What makes a freeride skier hunt down untouched slopes off-piste? How do they deal with the risks of skiing on challenging terrain? We've interviewed South Tyrol-born freestyle skier and The North Face athlete Markus Eder to find out his answers to these and many other questions.

Markus Eder was born in 1990 in South Tyrol, and he grew up in a little village called Luttach. The village is located between the Brenner Pass and the Großvenediger, right in the middle of the mountains. This is one of the most obvious reasons why Markus quickly grew to love the mountains and skiing sports. After spending a lot of his youth competing in ski races, he eventually discovered freeriding and freestyle skiing. Markus Eder His professional career began in 2010 when he won the Nine Knights & Queens Event (now known as the Audi Nines). He’s been collecting trophies and victories ever since, competing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics and taking part in different film projects around the world. In this interview with the friendly South-Tyrol skier, we ask him about his passion for the skis:

KELLER SPORTS: Markus, you grew up in South Tyrol and had the mountains on your doorstep from being a kid. When did you first try skiing?

MARKUS EDER: From what my mother says (I don't actually remember it myself), when I was three years old I wouldn't stop going on about wanting to ski just like my older sister, who’s five years older than me. My mother took my sister's old plastic skis, put me on the cross-country ski trail and let me ski down the hill. Markus Eder Freeride KELLER SPORTS: You used to be a successful alpine skier. How did you get into freestyle skiing and freeriding afterwards?

MARKUS EDER: I used racing skis for 10 years, until I was 14. But the older I got, the more I wanted to jump and ski off-piste. A couple of days a year, my ski club would kit us out with old cut-off skis and take us through the forest - that was the highlight of the season for me.

I was getting fed up of not being allowed to perform any jumps or do anything that isn’t part of a standard ski race. Freestyle skiing has helped me discover the world I belong in. The transition into freeriding was a gradual process that lasted until the 2014 Sochi Olympics - my last freestyle competition. Now I mostly ski in the backcountry.

KELLER SPORTS: What was it about this sport that captivated you when you started? How do you feel about it now?

MARKUS EDER: The lack of rules and structure, the anarchy of it all. Just doing whatever my friends and I felt like doing. When I started freeriding, the sport was still very new. There was barely a freestyle scene at all in South Tyrol at the time. In my hometown ski resort, Klausberg, there were only two of us using freestyle skis. The rest of our crew were snowboarders.

We were pioneers at the time, but the whole ski region worked together to make the snowpark bigger every year. It’s cool to see how far the sport has come over the last few years - all thanks to rebels like us. Today, I still experience the same feelings and emotions when I freeride, it gives me space to express my creativity. Markus Eder Drop Freeride KELLER SPORTS: You’ve been part of a few film projects in the last few years - which one was the most exciting one for you? Where was it filmed?

MARKUS EDER: Our expedition to Georgia with The North Face is right at the top of my "best memories" list. It was my first expedition and first skiing experience in the Middle East. Apart from the breathtaking history and culture in Georgia, the skiing conditions we encountered on our trip were insane.

They were just as good as (if not better than) Alaska. Heaps of snow of the perfect consistency where big spines and pillows formed… Our second trip there had a specific aim: to ski down Mt. Ushba (4,700 m). We didn’t manage it in the end but it was nevertheless an unforgettable experience from start to finish.

KELLER SPORTS: What abilities help you to ski at this level?

MARKUS EDER: I believe that enjoying what I do and having a passion for my sport are my most important abilities. Literally everything about my sport excites me. Whether I’m at a snowpark or off-piste, be it technical or playful descents, deep powder or slush, competitions or film shootings - I just love it all, and this helps me find new motivation and inspiration for ideas all the time. That’s why I’m always on my skis: I lean by doing what I love... KELLER SPORTS: What’s your summer training like? Do you have any tips on preparing for the ski season?

MARKUS EDER: I’m by no means an exemplary athlete when it comes to preparation. You’ll only find me building up muscle in the gym in the autumn season. Apart from that, I just go about my daily life and practice my hobbies as much as possible: climbing, biking, skateboarding, hiking, surfing, slacklining…

My philosophy is this: if you enjoy something, you do it more often and it doesn’t feel like training at all. I try to always relate what I’m doing to skiing in some way and train my body tension, balance, stamina and coordination while I’m at it.

KELLER SPORTS: Freeriding isn't just about being physically fit and having good stamina. How important is it to have the right equipment?

MARKUS EDER: Equipment evolves and develops alongside the sport it caters for. The ski touring sector has boomed the most in the last few years. Skis, bindings and ski boots have become lighter and more reliable, which has widened our horizons by quite a bit. Brands take their collaboration with athletes very seriously because it helps them create the best products possible. I myself have just come back from testing out a ski in Argentina. Markus Eder The North Face Freeriding KELLER SPORTS: What would you say have been the greatest achievements in your entire ski career so far?

MARKUS EDER: I have a few important victories under my belt but, funnily enough, the two achievements that stir the biggest emotions in me were times when I came in second: the Red Bull Linecatcher 2011 and last season’s Overall Freeride World Tour Ranking.

The second place at the Red Bull Linecatcher was completely unexpected. It was my first backcountry competition and I’d only bought my skis shortly before I was due to compete. Then I go and up on the podium behind Sean Pettit and qualify higher than some of my idols. That contest gave a direction to my career and has brought me to where I am today.

During last season’s Freeride World Tour I simply had no idea what place I’d end up taking, as it was my first contest after a year’s break and I wasn’t sure whether I could handle the pressure of it all. At the time, I’d only skied some of the Freeride World Tour stops between film shootings and slopestyle contests, but I’d never done the full thing before - this time, completing the Freeride World Tour was my goal.

The final on the Bec des Rosses in Verbier has always caused me headaches and I refused to ride it twice before because I didn’t feel ready for it, but last season, everything went well! I had improved my technique and felt better on the whole - so much so, that I even managed a nose butter at the end of my line. My overall placement in this competition was second. Markus Eder Freeski KELLER SPORTS: Apart from all of these victories, have you ever gotten into dangerous situations that have made you doubt yourself or your sport? How good are you at assessing risks?

MARKUS EDER: I have been in a couple of tight sports over the years but I’ve never doubted my passion. There’s always a certain level of risk, that’s normal, but with good preparation, you can reduce the risk to just a fraction.

I’ve been lucky enough to practice freeriding with experienced freeriders right from the very beginning of my career. I learnt an awful lot during my film shootings with MSP (Matchstick Production) in Canada and Alaska, and every year I complete avalanche training and try to be aware of and analyse storms, temperatures, wind conditions and so on.

I’ve gotten to know my skiing abilities better every year and try to choose lines that won’t end up dropping me on a pile of rocks, should the worst happen. We freeriders always communicate among ourselves and give each other advice to prevent any miscalculations. Markus Eder Ascending KELLER SPORTS: What do you prefer, to hit the kickers at the snow park or to choose your own lines on powder? And why?

MARKUS EDER: Lately I’ve come to prefer being on deep snow. Sinking into deep snow after hitting an air is just the best feeling in the world. I also love seeing how, year after year, nature creates the perfect features for us freeriders.

The more you explore the backcountry, the more you learn to read your natural surroundings, which means that more and more paths open up to you. But I wouldn’t go without a snow park completely. I like variation and it’s a relaxing change to leave all of your avalanche and ski touring gear at home, just cruising through the snow park in a pullover and shredding the rails and kickers.

KELLER SPORTS: Will we be seeing you take part in more competitions in the coming years? What about films?

MARKUS EDER: Oh yeah, definitely. I still want to do all this for quite some time yet, but I haven’t a clue how or in what order I’ll get to do everything. We’ll see what the future brings. I’m open to new things.#
Markus Eder View Pictures: Instagram/markus1eder