Jonsson has been on the pro skiing path since the early 2000s. It didn’t come easy, but for Jonsson that’s never been the point. The 37-year-old grew up in Malung, Sweden, ski racing on the local hill that was a measly 140 vertical meters (that’s a little more than 450 feet). His earliest ski memory is completing half of a backflip in his backyard at five-years-old. Yes, he kept hitting the jump.
He was an active child, playing hockey and soccer, and was a self-proclaimed terrorizer of the neighborhood. He didn’t jive with the small town all-or-nothing team sports mentality. And, because he was “very small as a kid,” it became clear to Jonsson that he wasn’t the next Wayne Gretzky. Hockey and any other team sports were out and ski racing became his focus…kind of.
“I went to a race academy from age 16 to 19,” Jonsson explains. “But I was unfortunately way too immature and lazy to actually try, so I quit, wrecked my dad’s car one slippery afternoon, panicked, and went to the U.S. for my first freeskiing trip.” Naturally.
While in the States, Jonsson fell in love with the freedom, laughter, silliness, and creative expression of big mountain freestyle skiing. He then began the path to his profession, financing his ski seasons in Engelberg, Switzerland, with demolition work and asbestos sanitizing during the summer and fall.
“I signed my first international contracts about seven years later,” Jonsson remembers. “I was super happy, but also a bit bummed since I understood that it probably would have happened a lot earlier if I wouldn’t have been drunk and acting like a moron all the time. Oh well, shoveling brick stones at least made me strong.”
“A shitty attitude never helps you. If you’re able to laugh at everything, whether it’s epic or shitty, you’ll always have fun. It’s an advantage over life,” says the great ski philosopher. For Jonsson. skiing is one giant metaphor for life. Supreme powder days will easily cause laughter. But boilerplate “shit fuck skiing” can cause even more giggles and more meaningful exuberance, notwithstanding some booboos.
Last spring, Jonsson was on a ski and sailing trip in Norway. The boat was large and luxurious, but ski conditions were about as bad as they get. “It was really warm and pissing rain,” Jonsson recalls. “The snow looked like a wavy, bumpy Thermarest. Then it got really cold. It was truly impossible to ski.”
The skiing was so terrible in the high alpine that Jonsson and crew were happy to get to the breakable crust at treeline that sent them lurching ass over teakettle. “We laughed our way through it,” Jonsson says. “It was actually really fun. Getting pissed wouldn’t have helped. When you see that kind of behavior or reaction in others it really stands out as the wrong way to handle poor situations.”
For Jonsson, in the mountains and in life, the real test of one’s character does not occur when conditions are the best, rather when conditions are terrible and great character is needed most.
Taking the piss out of life has always served Jonsson well. Skiing is his number one identifier, not just what he does but who he is. It informs how he navigates life; work hard, think deeply, joke around, laugh a lot, give of yourself, share and connect with a big crew of friends, and make sure they’re around when you send it. But nothing is so important that it can’t be accompanied with a sense of humor.
“Skiing is everything to me. I’m getting paid to participate in my hobby,” says Jonsson. “I am very grateful. Yeah, it’s a job, and expectations are high, and time commitments are demanding, but I try to work my ass off. Why not work your ass off? When I have an office job, I’ll think the same way. Brain surgeons should take themselves and their work seriously, but everyone else shouldn’t have to. We’re just skiing, man.”
Perhaps skiers shouldn’t shell out advice on important financial decisions and investments. But if you’re looking for a path to happiness and a way to maintain joy, chances are that wise words will come from those with a defined goggle tan and a frosty perma-smile that touches behind their ears. Johan Jonsson’s goggle tan is so bold it can be seen from space. Listen up, folks.
Johan: This last winter Engelberg had it’s worst start of the season since 1865, and of course I got stressed and started planning trips to other parts of the world. But then I took a step back and started thinking about all this… airplane time, jet lag, hunting new and more dangerous stuff, travel for the sake of travel. After thinking about my situation for a while, I figured that I didn’t have to fly to the other side of the globe to explore new stuff.
One of the first Swedish ski pros once said to me ”A day of travel is a day you don’t ski”, and… since I like skiing more than traveling, I stayed at home in Engelberg.