Understanding Ståle Sandbech Through Those Who Know Him Best
As one of his long-time sponsors pointed out, Ståle Sandbech is a bit of an anomaly in snowboarding. He's ultra-competitive in an individual sport and has all the accolades to validate the presence of a hearty ego. And yet, he's described as "genuine" and "kind-hearted," "simple" and an "inspiration" by those who know him best. Further validation for his anomaly-like status comes in his choice not to focus on any one discipline within his craft. Instead, Ståle likes to do it all – slopestyle, halfpipe (and even the double pipe), Big Air, ride park, rails and backcountry – and so far, the indication is that he's capable whether he's stepping out of a heli, cruising the park with his RK1 homies or relying on his edge control in the pipe.
For Ståle, snowboarding remains what it was when he got his start at 8: an outlet, a place to challenge himself, to experiment, and best of all, a place to hang and have fun with his friends. That's the reason we all started anyway, wasn't it? Whether he's atop the podium (or maybe a step down since he's nearly always on the podium), lapping the park, fulfilling sponsor duties or taking selfies with his fans, the smile is constant. The positive energy is infectious. He's genuinely happy and enjoying himself.
Anomaly? Maybe. But that may just be because he's tapped into something that others haven't been able to find – the perfect balance.
We could have sat down with Ståle, hit record and asked him all the questions he's probably already been asked. That wouldn't have been a bad plan. Talking to Ståle, hanging with Ståle, is never time wasted. He's entertaining and engaging, well-spoken and light-hearted. But we wanted to know what the people who surround Ståle, from his friends and family to media and fellow shredders had to say. They've been there for the stories Ståle probably would never spill and they probably know some things about him that he may not be willing to share (or yet understand about himself). So we hit them up, hit record, and here are some of the highlights, insights and reflections on the life of Ståle Sandbech.
Childhood Friend and Professional Photographer
I’ve known Ståle since I was 3 and he was 2, we’ve just always been around. We were neighbors; we pretty much met in the sandbox. I always remember – and this sums up Ståle – just this really talented, wise, young kid. He was always really aware of himself and his skillset and what he wanted to do. The roles with me and Alek [Øestreng] and Ståle was, like, Alek had the skills and kind of the guts, I only had the guts, and Ståle, he was like in-between – he really had the guts if he knew he had the skill. That's why he never got hurt. I was on crutches pretty much my whole childhood because I was doing stupid shit. That kind of puts a lot in perspective: over the last couple years, Ståle’s one of the few riders who’s never out because of injury. He’s had a couple minor injuries, but nothing major. When he does something, he lands it first try. He works and trains toward something to the point where once he tries it, he sticks it like every time.
When we were young, Ståle was always shredding for like 8 to 10 hours, and then after the slope closed, Frode would come and they’d do a private shoot in the pipe and I’d see the photos the day after and think, Wow! They were so at it all the time. Basically, snowboarding has been Ståle’s life. Period. That’s just how it is. In interviews he’s always talking about how he was snowboarding all the time and how that was the only thing he wanted to do – I can confirm that! (Laughs) I was doing lots of other stuff, I was gaming, I was starting to party, I was doing all that shit, and Ståle went to school and he went snowboarding. That was it. He is a simple guy. Of course, he knows what he wants, but he’s a simple guy.
Brother and Professional Photographer
It all started when he was 8 years old and I gave him a snowboard for Christmas. The next day I took him up to the hill, and just walked up and down the hill and he started snowboarding. Even before he got a snowboard, you could see that he was a gifted athlete. He was the best kid in soccer, he had really good body control, so the foundation was there. Those first couple years he was playing around with his snowboard, kid-style, just riding with his friends and learning. When he was 10 or 11, I was traveling the whole year and came back home and he had just been riding the whole time and when the season came to an end we heard from the resort that he had the most registered rides up the lift of anybody. He rode the most of anybody. So that was pretty crazy. So then I knew, fuck, he really liked this; all his friends were doing it at that point.
When he was 12 he started competing in the kids Norwegian Cup and he was winning every contest the next 2, 3 years. He showed that he had talent and he just loved riding. He had better technique and just seemed more motivated than everybody else, really early. You could see that he had the potential to be a snowboard star then, even though you never know what might happen with a kid when he grows up. He started doing tricks that older pros were doing when he was 14, he was doing big 7s and 9s already then sure he was going to go somewhere. But when he was 16, he was already in the Olympics. It started early and it went from there.
Friend and Professional Snowboarder
Ståle is one of my favorite riders on earth. He's so well-rounded and loves snowboarding more then anyone I know. He stayed with me in Colorado a couple years back and we would go to the hill at around 8am and he wouldn't come home with us in the car... he would catch the 4pm bus! That's dedication. Dude is a huge inspiration to me.
Photo Editor, TransWorld SNOWboarding
The 2013 X Games Big Air event. I’ve never seen so much progression unfold in any one moment, and being a first-hand witness to it, it was special. Ståle got the silver medal that night. He was just doing every rotation possible for his triples, and that’s the progression I mean. I’m not the biggest supporter of all these crazy corked tricks, but that's what Big Air events are about these days. To see him doing different directions and different rotations and stomping almost every one of them to make the podium, it was just awesome to see. And to see how excited he is about achieving goals and just snowboarding in general, he’s always just super stoked. But the style, he makes everything look so good. Whether it’s really big progression or just simple straight airs. He has such a quiver of tricks, it's rad to see.
The other moment where I was just so excited for him was when he was standing on the podium at the Sochi Olympics for Slopestyle. To me, going into the Olympics and knowing what the Olympics represents and how challenging it is for the International Olympic Committee to shine the proper light on snowboarding, it was the chance for snowboarders to make snowboarding look good and those boys on that podium surely did. Ståle definitely added to that and it meant so much for our snowboarding scene to see what he did on that course. Being professional, keeping it super fun and then saving his punk rock moment for when he received his medal with that Mohawk – he was so hyped and I was so proud of him. Snowboarding’s stoked to have him and I can’t wait to see what’s to come.
Team Manager, Rome Snowboards
When we were shooting in Norway at Folgefonna for ‘One Jump,’ it was this huge jump set-up, and everyone’s like, ‘Okay, who’s going to hit it first?’ Ståle was the guy. His first drop was like a frontside double 10, and that was the first hit on the jump to start the session. He is the only person I’ve ever met, like out of anyone I’ve ever ridden with on our whole team, the only one I’ve ever seen immediately drop into something so big, without stretching or doing anything, just gets on his board and drops in. That was pretty amazing to see first-hand. I was like getting the cameras ready with our filmers, we were like, ‘Okay, I guess we’ll do a test run’ and then the first drop ended up being the clip that started off the whole film. It was nuts.
Aside from that, I think what’s an interesting part of working with Ståle is his desire to move beyond the spins and rotations. We did ‘One Jump’ and originally we were going to have multiple features up in Folgefonna and it ended up not working out and we only had that one jump, so the idea was to just film on that and see what we could get. As we were filming I would tell him to try just making up tricks that no one had ever seen him or anyone do before, like the switch method to bring back or the super late 1. No one does a big backside 180 on a jump like that one because you’re always spinning so fast. He would just do it over and over again and I didn't even have to tell him if it was the one, he’d just be like, 'No, one more time' and go back up – even if it was perfect.
What the final project turned into actually developed on hill. I walked over to him and was like let’s just do a whole video from the double 10 you did first try, down to a method and go reverse because no one had ever done that and Ståle immediately was like, ‘I’m down!’ If you watch that video he goes from 7s down to 5s to 3s to the 180 to the switch method to the huge method to close it out. It was pretty cool to see someone want to do that, because I feel like all the riders around him want to go double or triple cork, or even quad.
We always talk in the office about how he’s kind of an anomaly and it’s infectious to watch because you want to see what’s going to happen next. In this day in age of so many good snowboarders and so many kids who can do those quad corks and crazy acrobatics or just a lot of good rails, its very unique to see any rider that can do backcountry and rail parts and jumps and compete, and he’s like a Norwegian pipe champ – the guy can just do it all.
Tom “T. Bird” Monterosso
Editor, Snowboarder Magazine
Everyone thinks he’s kind of a stoic dude, but I don't think he’s very stoic. I think he’s super out-going and he’s got a great sense of humor and he’s like a really kind, genuine person, I think you just have to get to know him to get to that point. You can see his sense of humor a lot and his uniqueness in his riding quite a bit, not necessarily when he’s riding in contests, but when he’s taking laps in his own time – the dude can do any trick that pops into his mind and that's very evident when you watch him lap in a non contest scene. I think that's what’s most remarkable about Ståle: he can definitely turn on the Contest Run Ståle but then in his downtime he’s just a kid who’s been doing it for a really long time who’s extremely good at snowboarding, and having a phenomenal time riding his snowboard. I think that’s what’s cool, is watching him outside that contest setting doing laps because you can really see how much he enjoys riding his snowboard.
Friend and Snowboard Icon
With Ståle, I can see similarities between us from when I was younger. When I was younger I was always the guy looking at other people and seeing what they were doing and I had to be the guy doing it better, and I can see that same f*cking spark in Ståle. I’m kind of passed that right now, but I can see in him. When Ståle sees something and someone does something better than him, I can see his face, he’s not happy about it; he has to be the guy who’s on the top all of the time. He’s really competitive, but in a good way, I mean, that's one of the reasons he’s stayed on top of the wave of progression and is still making podiums.
I remember when I saw his first TransWorld “Check Out,” I’d seen him before, and knew he was Frode’s brother, I knew he was killing it; he was like super short and he had good steeze. You can tell with a guy, even when he’s young if his style is going to be good or not and Ståle always had a good style. I knew when he grew up and filled in, his style was going to get more mature and just look better, but already as a kid, you could see he was going to be a stylish ripper. In his TransWorld "Check Out" he was giving me and Andreas Wiig some props, his favorite snowboarders were me and Andreas, and I was blown away that he was saying that. Then all of a sudden he started getting on these Oakley trips and he was always that hungry, young, motivated guy who was sending it further than all the other guys. All the other guys were just older and more beat up than he was, he was all elastic and flexible and he could take the beatings. Plus, he was on team trips with a lot of guys he probably looked up to, so he wanted to just show off and prove that he belonged. Every trip I was always so blown away by how well he was riding and you could see the board control that he had. It's a really good thing that he had the pipe background because I feel like all the guys who ride pipe, they really know how to use an edge and I think that edge control is going to help for everything you do: going into the backcountry, riding park and even street stuff. If you have good edge control you’re going to be a better rider and sticking more tricks.
National Team Manager, Norwegian Snowboard Association
One good word to describe Ståle is “committed.” He is 100-percent committed to snowboarding. He is constantly thinking about new tricks, or how to change the style on tricks he already knows. He is determined to reach his goals and he does whatever he has to do to be able to ride on the level he is at and still constantly progressing. He has a fierce competitive instinct, he hates to lose and this motivates him to push harder in training and give everything in competitions. Though Ståle hates to lose, at the same time, he is always happy for others when they win – this is a very good trait. He's also so full of energy. He is like the Energizer Bunny, always joking, laughing and making sure there is a good vibe in the group. He gives a lot of himself to fans, media and spectators and this is probably one of the reasons he is one of the most popular athletes in Norway.
There are so many memories from the last five years, but I think Sochi Olympics in 2014 stands out as the event where he really showed the world how good of a rider he is, and how strong his mental game is. Sochi was a big goal for Ståle and he had worked really hard to be 100-percent heading into the event. His first run [in the Final] was a disaster and he fell, but in the second run he did what I think is the best Slopestyle run in history. Having to deliver that run on his last chance with the whole world watching really shows how strong his mind is. I could not watch the run, I was too nervous. (Laughs) But when I heard the crowd going crazy, I knew he landed it.
Legendary Snowboard Photographer
Ståle is pure Norwegian, a Viking at heart. Direct, raw, and always ready for a battle, Ståle gets it done with style and an authentic fun approach, which makes his snowboarding some of the best in the biz. Shooting with Ståle is all of that and more… good communicator, amazing work ethic and an explosiveness and unpredictability that keeps it fresh. When not with him, watching his dynamic with his brother Frode makes me reminisce about the days with my brother Joe Curtes… brothers in arms getting it done with ease.
Content Manager, TransWorld SNOWboarding
Ståle, and his older brother and photographer Frode Sandbech are extremely talented Norwegian boarders. It was really cool seeing Ståle, the younger brother coming up in his career, that was so well documented in really artistic photos. I remember years ago when I first saw him ride, at a Halfpipe contest, I was thinking this kid is really going to be good, you could just tell. Then fast forward a few years, to a slopestyle event, I remember standing there on a knuckle of a jump in practice and thinking wow, it's happened, he's now That Good, and definitely no longer the younger brother. He's the man!