Summits and OceansInspiration
In Conversation With Lena Stoffel
Photography by Matteo Pavana & Lena Stoffel
Lena Stoffel is a professional freeskier and passionate surfer who thrives on the challenge of capturing her adventures through film and photography. We chat to her about her love of nature, from the mountains to the ocean, becoming a Patagonia Ambassador, and her drive to keep seeking out new adventures, new locations, and new creative projects.
Sidetracked: Tell us about your early days in skiing
I have skied ever since I can remember. My parents are state-approved ski teachers, and have always loved skiing, so they first put me on skis in the garden when I was two years old.
As I grew up, I got into alpine racing, and in my teens I joined the junior national team. But before graduating, I decided to stop – I decided that there needed to be more to skiing (and also to my life) than alpine racing.
I went to Portugal for half a year and learned how to surf. There and then I fell in love with the ocean, but my decision to study in Innsbruck was a natural one. It’s right in the middle of the mountains, which meant that I was able to ski all through university. Through connecting with like-minded people I gradually got more and more into freeride skiing.
When did you start thinking you could make a career in the sport, and how did competition play into that?
After stopping my career in alpine racing, I didn’t anticipate a new one in freestyle skiing. But while studying and skiing in Innsbruck it felt natural to start occasionally competing in freeride and freestyle competitions.
Back then, there were not so many girls doing this. I found it fun, so I kept skiing, mainly with the boys, and that‘s how I got more and more into competition. Then I got sponsored by Roxy. They had an amazing team of girls, both in snowsports and in surfing – my own second passion. I found this hugely inspiring.
In 2008, I graduated from university with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Rehabilitation in Sports. That‘s also when my career competing in slopestyle kicked off: I went to the X Games in Tignes 2010, filmed with European film crews, and went to the first World Championships in Salt Lake City, competing in slopestyle. It was a good time, and pretty intense too. Competing is always a challenge due to factors such as the courses and weather conditions.
As you moved away from competition, training, and travelling to events, what became the key focus for you and your trips?
In 2011, I injured my knee while training at a competition. I fought my way back and tried to qualify for the Olympics in Sochi, but in 2013, the year before the Olympics, I had my second knee injury. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to show the best I could – and besides, my mindset had changed. It was time for me to progress in a different way.
I decided to stop competing. Instead I wanted to focus more on my skiing – good snow, good people, and a good time. Experiencing the whole mountain. I finished my state-approved ski teacher training and then started doing movie projects. I wanted to just ski powder and enjoy the mountains, away from performance pressure. As skiing is so natural to me, freeriding feels natural too.
For the last couple of years when travelling, I’ve always tried to stay in one place for a prolonged time so I can really get into the local scene and way of life. It helps me to capture and experience how things are done in different parts of the world. Luckily I’ve had locals as friends at many of the places I’ve travelled to, so I’ve been able to learn from them when they have come along on some of my adventures.
How do you look at travelling now, and the environmental impact of moving around the globe to seek snow – a finite resource under threat from climate change?
Looking back at the last couple of years, I realise that I could reduce the impact of my travel and also learn to travel differently.
I love travelling. I love skiing different mountains and learning about different cultures. I feel privileged to be able to show these places in their true magic and demonstrate how beautiful they are, through my eyes and through my position as a skier. I want to inspire people to travel responsibly, support local businesses, and leave places as they found them.
As much as travelling has shaped me and my connection to nature, especially in Japan but also in Norway, I can always find this beauty at home as well. But I understand the contradiction here. Snow is under threat, and travelling for long distances just to find it, especially by plane, only makes matters worse. So I am trying to minimise my own impact and show through my work how beautiful and how important it is to protect.
How do you recognise the climate crisis in your exposure to winter seasons all over the world?
I see it through the abnormal weather patterns we are experiencing. Everywhere I’ve been to in the last couple of years, and in talking to locals, it seems that winters are extremely dry one year, then the next there will be intense snowfall. I’m always looking for snowfall or waves, but it seems that the usual weather patterns are changing – or simply disappearing. Most prominently, I can see the changes on my doorstep, in Innsbruck, as the Stubai Glacier continues to retreat.
You’ve always taken a proactive approach to making films, taking photos, creating art and other content. What inspired you to do that?
I want to communicate my connection to nature with the world. I experience this connection most powerfully on my adventures, and I feel that showing it through my eyes and words is the best way to do this. My personal challenges on these adventures, both physical and mental, make my experiences in the outdoors even more intense. I am inspired by these moments; it’s fun to try and explore them, in an authentic and hopefully inspiring way.
A film that always inspires me is Dark Side of the Lens by Mickey Smith.
As someone with an ability to tell the story of your travels, do you feel a responsibility to talk about climate change’s impact as you experience it?
I definitely do – and I feel it’s an important role every athlete plays these days. I think athletes are important role models for kids (and grown-up kids), and everyone who loves outdoor sports. Using this voice to create a positive impact is very important. I’ve never really been a political person. For me, experiences with friends – and love for my sports and for nature – are what drive me to learn more about climate change, my responsibility, and how I communicate about them.
As a woman in snowsports, do you see things changing, for the better, around the topic of inclusion?
I believe we’re on a good path. In both freestyle and slopestyle, the level of women participating is getting so high, and there are so many young girls coming up through the ranks. And that’s also mirrored in freeriding and mountaineering. Partly I think this is due to better coverage of women in the snow media.
There’s more representation in film too. I was presenting my film at Kendal Mountain Festival last year and there were so many amazing films made by women, including Dream Job, which won an award. I think that women behind the camera bring something completely different in films around environmental issues or with strong messages – it’s a different way of talking about these issues and bringing the audience along for the ride.
Practising snowsports in a conscious way is something that I think deeply about. I love to travel, make movies, and ski, but sharing my adventures can sometimes contribute to a negative effect. Places blow up with tourism and new visitors don’t always act responsibly. For example, in the Lofoten Islands, the locals say that summer is ridiculous now, with packed beaches and walked-out tracks. Last time I was there, there were many ski tour groups who had brought their own guides from Germany rather than working with local people. This is a topic I’m often confronted with.
You’ve recently started working with Patagonia this year, after a long career with Roxy. Can you tell us about this journey?
I’d been with Roxy since 2008 and have loved this journey. It’s a brand that empowers women, and I was always empowered by my teammates in snowsports and surfing. It helped me to go my own way and made me believe in my talent to tell a story.
However, I felt it was time to move on to something different – something more mature and more focused on the most pressing issues of our time. I have always been inspired by Patagonia and its athletes, on the mountains and in the water. The history of the company and its founders, the way they do things, and the political consciousness within the brand are inspiring to me.
I love the way Patagonia stories are told, especially in filmmaking. That’s an area I would love to contribute to. And I am thrilled to do my part to save our home planet.
What motivates you in skiing and beyond, and do you have any new plans on the horizon?
It’s just fun to be on snow, in the mountains, with friends. The flow and fun I get skiing is amazing. I’m motivated by standing on top of a mountain, in the cold and fresh air, with a good powder run in front of me. I also love the meditative nature of hiking, whether on high alpine terrain or in forests. It’s so rewarding when you earn your turns.
For now, I want to explore more in my own back yard: the mountains and lines around Innsbruck. I would also love to do more high alpine touring. Fingers crossed for a good winter. I could ski into my own garden if there was enough snow, so my hopes are high!