Bum's Rush

In the gentrifying mountain village of Telluride, a band of local adventure addicts is preaching the gospel of neo-hippie purity in an upstart 'zine called Mountainfreak. Can these goddess-worshipping ski bums stay true to their vert' and manage to run a business at the same time?

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Once upon a time in Nelson, British Columbia, Bjorn Enga and Andrew Mitchell, two boyhood friends and ski bums who had hooked up again after abandoning fitful college careers, published the "first ever issue" of SkiFreak Radical magazine. It was the winter of 1993­1994. Printed on tree-free paper, SkiFreak Radical was eight pages of chaotic, crowded type and muddy black-and-white photographs. It was free. On the cover was a photograph of a very long-haired young man wearing only a ski cap, ski boots, and a decidedly immodest fanny pack. He stood in calf-deep snow, shouldering skis and holding a snowboard, and he seemed to be screaming happily at the top of his lungs. The magazine included several drawings of similarly ecstatic people, a couple of poems, a brief article on Valdez in winter, and a few classified ads. "Wanted immediately," read one, "new knee. Call Eddy."

The hoped-for audience was something Bjorn and Andrew dubbed the SkiFreak Network: hard-core gravity-sport dogs and self-described "dirtbags" who, to gain access to The Man's slopes, spent endless hours scrounging and scrambling and scamming, living overcrowded and grungy in overpriced housing. They weren't outlaws; they just didn't quite Þt in, these rockin' daddies from Nelson, B.C., who brushed the back trails, striking fear in the wallets of ski-industry marketers busily producing brochures of jolly families on ski slopes, businessmen who wished Bjorn and Andrew and their ilk would just Go. Away. Yesterday.

Though SkiFreak Radical spruced itself up over the course of its 12-issue, three-and-a-half-year run—the last issue, which appeared in July 1997, was 46 full-color pages with a smattering of corporate ads for the likes of Salomon—the magazine did not become noticeably tamer. It ran articles and fiction and drawings in which illegal substances and a defiant stance were major players. Its advice columnist, Gnarly—as in Just Ask Gnarly—was an attractive, athletic woman given to wearing retro sunglasses, a black bra, and a girdle with garters that held up patterned white stockings. Gnarly's range of knowledge was wide, her candor admirable. One reader asked if her nickname was due to her toes becoming gnarled up from injuries after "gruesome" mountain-bike rides. "Only one thing makes my toes gnarl," she answered, "and it ain't singletrack."

Sometimes when the kids get together and put out their own darn magazine, they style.

One day in the summer of 1996, Bjorn got a phone call from someone named Hilary White, of Telluride, Colorado. She told them that she had spent the winter working on a ski film in British Columbia, had picked up a copy of SkiFreak Radical in a coffee shop, and wanted to talk.

"She said she had fallen in love with the magazine," Bjorn told me over the phone. "She was hype to start an American version. A sister publication. Some kind of affiliation, anyway. We were busy; she was vague."

Bjorn is a jovial, energetic guy who these days owns a production company called Radical Films, which has released two mountain bike videos, Kranked I and Kranked II. Kranked III is in the works.

"So Hilary calls. We're expanding the mag every issue and working our butts off, and here comes this...idea...that, well, seemed a lot like what we were doing already," Bjorn continued. "We had lots of readers in the States. We were a little 'Uhhh...' She was on the same wavelength but...we tried to say politely we weren't interested, without shining her on. But it was like she had already made up her mind. It was like, 'This is such a good idea, how can you not go with it?'"