PowderPeople | Hoji

Eric Hjorleifson im Interview


Der Kanadier Eric Hjorleifson, besser bekannt als Hoji, mischt seit 20 Jahren die Freeski Szene auf. Zunächst machte er als junges Talent in den Filmen von MSP von sich reden, mittlerweile zieht es ihn immer mehr in Richtung Materialentwicklung. Wir haben uns mit Hoji über seine Anfänge als Pro, die aktuellen Entwicklungen des Sports und natürlich über Material unterhalten.

Pro-Tipp von Pragmatiker Hoji: Je weniger man beim Zustieg anhat, desto weniger verschwitzte Klamotten hat man nachher. add_circle
Pro-Tipp von Pragmatiker Hoji: Je weniger man beim Zustieg anhat, desto weniger verschwitzte Klamotten hat man nachher.

Der Kanadier Eric Hjorleifson, besser bekannt als Hoji, mischt seit 20 Jahren die Freeski Szene auf. Zunächst machte er als junges Talent in den Filmen von MSP von sich reden, mittlerweile zieht es ihn immer mehr in Richtung Materialentwicklung. Wir haben uns mit Hoji über seine Anfänge als Pro, die aktuellen Entwicklungen des Sports und natürlich über Material unterhalten.

LH:  Gear development is a big part of your career these days, right? 

EH: Yeah it's the best! That is what I want to do.

Seems like you and Fritz are working more on boots than bindings at the moment? Will there be another set of Hoji-apporved bindings eventually or are you done with bindings after the Beast?

Yes, currently it's more about boots but we need to readdress the bindings eventually. It would be super cool to do something with Fritz. We're good friends. He loves teaching and mentoring me. He loves teaching anyone who will listen to what he says! He has a lot of great ideas, for example with old patents that have expired that are free to use now. I personally don't have the engineering skills or expertise to really build a binding. My contribution would be more on the user interface and performance testing. Fritz says it's time for young people to do something good but I think utilizing his experience would be the key to pushing the boot-binding interface forwards, which is what needs to be done. 

Any thoughts on the new hybrid binding systems that have been hitting the market?

Like the tech and the alpine systems, they have pros and cons. They are getting closer to something good but the hybrid bindings aren't really progressing things much conceptually and the mechanics are complicated. There is a big push on the hybrid systems now because there are a lot of boots that have inserts and are decent for walking and skiing. The boots are driving this evolution.

A lot of people buy the hybrid bindings because the boots are comfortable and it's kind of like having an SUV. You buy into the idea that one day you could go ski touring. In this way the hybrid bindings are replacing frame bindings. Lots of people bought those and never even had skins, but they liked the idea that maybe one day they would go ski touring. 

And what's next for you in terms of boot development?

Fritz and I have really gotten into the boot topic in the last 6 years and we've gained a lot of valuable experience. I think the Hoji boot is a good product but looking at it now, I see many ways how it could be better. The more I work on this, the more I'm seeing how it could be improved.

How would you improve it, given unlimeted time and resources?

I wish we could do a full restart and not be handcuffed to existing molds. That would allow a bigger focus on the engineering concepts and structural components, while prioritizing weight, flex, and overall performance.


That sounds like a holistic approach to the entire boot, whereas previously you were focussing more on the specifics of the walk mechanism.

Yeah, the whole journey of the mechanism that became the Hoji boot was about understanding a problem. There was no boot that skied well and walked well because the classic way the cuff connects to the shell is very primitive. It creates a sort of triangular shape that is almost impossible to get a nice flex out of without any play. That was the problem I wanted to address. This problem still exists. We have a start of a solution but there are ways to improve upon that. We were working with existing boots and changed the mechanism. If we could address the whole boot, with all the hard components and the liner, I think there is a lot of room to make it better. 

How much of your working life is spent thinking about and working on gear?

That has dominated my life energy for the last 6 years, especially the boot project. I'm still working on skis too. The combination of working on the gear and setting up my own workshop, getting the machines, learning machining and all that – it's been a big rabbit hole. If I'm not skiing, I'm thinking about my shop and the gear. Now I'm at the point where I have most of what I need to build whatever I want. There are still some missing components though. 3D printing is coming into its own and has a lot of potential. For me personally that is huge because I don't have the CAD background to draw a ski boot, but I can build a boot if I can create the components. I can grind and weld and cut and now the technology is there to scan what I make and print the pieces like I want them. Anything that relies on plastic welding will always be fragile, so printing components in a way that reduces the need for that would be really exciting.

Sounds like you're shifting more and more to the gear development side of things and away from just the skiing?

Yeah, I'm trying to transition into that area. I am really keen on continuing in the ski industry like that. It seems like a very relevant way for me to continue, much more relevant than trying to compete with the 20 year olds hucking off stuff. I still do that, I've been filming and I'll keep doing it as long as people like the content I create, but I'm just as interested in the gear side of things, or even more so at this point, because it seems like a viable option for me moving forward. 

How long have you been in the ski industry?

I started trying to get in as a teenager, around 2000. I worked as a shaper building jumps and eventually moved to coaching. My big break was in 2004 when I started filming with MSP and also began working with 4Front. They gave me the opportunity to experiment with ski shapes and dive into the developing aspect. It's easy to forget nowadays but skiing was going through a major, radical change in the early 2000s. The small, upstart core brands were mostly responsible for the real innovations. If you look at skis now, the shapes are all pretty good. It didn't used to be that way.

How much does skiing owe snowboarding in this context?

In the 90s it almost killed skiing! Snowboarding forced a radical transition in the way people looked at the mountains and how you can ride powder. Skiing was very stagnant and focussed on small turns and long skis. You had to be a really good skier to ski powder.


Did snowboarding influence mostly the mindset, or was it also about ski design and new shapes?

Snowboarding brought twin tips and wider ski shapes. The rocker and taper stuff came from within skiing, I think. I personally wasn't looking at snowboard shapes and going form there. For me it was about trying a few things and learning what worked. Of course the floatation of wider skis and having twin tips was a huge change already. Without snowboarding we'd all still be doing jump turns and spread eagles!

Are you saying you don't like to do jump turns and spread eagles?

Well, I still can! That's the thing, our age demographic is lucky because we learned on traditional skis and had to hone our skills. Now you can take advantage of the new equipment and younger people never really learn to ski in the same way. Skis are so easy and so good that people can go wherever they want without having to be super good skiers. It's made the sport a lot more fun and accessible for a lot of people. It's good and bad.

What's bad about it?

I'm a biased and crusty old man and I like to see people who know how to angulate and have more of a classic skiing style, which isn't actually necessary anymore. If you've been exposed to it growing up you think it's the right way, but I don't know if it actually is the right way. It's amazing to watch the up and coming athletes and see what's possible. I think of that all the time. Even if I could transport my younger self from the early 2000s to the present day, I wouldn't be close to the top level of where people are now. 


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Do you follow the FWT?

Yeah, Jen and I watch it all the time because she coaches the freeride team here in Whistler. And I'm good friends with Markus Eder so I always cheer for him. I have a lot of respect for the competitors. They're really pushing it in less than ideal conditions. There's no faking it there. 

If you were 25 now, do you think you'd be on the tour?

Hopefully not! I'm not a very competitive person. I did a few competitions but never really got into it. I always liked the idea of being free and finding the mountains and the terrain. It's like creating a vision. It's a different process than going to a competition venue where you have a set day and time and someone says “Go!” and then you have ten seconds to go. The skill set is very similar - I would say the competition stuff is probably even harder - but the experience is different. 

Is it possible for someone starting out now to avoid the competition scene? If you're 20 and want to be a pro skier, how do you go about that these days?

I think it's both harder and easier than it ever has been. It's so easy with the tech - POV cameras and drones, even just cell phones have become so good and so accessible. If you're really a phenomenal skier with lots of talent, you can make great edits on your own, you don't need the big film companies anymore. The reason it's harder is that everyone can do it. The amount of good content is so high, it's easy to get lost in the mix. 

If you were starting out again yourself, would you do anything differently?

That's a tough one. I've been very fortunate and lucky. I've really done alright. Learning a bit more about business, contracts and the marketing side of it would have probably been helpful, looking back. A lot of my peers in a similar category and age group had sports marketing agents and were a bit more organized overall. Having a professional to promote you and communicate the value you bring to companies in terms of exposure can be very helpful. I never really wanted to think about that stuff much, because when things are working out and everything is good, you just want to go skiing.

So you were always your own manager?

Yes, totally. 

Would you say you've made it in the industry? Have you succeeded with what you set out to do as a teenager?

I think so. I've been extremely fortunate. I remember quitting ski racing and seeing all the cool new stuff, twin tips and the amazing ski movies – that was just my dream. I wanted to make it as an action athlete in ski films. And here we are 20 years later and I'm still doing that. I didn't kill myself, I'm not too badly broken. So yeah, I guess I made it. 


You've probably had some close calls?

I did push my limits and ability for long time. I definitely had some spectacular crashes. I really enjoyed the process of making the Hoji film and going through that footage. I realized two things: One is that I've had a lot of big crashes. We built a crash segment that was over 5 minutes of just the most violent, tomahawking, slamming, shattering falls. I must have watched that a hundred times and every time I think: “man, I'm so fucking lucky I can put my socks on in the morning.” 

The other interesting thing, and maybe I can give myself a small pat on the back for this, is that in all those years of filming there were only two shots of me in significant avalanche incidents. In the beginning there was a lot of luck involved there. Of course over time you see things happen and it wakes you up. You begin to pay attention and learn. Once you've made it – as we were just talking about – and you're established, you can be very patient and particular and really choose what you ski and when. Backcountry skiing is a very conditions dependent sport. You can't just go and ski what looks good. But when you're young and fearless and you haven't seen things go wrong, you have a different kind of drive and want to perform because you want to “make it”. I got lucky.

Does fear just come with age? 

I think it's a natural thing in all walks of life. The longer you're alive, the more people you know pass away and the more accidents you witness or hear about. I have memorial cards of comrades and friends hanging on my fridge. These were people I knew and loved. Everyone dies, that's part of life. But when people your age are gone, people that you know – that makes you pay attention. You have to acknowledge that there is a lot of risk involved in our sport. If you don't do that, you're either ignorant or you don't care. Just being out there so much, close calls happen. It all adds up and it affects you. Every time something happens, we need to try and understand it and learn from it.

Probably my closest call wasn't that long ago. We were totally caught off guard. We were focussed on a bigger objective that was clearly out because of temperature and sun, so we just went for a smaller, quick and easy thing that we boot packed up. The snow was super hard, we were front pointing on our boots. The whole slope slid as a hard slab and took both of us out. We got complacent there because we were so familiar and comfortable with the terrain. Deep instabilities are brutal. It is really hard to deal with low probability situations where there are catastrophic consequences if something does happen.


You travel all the time for work. More and more pro athletes seem to be advocating for climate change awareness and flying less – is that something you think about? 

Yes and no. I've had the greatest life as a professional athlete in a sport that doesn't really need to happen. It's an incredibly privileged, first world, white person life. I have a hard time telling people not to travel, while at the same time I tell them to buy all this plastic stuff that my sponsors make. I have a lot of respect for organizations like POW and industry folks who put their neck out there. But I'm kind of not there yet myself, I don't know how to reconcile my life with that message. As an individual I try to do what I can, but I have the career I have. I have to do my job. I'm not sure what the answer is. The world is going to need some major changes. Maybe the pandemic will be an eye opener of sorts, for everyone to take a big step back.

Thanks for taking so much time to talk. Is there anything else you want to say, to finish this off?

We should be more positive!

More positive about life in general?



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