Skogen Sprang: ‘Appreciate What You Can Do’

Reflections of an early freeskier, Part IV

Photo: Al Bodenhiemer, Tahoe Budz

Photo: Al Bodenhiemer, Tahoe Budz

By John Clary Davies

In the fall of 2000, Skogen Sprang was at the top of his freeskiing class. He was on the cover of the first issue of Powder that season, a shot of him in Alaska from a trip that inspired one of the world's first fat twin tips, the Line Mothership. At the same time, he had one of the first published photos of an urban rail slide on the cover of Freeze's first issue. Sprang was also coming off a silver medal effort at X Games, earlier that year.

Then everything changed. In December 2000, Sprang crashed his dirt bike and nearly had to have his leg amputated. Although he continued to film with TGR through their 2008 release Lost And Found, as Sprang tells it, he was never the same.

Nowadays, Sprang owns a private valet company in Lake Tahoe. He says he keeps a "finger" in the ski industry, and last season he worked with Inspired Media to produce two webisodes called Tahoe Budz. He also skis for Slant, a local ski manufacturer. His pro model is called the Cornelious, named for Sprang's 99-year-old grandpa. recently caught up with Sprang to look back on his influential, if compromised, ski career.

I grew up in the Bay Area. I was a skateboarder. After graduating high school I moved up here, in '97. I worked at a ski shop with my buddies.

I was snowboarding more at the time. I lived at Alpine Meadows and linked up with a bunch of local skier dudes. They opened my eyes to the freeskiing thing going on at the time.

Photo: Jeff Wright

Photo: Jeff Wright

Oct. 2000 cover. Photo: Dave Reddick

Oct. 2000 cover. Photo: Dave Reddick

When I first met [Constantine Papanicolaou] I was riding my snowboard a bunch and he was like, “Man, you got to ski.” I had to go mount up powder skis I had.

There were no twin tip skis available. [My friends] were bending up the tails of their skis with a heat gun. That's the cool thing—it was just exploding. Everything was just starting to happen.

One of the reasons I got to ski in the movie was because I had learned a lot of tricks on my snowboard, like a backside rodeo, and started throwing them on skis. Thus became the flatspin 360—the Skogeo. It's still one of my favorite tricks.

The film Chapter 3 blew us up. Constantine linked me up with Evan Raps and Shane [Anderson]. We all got shots in Freeze and Powder from that year. We did the train that year.

We went up and waited for the train. We all sent a trick and all got a big photo. It was extremely gnarly. It wasn't just over the train—it was an 80-foot gap over the guardrail and the knuckle.

Evan did a 3. Shane did a layout backflip. I did a rodeo 3. Jamie Burge hit it, too. She wanted to do something and we were like, “I don't know. Just make it over. We don't care what you do, just make sure you make it over.” It was definitely gnarly.

Nobody was taking the X-Games too seriously. Everybody was stoked to be there. I remember—the three Phils, and Candide, Cusson and Vinnie, and it was just this huge bunch of dudes that were fun to hang out with. Everybody had their niche of tricks. The parties were definitely good back then. Nobody held back.

I was just super committed to doing the switch 720. I knew I could do it. I remember coming around from 5 to 7—like, “Oh my God, it's going to work!”—centered and boom! I came down and couldn't believe I landed as well as I did. I couldn't believe that it was happening, that I landed and I was up on the podium.

When I went on that AK trip that's kind of when we created the Mothership for [Line]. They didn't have any fat skis and I told Jay [Levinthal] that we need a fat ski to go to AK. And so they made me these crazy prototype Mothership skis and I got them mounted up there in the World Cup shop right there in Girdwood and they were like, “What the hell are these?” These were some of the first fat twin tip skis.

We were drinking whiskey at the Chair 5. I was waiting in the car for ten minutes for somebody to come so I jumped out and took a piss out of the back of the car, just standing there. I was done and somebody jumps in the car and burns out and completely covered me in mud. I was just standing there going, “No way. Is this really happening?” It was spitting mud on to me for 10 seconds. It felt like forever. Then they just burn out of the parking lot. There I am just standing there by myself in Alaska, just like, “What the hell just happened?” I must have gotten piled with 10 pounds of mud.

I had the Powder and Freeze cover out at the same time. The Freeze one was a rail coming down the deck—a night shot with a flash. It was one of the first urban rail shots. The Powder one was from AK, where I'm doing the tail grab 3 that Reddick shot.

I blew it.

I was doing an interview for the upcoming X Games for ESPN and decided to rip around on a dirt bike. It was all muddy—stupidly bad conditions. I slipped out and did in my knee. It put a pretty big cramp in my style.

My leg was on the verge of needing to be amputated. It had been internally bleeding for over 24 hours. It was not good. That's when it went from an injury to holy shit. I went into emergency surgery. The chairman of vascular surgery was on site and they fixed it, but at that point there had been some damage done and I didn't know if it was going to get repaired or not. It was pretty gnarly. I'm just stoked that it's on there and I can still shred.

It was definitely a long road to recovery. I wasn't able to bounce back. I could ski but as far as being the same as I was before… it wasn't exactly the same again.

Photo: Sean Field, Tahoe Budz

Photo: Sean Field, Tahoe Budz

The sliver lining would be understanding life. Life is not fair. Accepting it is what it is. It puts everything in perspective. Appreciate what you can do.

Skiing is just that thing for me that you can just forget about everything else and get out there and just enjoy being in the mountains, shredding a powder turn. It's really like nothing else. To be in the moment and that's the only thing that is happening at that time. It's just such a good thing, an ever-healing thing.

I've come full circle all the way back to somewhat being a ski bum again. Skiing for the pure love of it, which is awesome.

I'm trying to work as little as possible and play as much as possible. I don' t really plan on going anywhere too much. I love it here.

If you could go back in time and not crash on the dirt bike like an idiot… There's nothing you could do and who knows what would have happened if that didn't happen. No regrets. I put it all on the line as much as I can.

Tanner [Hall] wanted us to portray the fact that skiing is for fun and we are out there doing our thing and having a good time. We are showing some of the adventures we go on. We have random adventures all the time.

I can still ski good.

When you're young, you don't realize—until it changes—how much more difficult it can be.