It was a ski shoot in Austria, winter 2006 and we stood on the rim of a huge natural bowl, far from the resort lifts and crowds. Shielding the camera preview screen from the sun, Mikke announced “Not too bad, but I think we can do better”. Fredrik Ericsson had just dropped into one of the steep chutes facing us, cutting smooth arcs in the snow as he descended at speed, as always in total control. The renowned ski photographer and fellow Swede Mikke Pilstrand captured the moment. The two worked really well together, it was their trust and close friendship coupled with Fredrik’s temperament and professionalism that meant their partnership generated such great results. Pretty much everybody can ski and anyone can take photographs, but to do it at a world-class level takes ability and persistence. Pulling his radio out of his pocket Mikke broke the bad news “Fredrik, I need you to hike up and do it again, this time the next chute over”. The hike up and knife edge ridge traverse to reach the required entry point was around 60 minutes of lung bursting effort. In came the response, a simple and good-natured “Yep, OK”. Mikke and I watched Fredrik remove each ski, clipping and swinging them over his shoulder in one smooth motion. He began the ascent, again. Shortly we both got comfortable sitting in the snow to talk about the plan for the rest of the day, future trips, our kids, surfing etc. basically just passing the time. Far below our vantage point Fredrik quietly got on with the less glamorous side of being a pro-skier.
For me that short scene says everything about Fredrik’s personality. Whatever he was doing he wanted to do the best job possible, he would never consider settling for second best just because improvement required effort. He also never complained about anything, ever. ‘I’ll just get on with it’ that was his attitude and he always did everything with a smile. In over a decade of knowing and working with Fredrik I never saw him get angry, frustrated or even slightly annoyed. He was well known around Chamonix after living there for so long, but he never took advantage of the situation. No ego, no attitude and always friendly towards other people. He was modest too, in terms of his ability and his achievements. In the world of pro-skiers and mountaineers I’m afraid to say these personality traits are something of a rarity. When off the mountain Fredrik filled his time organising his next trip and keeping magazines informed of his activity, often supported by Mikke’s great images. I’ve sponsored a lot of well-known people in the Mountain sports arena and without question Fredrik was the most professional and adept at gaining coverage across every continent. From Europe to the US, Japan to New Zealand, Fredrik’s exploits inked the pages of pretty much every core Mountain magazine – regularly featuring on the cover.
He described himself as a “Ski Adventurer” because he wasn’t a cliff jumping extreme skier and he wasn’t a hardcore alpinist either, he was a hybrid of the two. The idea of climbing and ski-descending 8000M peaks is ultimately what motivated and excited Fredrik. He’d already been the first Swedish person to climb and ski down an 8000M peak, but K2 was his ultimate goal. To be the first ever to climb and ski from its summit would have meant so much to him. Although undeniably this was a big challenge, it was definitely within his considerable abilities. Fredrik always climbed in the Himalayas without supplemental oxygen, without Sherpa’s and without fixed ropes. When ascending he always carried a pair of heavy skis strapped to his pack and on his feet he wore ski boots not climbing boots, risking frostbite in the process. For mountaineers the goal is reaching the summit, for Fredrik that is where the challenge and excitement really began. He was incredibly fit and talented, but at 8000M+ it takes huge effort to string two or three turns together and any slip or fall could mark the end. Fredrik was acutely aware of the danger in both ascending and descending any mountain and he never took crazy risks in an all-out effort to achieve his aims. He’d scaled Himalayan giants before and turned back only 200M from the summit because he felt that the risk of avalanche was too high. In 2009 Fredrik was attempting to climb and ski K2 with his Italian friend Michele Fait. Whilst ski descending from one of the lower camps Michele hit some rocks, he fell heavily and slid into a crevasse. Fredrik witnessed the whole event from below and had the traumatic task of recovering Michele’s body. Fredrik immediately called off the expedition and upon his return to Chamonix he was uncharacteristically down. Despite this considerable personal blow a few months later Fredrik announced that he planned to return to K2 in 2010 and re-attempt the mountain that had claimed his friend and so many other hopeful adventurers before and since.
Fast forward to 6th August 2010. I received the terrible news by email that Fredrik had died. He’d fallen an estimated 1000M from the face of K2. It sounds like a terrible cliché, but I really couldn’t believe it, I had to re-read the message five or six times just to take it in. The clear weather window that had been predicted was wrong and Fredrik had been caught in steadily worsening conditions above camp IV but continued upwards in the hope of making the summit and the weather situation improved for the descent. It was I’m sure a calculated risk on his part, but one that ultimately cost him his life. At times like this I really wonder if exploration at and beyond the margins of safety is really worth the considerable risks associated with it. But nobody could persuade Fredrik that his life as a “Ski Adventurer” was a bad idea.
Everyone who had the good fortune to know Fredrik will remember him fondly. One of the last nights out we spent together before he left for K2 was in Gothenburg. He’d been giving a lecture that day for Osprey and it seemed a great excuse for a few drinks after he’d finished. We ended up at a fancy bar where a very attractive girl grabbed Fredrik’s hand and dragged him onto the dance floor. She had no idea he was a famous skier, it was his chiselled good looks that attracted her. Although Fredrik could flawlessly rip apart a powder field on skis when it came to dancing he closely resembled an embarrassing uncle at a wedding. He endured the jibes and hysterical laughter from the sidelines, dished out with great willingness as all good friends would. The girl lasted about two minutes before deciding that her initial enthusiasm was misguided and promptly left Fredrik dancing alone, much to our collective amusement. Fredrik shrugged his shoulders and re-approached us with a big grin on his face “OK” he said “anyone want another drink?”.
Rest in peace Fredrik, you left a legacy of amazing achievements and a lasting impression on everyone you came into contact with. You died whilst pursuing your life’s dream and very few people will be able to claim that.
August 12, 2010