ski rack. Rather than switch-out bro­ken skis for a new pair mid­sea­son, he’ll ad­just his stance or tweak an edge back into place.

As the youngest of three brothers, Harlaut grew up play­ing hockey and ski­ing slalom out­side of Stock­holm. While try­ing to keep up in those early years, he de­vel­oped a strict com­pet­i­tive side. And though his par­ents pushed him to pur­sue his tal­ents in slalom, Harlaut latched onto freeski­ing after fel­low Swede Ja­cob Wester showed him his first videos of Hall and the Poor Boyz crew dur­ing a sum­mer race camp in Italy. Days later, the then 10-year-old was land­ing his first back­flips.

He re­turned to Swe­den a skier pos­sessed, watch­ing and em­u­lat­ing any ski movie he could get his hands on. By 11, he was land­ing cork 900s.

“He was a very ob­ser­vant and lis­ten­ing kid,” says Deschenaux, the Swiss freeskier known for his own novel style who be­friended Harlaut at a Zer­matt sum­mer ski camp in 2006. “You’ll watch him scalpel out ev­ery lit­tle thing to learn—the move, the ro­ta­tion, the take­off—and then he’ll put his own style on it. He took the best, and made it bet­ter.”

Harlaut stud­ied Poor Boyz hits Pro­pa­ganda and Happy Dayz with so much fer­vor that he not only learned new tricks but a new lan­guage, pick­ing up English from the skiers in the seg­ments, and then from the movie sound­tracks. The young Swede was par­tic­u­larly drawn to hip-hop, re­mem­ber­ing the sounds of the lyrics, and then even­tu­ally putting sen­tences and songs to­gether.

It was mu­sic that brought him to­gether with Casabon in 2007. While com­pet­ing at the Euro­pean Open in Laax, Harlaut and Casabon kicked off a friend­ship steeped in Red­man, Method Man, and the Wu-tang Clan. They even adopted their own hip-hop monikers: Casabon as "B-dog" and Harlaut as "E-dollo."

Known as “B&E,” the pair gained the recog­ni­tion of child­hood hero Hall and pro­ducer Eric Iberg, even­tu­ally team­ing up on films like 2012’s The Ed­u­ca­tion

of Style, and 2016’s BE In­spired.

“When you see Hen­rik, it’s just him, he doesn’t get told what to do,” says Hall. “It’s pretty amaz­ing to see a kid come out each year like that…it’s go­ing to be a long time be­fore any­one comes along like this again.”

As Harlaut was re­al­iz­ing his dream of ski­ing and work­ing with Hall, his com­pe­ti­tion ca­reer was also tak­ing off. Where most strug­gled to bal­ance com­pet­ing with a de­mand­ing film sched­ule, Harlaut found fuel. In ad­di­tion to his 2013 X Games gold, Harlaut cruised his way into slopestyle’s first Olympics, qual­i­fy­ing for the fi­nals for Team Swe­den.

It was there that Harlaut en­joyed his most rec­og­nized com­pe­ti­tion mo­ment. After land­ing his sec­ond slopestyle run at the Sochi Olympics, he took the op­por­tu­nity to salute his fa­vorite rap group on live tele­vi­sion, yelling, “Wu­tang is for the chil­dren!”—an ode to the late rap­per ODB. Harlaut even­tu­ally fin­ished sixth, but be­came an overnight me­dia sen­sa­tion.

Within a few days, Wu-tang’s Method Man had reached out via Twit­ter, and news sta­tions around the world picked up the story. The out­burst wasn’t planned, but the call cre­ated an un­likely and di­rect line be­tween ski­ing and hip-hop that has en­dured for years to come (Wu-tang’s Masta Killa even em­ceed Harlaut and Casabon’s B&E In­vi­ta­tional ski event in Les Arcs, France, in 2015). More im­por­tantly, as freeski­ing was look­ing for its Olympic foot­ing, Harlaut thrust it into the col­lec­tive main­stream.

“He ba­si­cally won the first Olympics,” says Casabon. “He was the most talked about in [Sochi] in terms of press and cov­er­age—he reached the tar­get.”

For one of ski­ing’s most vis­i­ble char­ac­ters, Harlaut is hard to track down in per­son. He’s not dis­mis­sive—he just prefers to ski and al­lows out­side com­mu­ni­ca­tion fall by the way­side. After four months of What­sapp mes­sages across a hand­ful of coun­tries, I fi­nally tracked him down in the park­ing lot of Grand­valira. It’s the largest re­sort in Harlaut’s adopted home of An­dorra, min­utes from his apart­ment, and to­tally empty.

“I like that I can go a bit un­der the radar here,” he smiles. “It’s not a scene. Peo­ple are stoked on ski­ing, but ev­ery­one is do­ing their own thing.”

Due to steep in­come taxes at home in Swe­den, Harlaut took a de­tour to An­dorra in 2014. Ap­ply­ing for and earn­ing an of­fi­cial in­vi­ta­tion from the govern­ment as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, Harlaut com­pleted the le­gal path to be­com­ing an An­dor­ran res­i­dent, find­ing not only tax le­niency, but a coun­try with more miles of ski slope than ac­tual road.

Like Black Sab­bath record­ing in Clear­well Cas­tle or Muham­mad Ali train­ing in the se­cluded Penn­syl­va­nia woods, Harlaut has de­vel­oped his mas­ter­piece largely away from the world, tucked into the An­dor­ran Pyre­nees. From April un­til early July, he’ll sled up­hill to build and hit kick­ers with a re­volv­ing crew of skiers and filmers. When the snow melts, he’ll spend his days strength­en­ing with phys­ios, hit­ting the gym, and train­ing in An­dorra’s ski-spe­cific ramp and tram­po­line fa­cil­ity. Next sea­son, he’ll ski in Sun­set Park by Hen­rik Harlaut, the ter­rain park Grand­valira named after him. The coun­try has be­come Harlaut’s per­sonal moun­tain in­cu­ba­tor—no dis­trac­tions, just ski­ing.

Over the last few years, that sin­gu­lar fo­cus has paid off in tro­phies and ac­co­lades. Last sea­son, after win­ning the Dew Tour slopestyle and a dou­ble gold in X Games Slopestyle and Big Air, he was even nom­i­nated for Best Male Ac­tion Sports Ath­lete at the ESPYS (half­pipe skier David Wise ended up win­ning the award).

But it’s also come at a per­sonal price.

“If you want to be the best of all time, you have to set aside a lot of things— friends, fam­ily,” says Casabon. “I think it has iso­lated him.”

In­stead of trav­el­ing back to Swe­den to visit friends and fam­ily, Harlaut off­sets the crazi­ness of his travel sched­ule by stay­ing in An­dorra. While his ski cir­cle makes time to come to him ev­ery year, he spends many days alone. He doesn’t party, but uses that time to push him­self phys­i­cally, main­tain­ing a laser fo­cus on eat­ing well, train­ing, and ski­ing.

It’s a cy­cle that has el­e­vated him into the elite of the sport, and just when it seems like there’s nowhere else to go, Harlaut has con­tin­ued to get bet­ter.

Still, while he dis­misses any feel­ings of burnout, those around him won­der what the fu­ture looks like.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to the day—and I know it’s go­ing to come—when ski-

“If you want to be the best of all time, you have to set aside a lot of things—friends, fam­ily. I think that has iso­lated him.” –Phil Casabon

ing is go­ing to take less of a place in his life,” says Casabon. “Hope­fully when he’s done with his goals, he can fo­cus on some other as­pects of life. He’s a ge­nius and he can do ev­ery­thing, it just de­pends where his fo­cus is. Right now, it’s ski­ing.”

It’s a day that will likely stay on the dis­tant hori­zon thanks to the one prize that con­tin­ues to elude him: an Olympic medal. Harlaut planned to give up com­pe­ti­tion after the Sochi Games, but fail­ing to podium re­lit his com­pet­i­tive flame. With his eyes on Pyeongchang, he won ev­ery event there was to win lead­ing up to the Games, but again, missed gold at the Olympics. Now, Harlaut talks openly about 2022.

“To rep­re­sent Swe­den [has al­ways been] a dream of mine,” says Harlaut. “Ski­ing has al­ways been in­di­vid­ual, not coun­try. Now that they want coun­tries to win, I know there’s a lot of peo­ple in Swe­den that want me to do well.”

Yet with that shot at Olympic gold still on the far hori­zon, Harlaut has started di­rect­ing his tal­ents into other realms, and the re­sults are al­ready bear­ing fruit. On his first trip to Alaska with Hall this past spring, he turned heads in heli camp, in­fus­ing his freestyle pedi­gree into steep Alaskan faces and scratchy snow­pack.

“The kid just slayed it,” says Hall, adding that in­stead of tak­ing it easy on his first trip to har­row­ing ter­rain, Harlaut was throw­ing dou­ble corks off mid-run wind lips. “He went through the whole process like he’d been do­ing it for years.”

Harlaut says he doesn’t look too far into the fu­ture. Though he imag­ines spend­ing the rest of his life in the moun­tains, he chooses to carve out his legacy one day at a time, with­out “skip­ping steps.” He cre­ated his own cloth­ing brand, which, as of now, is pri­mar­ily life­style ap­parel, and started host­ing ski camps in An­dorra. He hopes he can add a few more next sea­son to con­nect with skiers from out­side of An­dorra, but hasn’t locked down any plans yet.

But if the Alaska trip is any sort of pre­view into Harlaut’s next chap­ter, Hall knows it could be a long time be­fore his friend ever slows down enough for the rest of the world to catch up.

“Hen­rik is on a mis­sion right now,” says Hall. “The lonely work that that man puts in all the time, I think he re­ally en­joys it. He’s just get­ting started.”

"Dolla dolla bills, ya'll." Harlaut's style was in­flu­enced by ski movies and old-school hiphop. Yet he re­mains his own unique self.PHO­TOS FROM TOP: Sofia Sjoberg; Sofia Sjoberg; Brady Per­ron

Harlaut con­veys a happy, come-what-may vibe, but he is also a fierce com­peti­tor who has clev­erly re­fined air style.PHO­TOS: Sofia Sjoberg

Last year while film­ing with Tan­ner Hall in Haines, Alaska, Harlaut didn’t waste time lay­ing it down in big ter­rain. PHO­TOS FROM TOP: Will Wiss­man/seaba; Will Wiss­man/seaba; Cour­tesy of Ar­mada

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