The Snow Report
Whistler, British Columbia-based skier Eric Hjorleifson, a.k.a. Hoji, is a big mountain specialist with a knack for hucking huge air of off natural features in the backcountry and stomping pillow lines with unmatched power and fluidity—all in a pair of Dynafit boots and bindings. His hard-charging style bridges the gap between ski touring and aggressive alpine skiing, and proves that performance doesn’t need to be compromised by touring gear. You can still go big in the backcountry and rail turns on the resort in a pair of touring bindings and boots if you follow the gospel of Hoji.
What separates Hoji, 29, from many of his peers is the depth of his involvement in product development for the brands he works with. Sponsored by 4FRNT and Dynafit (among others), he’s equal parts pro-athlete and product engineer. In 2011, Dynafit signed him as an athlete and as a “boot and binding” consultant—and it’s not just some branding/PR plug. With a tricked-out workshop in his basement, which his girlfriend calls his “playpen,” he spends hours a day, thousands of hours a season, perfecting his set up to meet his performance demands. The result is this year’s Dynafit Vulcan boot, which hit the shelves last week (and has already won numerous awards), and a binding to be launched in January that’s poised to revolutionize ski touring. When he’s not tinkering with his gear, you might find him shooting for Matchstick, Sweetgrass, or Sherpas Cinema—he scored major segments in all three’s most recent ski flicks.
We dragged Hjorleifson up from his workshop lair to talk about saving his feet, designing gear, and how to get after it in the backcountry.
How did you get into skiing?
I was born in Canmore, Alberta. My dad was a bit of ski bum. He was a ski instructor and both of my parents got my brother and I out on skis before we were two. My parents are really responsible for inspiring me to pursue skiing and starting that passion young.
My original home mountain was Lake Louise. I ski raced from 10 until about 15, 16. That’s about when the first terrain parks started showing up for snowboarders. We were building jumps off the side runs. I started learning some tricks—doing little 360s, frontflips, backflips. Then I was in Panorama for a downhill race camp and we went into a ski shop and they had that Salomon 1080 promotional video with the new Canadian Air Force playing and I just sat in that shop and made the guy play it like a hundred times that week I was there. Then I got into the jumping side of it, the Newschool side of skiing.
How old were you when you started going into the backcountry?
About 16, 17. I started going out around Sunshine, Lake Louise with my buddies who were older than me. Andrew Sheppard from the RAP films was always a big influence and mentor of mine. He has excellent mountain sense—skiing lines and being aware—and he instilled those values in my skiing.
How would you characterize your skiing? Right now it seems like there’s all these terms being tossed around: freeride, big mountain, free-ride ski touring, etc.
I came up with a term that I’ve been using: the complete skier. I don’t want to sacrifice my downhill performance and I don’t want to be limited to just skiing the resort, so I’m an opportunist—I want to take the lifts as much as I can and ski powder. I like to be able to shred the resort comfortably and at a high level, but I also like to just go do whatever I want and go out of bounds, into the mountains. I love skiing the backcountry. I want the freedom to go anywhere.
Gear is evolving, and more and more people are getting into the backcountry these past couple of years. Is that a good thing or bad thing?
Backcountry is the big buzzword. It’s the only growing segment, etc. Everyone wants to go and have their own adventures and that’s pretty cool. There’s so much out there, it’s sort of choose your own adventure, and more people should be able to appreciate that. There’s a lot of people willing to spend a lot of money on gear; but the industry needs to shift again and focus on getting people responsible for themselves. Learning what you need to know and being prepared is just as important as being able to actually get out there. People are taking advantage of this backcountry trend but I think there needs to be a little more focus on the responsibility that goes along with it.