Professional skier Markus Eder had a fantasy of an impossible descent that would take him across glaciers, through frozen tunnels, into a terrain park, even out of the back of a pickup truck. It made no sense. And yet somehow, over eight years, he found a way to make it happen by thinking more like an artist than an athlete. The result is The Ultimate Run, a wildly creative stoke film that’s loaded with gnarly stunts and stands out thanks to the pure, contagious joy emanating from every frame. Somehow, we get to be inside Eder’s fantasy right along with him—which, as he tells it, is exactly what he intended.
This episode was brought to you by Fat Tire, maker of delicious, easy-drinking beers and a company that’s taking action to address climate change. Join Fat Tire in calling on the International Olympic Committee to require all future sponsors of the Games to be be climate leaders at PointOfSnowReturn.com.
Maren Larsen (host): From Outside Magazine, this is the Outside Podcast.
So, let's start our episode in a place that the Outside Podcast and Outside Magazine rarely dares to venture: that's right, we're going indoors.
[button press, beep]
Remember Tetris? Sure you do. And if you've ever played the game, chances are you've experienced this phenomenon: You doggedly place blocks one after the other as they fall down the screen, determined to break your high score. You play for a looooong time with intense concentration... And then, hours later, maybe even when you doze off, you find yourself envisioning how shapes in the real world -- chairs, boxes, even people -- could fit together, just like Tetris blocks
[tetris theme out, dying sound]
Stay with me, this is going somewhere, I promise. You see, this phenomenon is so common, there's a name for it: the tetris effect. And though it's named after the video game, the tetris effect isn't limited to our screens. According to wikipedia, it "occurs when people devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams."
That broader concept of becoming so obsessed with an activity that it spills over into all areas of our consciousness? That's a common story here at Outside -- especially among the skiers on our staff.
Kelly Klein: "I actually have this dream maybe even like once a week. I'm skiing in the resort and I'm in the terrain park and one after the other like I'm launching off these massive jumps effortlessly doing a triple backflip, like a cork 720, tricks I would never do in real life"
Fred Dreier: "a bluebird midweek day at Arapahoe basin, I'm hiking the east wall, drop into the snorkel couloir, greeted by knee-deep powder, carve a few turns, get to the bottom, collapse into the snow and just laugh"
Abigail Barronian: I'm sure most skiers out there have had a ski dream. One that, that I repeatedly had, is that you like go off a jump in you just like never really come down. and skiing in a dream feels like floating. It's, it's like so easy.
Larsen: That last speaker was my colleague Abigail Barronian, an associate editor at Outside Magazine. And she's right: skiing in our dreams is easy. But then we wake up and... it's not.
Well, unless you're one of the rare athletes who can ski just like the rest of us do in our wildest fantasies.
Eder: Hello everybody. My name is Markus Eder. I'm from Northern Italy, born and raised here basically and yeah, I am, I'm a skier.
Larsen: Meet Markus Eder, an Italian professional freeskier who is a jack of all trades in the sport. He got his start competing in slopestyle and other freeskiing events, where skiers do tricks on man-made terrain park features. That took him all the way to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Afterwards, he began competing in big mountain freeride, where skiers are evaluated on their ability to cleanly execute feature-filled runs in a natural environment: think backflips off of cliffs. In 2019, he won the Freeride World Tour.
And then, last November, Marcus released what he calls his lifetime project: a ten-minute film called The Ultimate Run. It was shot over nearly a year in the Swiss and Italian Alps, then edited to look like Markus had completed a single, magical descent.
Barronian: The format of it is this skier dreaming of the most perfect run that he could put together. kind of like the kind of ski line that you dream about. it all feels sort of like playful and piece together in the way that, um, like a Rube Goldberg video might be.
This film is very much the answer to the question. Like, if you could do anything on skis, what would you want to do?
Larsen: Abigail is the resident ski nerd at Outside. And when she watched The Ultimate Run the day it came out, she nearly lost her mind. I was at a story meeting with her the next morning and she couldn't stop talking about it.
Barronian: I think the thing that really stood out to me, which is sort of cheesy, but is the final shot, which is this skier, grinning ear to ear. And it felt like it was very much about a kind of unfettered joy.
Larsen: Abigail's right: because what's really special about The Ultimate Run, what sets it apart from the thousands of skier stoke films that have come before it, isn't the badass skiing or gnarly stunts – it's the pure, contagious joy emanating from every frame. When you watch it, you can't help but smile yourself. Somehow, we get to be inside Markus's fantasy right along with him. Which is exactly what he intended.
Eder: The title pretty much says it all. It's my dream run. So I wanted to include everything I can do on skis in one nice project that flows from one spot and from one location to the other.
Larsen: For today's episode, of the Outside Podcast: when a world-class freeskier dreams, what does he dream of? And what does it take to make that a reality that we can all enjoy?
Imagine, if you will, a scene in the snow-covered Swiss Alps.
Eder: It starts off in Zermatt on the huge glaciers on the surrounding mountains. The glaciers, there are just something else, you know, as soon as you're above 4,000 meters, the glacier blocks are just huge and perfectly square sometimes.
Barronian: And he is skiing through like crazy fields of seracs –
Larsen: – enormous columns of glacial ice, often the size of whole houses –
Barronian: – and hitting all these really amazing natural features, including an ice tunnel, and big old ice walls.
Eder: And I wanted to bring my skiing into those zones, which I haven't seen before.
Barronian: And then, he drops from the glacier into a ski area, which is, is, it is a bit of editing wizardry.
Eder: We get to my home resort Klausberg –
Larsen: – back in Italy –
Eder: – and basically ski down, uh, down the resort on, on the tract runs, but also –
Barronian: – he drops into a park and hits a handful of park hits, including a huge jump, really long rails, with a handful of other skiers, and then drops into more of a free ride section skiing around the resort and hitting natural features.
Eder: And avalanche barriers and so on.
Barronian: Winds up coming back down to a really funny, old ski lift, asking for a boost, uh, and gets a ride back up the lift to go one more time.
Eder: And that brings us into kind of the third core segment of the film, which is an old mining town, which is a museum.
Barronian: And that's this urban ski segment that's totally mind boggling because it's these really beautiful old European buildings. And then this skier doing pretty mind boggling tricks through it.
Larsen: He backflips into a truck to hitch a ride ... and then backflips out of the truck as it screeches to a halt.
Eder: From there, it goes to a castle where my dad actually lived in for the first two years of his life.
Barronian: And it all winds up with him, skiing out into a field, in what looks like afternoon light, and giving the camera a big grin.
Larsen: It's all just as awesome and crazy as it sounds. Honestly, if you haven't seen The Ultimate Run yet, we won't be offended if you stop listening right now and search for it. Just google "the ultimate run" – it'll pop right up.
But what's even crazier than the film itself is how an outlandish ski dream that Marcus had some eight years ago became a reality that brings the rest of us along for the ride. That's coming up after the break.
Larsen: In an internet loaded with stoke films, what makes The Ultimate Run so special? Is it Marcus Eder's remarkable skiing talents? Or... maybe something else?
I put this question to Abigail Barronian.
Barronian: Marcus is certainly not the only skier or the first gear to have this sort of well-rounded bag of, of tricks or skillsets. But I do think this video is unique in that it showcases all of them within 10 minutes.
He clearly has a really singular approach to line choice, which I think is really interesting and a huge part of why this video is special, because this is as much a product of Marcus's imagination as it is a product of his ski abilities. That's a whole skillset in and of itself beyond actually having the ability to pull off the trick that you imagined or the line that you imagined. I think that's, that's part of what makes it so special is he clearly has a really singular way of looking at a mountain.
Larsen: So Markus is both an elite athlete and, in a way, a visionary artist. But there's something else: he's also clearly an obsessive guy. It took him nearly eight years to make The Ultimate Run. We asked Abigail to call Markus and get him to explain what it took to bring his ski dream to life... and why he was so committed to the project.
Barronian: When did you originally think of it? And how did the idea kind of change over the course of, of filming and imagining and planning?
Eder: Yeah, it's it actually developed quite a while ago already. In the summer of 2014, I've been talking about it with, Scott Gaffney from matchstick productions. And already put down a bunch of ideas, which some of them are actually in the movie now. Like the castle, for example, and some spots of Klausberg, unfortunately on the very first shooting, in 2015, I dislocated my shoulder. And, uh, so that was it for then which right now feels like destiny. And I'm actually quite happy that that happened because I could improve my skiing. I could improve my creativity.
Ever since the project has been in the back of my mind and I knew I wanted to do it someday. There were a couple of things I wanted to do. First in order to be able to do it the best way possible.
Larsen: While the Ultimate Run was in the back of Markus’s mind, he poured his energy into big mountain skiing, the kind that would eventually win him the 2019 Freeride World Tour, and later inspire the scenes on the Swiss glacier that we see at the beginning of the film.
Barronian: So this was a project eight years in the making then.
Eder: Yeah, pretty much. It was for a long time, just in my head.
Barronian: Are there things in the video that would have looked different if you had been doing it eight years ago?
Eder: Definitely would have never been what it is now. Of course my skiing developed quite a bit competing at the Freeride world tour for two whole winters. Basically then I would focus foremost on, on skiing and being as good of a skier as I can be, and in the past couple of years, I definitely learned to enjoy skiing the tractor rain, and also bad conditions, which right now is, is that I think my favorite thing to do just to get the resort as fast as I can.
Um, and really get the legs burning and be still being in a hundred percent control. I think that added a lot to, to my skiing style as well. not just the skiing, but also also gaining more experience in the filmmaking and knowing what I can do.
Larsen: So, some six years after he first had the notion of creating the ultimate run, Marcus was primed to pull it off. He was a much more skilled skier, and he had a head full of fantasies of what it might look like.
Eder: In 2020 we started shooting. I definitely wanted to push the tricks as much as I can. The production company was most definitely pushing the filming side of things as well, as much as they could.
Larsen: That production company was Austria-based Legs of Steel, which made the film in partnership with Red Bull, one of Marcus's sponsors. This, too, was part of his dream.
Barronian: Legs of Steel is not as well known of a ski production company in the states because it's Euro based. But it's like one of the, one of the foremost ski film production companies out there. And, it was founded by pro skiers and snowboarders. And they just do a fantastic job.
Larsen: Put another way, it's a film company by and for skiing's most ardent devotees.
Eder: Like at home I have posters of them on the wall. So, it's pretty cool that we were able to pull it off together and, I went to those guys with, the first script and the first ideas, I try to be as detailed as I can with, with my idea. Um, they liked it. They loved it actually since the beginning. And were super passionate about it. I knew from when I left the office, that it's not my project anymore. It's our project now. Uh, that made me super happy.
Barronian: I think it is just a sweet testament to this sport and this industry and the fact that, um, yeah, sort of, if you can dream it, you can do it on a really big scale.
It's this like teenager can dream of shooting with legs of steel. Uh, he can do it when he's 30 and like put out the coolest ski film
Larsen: They began shooting in early 2020 – and then the pandemic hit
Eder: The first year we didn't get too many shots. There's a couple of really cool ones that ended up being in a clip. But, yeah, we definitely got shutdown in quite a brutal way the first year
Larsen: They would end up spending more than 100 days shooting, including a single day at Markus's local resort, Klausberg, in 2021, the only day it opened that year due to Covid.
When you watch the film, some of the segments seem barely possible. In particular, when Marcus skis into the narrow entrance of an ice cave and rips through the darkness before launching out of an exit. This, as it turns out, is part of the line Markus had always envisioned.
Barronian: I'm curious about a couple of moments that to me seemed like they must've been really tricky to figure out particularly the ice cave segment.
Eder: The ice cave is on the list. Also since the beginning, we tried a couple of different versions. I think in 2016, I dug like a tunnel through a pillow and I just left 10 centimeters of snow wall at the end and burst through that snow wall. And ever since I knew something like that, I'd like to be in the ultimate run.
Going to Zermatt, having the first fly over, and I took thousands of pictures and searched for as many holes in the glacier as I could find from the plane. And actually we, we just went to the first ice cave, which I thought was the best and turn out to be the best ice cave possible.
When we first found it, my mind was quite blown by, by that place. It had two entrances and one exit and, inside were a couple of different tunnels that would link everything together. It's super, super beautiful in there.
When we first found it, we skied through it basically how we did in the film. We were in there shooting for two, two days, but the entrance and the exit, they perfectly link up. There's a few, a couple of other tunnels in there as well, where, where we ended up shooting. So it appears to be much longer than it actually is. But yeah, it, it totally totally works.
Barronian: Then I'm also curious about the truck backflip, and how that came together.
Eder: That was definitely a bit of a stupid idea. Looking back at it. Totally paid off though. Yeah, actually the very first idea was to do it on a, on a bus. But in the summertime and in the winter time I've been checking. So many places, but couldn't find the, find the perfect spot for, for the bus. Uh, we needed something smaller and that's where my friends came in. They have a construction company, a small construction company, and they were onboard right away and super high to, to pull it off.
The difficulty there was that, the truck was way too short and we had to build an extension on it, which was just sticking outside at the end, at the end of it. And, also it was quite slippery. So the only times where it actually worked out when they accidentally crashed a truck into the snowy or icy wall at the end of it. So that's, that's the only times where I got enough speed to actually do a decent back, flip into the landing.
Barronian: And the shot, the shot in the film is them crashing into a snowbank.
Barronian: That's awesome.
Eder: Yeah. And, uh, the truck at the end had to, had to stay there. Um, cause it was all like, it was a bit broken in the front and they wouldn't there to, to ride it down the mountain.
Barronian: Those are good friends.
Eder: Yeah, they are best.
Barronian: So what other shots in the film came together kind of with your community and involved friends from home?
Eder: The whole project was quite personal, filled with friends, especially at Klausberg, the park scene, the rail actually was built there. The friends that, came forward to truck stand, we built a rail with that. Those are the guys that show me the love for the sport at the beginning, when I was 15 years old, they were all snowboarders and yeah, having all of them involved was this super cool.
The park rail is quite outstanding to me. It took me about 200 tries. It wasn't very dangerous, but really technical. And it took me a while.
So the rail was 30 meters long. 30 meters is much more than any rail you usually find in a snow park. And yeah, so basically that rail was super, super difficult to even make it through without a trick. And I did a four 50 on, which is not, not that easy with the under flip out,
With 200 tries. I made it to the end, only two times. And yeah, and I just went all in for the under flip out and, and it worked out and everyone was quite mind blown that, I had the guts to actually pull off the under, flip out when it's that risky. And it might take me 200 more tries to get to the end of the race.
Larsen: I asked Abigail to put this particular trick in context for me, someone who has never dreamed of hitting any kind of rail.
Barronian: Try and imagine something that you have to try 200 times to do –
Larsen: Like, say, hitting the easiest, least daunting box at the terrain park for the first time.
Barronian: – and then add a cool little trick at the end of it. And so when you're looking at someone like Marcus, who is, you know, one of the world's best skiers, by a lot of different accounts or measures. And he has to try 200 times to get something right. That feels like a good, good indicator of how hard something might be.
Larsen: Yeah. Basically like the skiing in this video is at the limit from start to finish. Yeah. Yeah.
Barronian: Yeah, absolutely.
Larsen: But get this: when Abigail asked Markus what the most challenging shot was for him in The Ultimate Run, it wasn't skidding through an ice cave, or doing a backflip off a moving truck, or even the rail slide he had to try 200 times to get it right.
Eder: Definitely the most challenging that nobody would ever think of. It's actually the last shot, the last couple of shots, before I stopped at the very end, we want it to have the perfect light, you know, the light needed to fit with the previous shots. And, we went back to that spot maybe five times to really get it right. And it just looks totally like we went there and nailed it the first time, you know, no feature, no job, no anything just skiing down to the very end. And that was actually super difficult to line up with the best light.
Larsen: This scene also happens to be Abigail's favorite because it reminds her of the very best part of skiing.
The feeling at the end of the day, or at the bottom of something scary, that little exhale of like, oh, I did what I wanted to do. I like did what I came here to do, is such a nice feeling. And I think something you probably can relate to, whether that's something that you came to do is hitting a big, a big cliff or, you know, skiing a bump run that scares you.
Barronian: I think that's why this film is so special because I think it's, it's equally entertaining and interesting for someone who knows every last thing there is to know about the sport and someone who has gone on a couple of ski vacations.
Larsen: When you see Markus’s giant smile at the end of the film, it really does make you want to get out there. Not just to chase whatever your ultimate run is, but to relish in that feeling that comes just after. The satisfaction of being perfectly exhausted, having completed exactly what set out to do.
Barronian: This film makes me want to do things on skis that I'm not comfortable with and to become a more well-rounded skier. Cause I think if you have this whole arsenal of styles of skiing, you can never really have a bad time. So this definitely makes me want to ski in, it makes me want to ski different. It makes me want to learn new things.
Larsen: That's perfect. That's everything you ever want out of a stoke film I think.
Barronian: Yeah, absolutely.
Larsen: You can watch The Ultimate Run on Red Bull Snow's Youtube channel, and follow Markus on instagram @markus1eder. This episode was written and produced by me, Maren Larsen, and edited by Michael Roberts. Thanks to Abigail Barronian for interviewing Markus, and to Kelly Klein and Fred Dreier for telling us about their ski dreams.
This episode was brought to you by Fat Tire, maker of delicious, easy-drinking beers, and a company that’s taking action to address climate change. Join Fat Tire in calling on the International Olympic Committee to require that all future sponsors of the games to be climate leaders. Visit PointOfSnowReturn.com to sign the petition and learn more.
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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, which was developed in partnership with PRX, distributors of the idolized This American Life and The Moth Radio Hour, among others. We have since expanded our show and now offer a range of story formats, including interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and politics, as well as reports from our correspondents in the field.