PHOTOS: Alric Ljunghager
Magnus Graner and Pär Peyben Hägglund were stuck. Road-tripping from Finland to Eastern Russia to shoot with production company Level 1, the two young Swedes were stalled at the Russian border for an improperly registered rental car.
In danger of losing their Russian visas, they weighed their options: Turn around; sneak through another border crossing; or spend a few days in Finland finding a taxi to take them the rest of the way.
As part of The Bunch, a tribe of Swedish skiers bringing backyard skiing to the big mountains, they had ignited the ether under today's ski scene with tricks that skirted the line between weird and innovative--bending, pressing, and sliding their skis in ways no one thought possible. Now it seemed they'd finally met a barrier they couldn't breach.
But Hägglund, known as Peyben among the crew, didn't need Alaska or the gnarliest wall ride; he could take a little hill with a stump and have fun for days.
They bailed on Russia. Except, in the icy Finnish backwoods next to the border crossing, they didn't have a small hill. They had a length of rope spread across a dozen or so knee-high wood posts. Still, they pulled out the camera, clicked into their skis, and went to work.
"These guys spent a day sessioning a rope fence and actually got mind-blowing ski content out of it. There's something to be said about that. That's a whole new level of creativity and having fun on skis," says Level 1 founder Josh Berman. "Our [type of skiing] has been evolving for almost 20 years, and to have a crew come in and shake it up like this--it's not easy."
The Bunch is skiing's natural hallucinogen. Unbound by the lift line corral, they tap the sport's imagination, and turn it into reality. They ski ice. They ski concrete. They ski groomers. They ski dirt. Sometimes, they even ski powder. But every time they click in they make it look attainable.
To watch The Bunch in action is to turn the whole world into a ski hill. It's the way they started skiing together as greasy teenagers more than a half-decade ago, and the reason they have every young freeskier in Sweden emulating their unique style.
The group doesn't just ski together--they live together, purchase cameras together, co-own vans together. It's a camaraderie that's as important as the skiing itself. These are best friends that love to ski, and it's hard not to love them for that.
Berman got his first taste of The Bunch in 2012, when a mop-haired Swedish teenager named Lucas Stål-Madison won Superunknown IX, Level 1's annual online video contest. When Stål-Madison's friend and fellow Buncher Magnus Graner followed up the next year with a Superunknown win of his own, he solidified status for the Scandinavian squad.
Now they are in their early 20s, and range in number from six to a dozen to 30, depending on whom you ask. Membership is so fluid that no one actually knows how many people are in The Bunch--and that's the way they like it. Born in the buttoned-up and precise society of the Swedish middle class, The Bunch has found a niche embracing the anti. The group doesn't tell people how to have a good time; they just go and do it. They party, they trespass, they drop everything to ski whenever they freaking can.
They ski urban because it's accessible and gives their quirky creativity a platform. In the unforgiving world of putting skis to concrete, brick, rock, and metal, they have found their playground, making the impossibly brutal look, well, fun.
"For me, they are like dancers in a way," says Alric Ljunghager, The Bunch's photographer and a former ski coach to many of the crew. "You look at [The Bunch skiing] and see that this looks beautiful. It doesn't matter if you are doing hard tricks or anything, it's easy to relate for everyone. It's not beautiful like a postcard, but it's beautiful in its natural way."
The Bunch is a language best translated in images and the handful of online edits that give pause to progressive freeride circles. It's a style that sets them apart, and one that brings them together.
"Skiing, feelings, and life...in some way that 'stylishness' is what made us the group we are today," says Peyben. "Naturally, working as one big organism makes us influence each other."
Often, the crew travels without a set itinerary, staying with family friends or hospitable strangers. Last year, more than a dozen of the tribe caravanned around Sweden, living out of a surplus army tent for over a month.
Some, like Stål-Madison and Graner, pay for their winters with sponsorship money, while most work summers in warehouses, food stores, and the occasional slaughterhouse--anything to make enough to ski together next season. When Ljunghager didn't have a travel budget on the van trip around Sweden last year, The Bunch pitched in to bring him on the road.
And while the collective preaches individual style, even their skiing is close knit. Catch the group on an average day, and they'll be ripping a local hill in a swarm so tight it feels like their skis might tap as they launch wind lips and spin off kinked rails.
Where many skiers hone in on a rail slide down some stairs, The Bunch sees the brick wall ride off to the side of those stairs, the uphill curb as a butter pad, and the garden next to it as a bush tail-tap 360 transfer. Turn around and you'll find a group throwing spins in the flat parking lot, eagerly waiting their turn.
Ljunghager jokingly compares them to a group of "small kids," skiing from morning until last light. On an urban trip last season, he had trouble convincing the tribe to ditch the 300-foot radius around their hotel, because they were finding, "too many good things to ski."
"That's what makes them so good," he says. "They are just out there, playing."
It's an enthusiasm they bring with them on the road, a place The Bunch has become accustomed to recently. Over the past few seasons, The Bunch has traveled to the usual spots around North America, but also the Alps, Finland, Russia (on another trip), and even India. They hope their fun-loving, relatable brand of skiing can deliver the sport to the farthest reaches of the globe.
"We are citizen skiers. Normally when skiers are in big mountains or things like that, they may come back down to eat soup with the locals and get this cultural experience," explains Ljunghager. "But when we are skiing in the urban environment, we are actually skiing right in that culture. These people see directly what we are doing, so that when we have our soup with them later, it's a different kind of contact."
This story originally published in the December 2016 issue of POWDER (45.4). Subscribe to the magazine here.