The Swedish Perspective
Sweden’s Mattias Fredriksson has been shooting some of the most beautiful photos in mountain biking for close to 25 years. Read on to learn more about him and how he got to where he is now.
The Aosta Valley in Italy is one of my favorite places to shoot, and Grivola is one of my favorite mountains. This pointy beauty is “just” 3,969 meters (13,022 feet), and because it is under 4000 meters, it is not so famous but a real gem in the Gran Paradiso National Park. This trail between Pila and Cogne lined up perfectly with the mountain in the background, as Massimo Ferro, Karen Eller and Holger Meyer rode down it.
The MBA Q&A
TALKING WITH MATTIAS FREDRIKSSON
MBA: Birthplace and date?
During the 2001 World Cup finals in downhill in Leysin, Switzerland, it was pouring rain. Instead of going up the mountain to shoot the classic action shots, I decided to stay down at the finish line and capture the riders after the race. I put black-and-white film in my camera and started documenting the day. My favorite shot from this day is of Katja Repo, who won the race and was completely covered in mud. It is one of my most iconic bike photos of all time.
Mattias Fredriksson: I was born in Växjö, in the southern part of Sweden, July 26, 1974.
MBA: Where did you grow up?
My partner Elle Cochrane and I have a dog, a Siberian Husky called Tikaani, which means wolf in Inuit. He loves to join us for ski touring, hikes and mountain biking. This photo was from one of his first real bike rides when we still lived in Sweden, and it’s a nice memory from our time there. Elle and Tikaani celebrate the ride in Trillevallen with a high five.
MF: I also grew up there. Later on I moved to Riksgränsen, in the very north of Sweden, which is a tiny ski resort, where I worked as a cleaner at the only hotel. That gave me a chance to live there and ski every day. In my spare time, I started to shoot photos, and slowly I learned the ropes about photography and the outdoor industry.
MBA: When did you get interested in mountain biking?
The Aosta Valley has some of the best mountain biking in the Alps, and with its location just south of the Mont Blanc massif, it sure is one of the most beautiful regions. Here Karen Eller, Lisa Breckner and Kathrin Schön take a break during a beautiful summer evening near Pila.
MF: It was when I was in Riksgränsen. I stayed one summer up there and started to ride mountain bikes. It was a little mountain bike scene up there and great trails, so it was easy to get hooked. This was in 1994-1995, around that time.
MBA: How and when did you get interested in mountain bike photography?
I lived in the mountain town of Åre in the Swedish province of Jämtland for 20 years. The UCI Mountain Biking World Championships were held there in 1999, which created a big interest for mountain biking. Ever since then, this little town in northern Sweden has taken steps towards being what I would describe as Scandinavia’s Whistler. There is a great bike park in Åre with lots of trails and a unique bike culture. It was my studio for 20 years, and I still publish a lot of my timeless photos from this great place. Here, my partner Elle Cochrane is captured riding together with our friend Janne Tjärnström.
MF: It was around the same time I got interested in mountain biking. I was an intern for Lars Thulin, a local photographer who shot for Patagonia, Bike and Powder at the time. He brought me along and taught me a lot. It was a lot of ski photography and snow adventures in the winter, and in the summer he shot a lot of mountain biking. I had just started riding a bit more myself, and naturally I tried to shoot it, too. Early on, I shot a lot of competitions and events. That was a great learning process and a chance to shoot a lot. That led to a great relationship with FunSport Mountainbike magazine, at the time Sweden’s only mountain bike magazine. They gave me a lot of assignments and even sent me to Atlanta in 1996 to cover mountain biking’s debut in the Olympics. Shortly after, I became the editor for the magazine, which was another great experience.
The ride between Lenzerheide and Arosa is a spectacular route through a tight valley, surrounded by high peaks. Near Arosa lies the glacier-fed Älplisee, which is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in this region. The trail goes right next to the lake. It is such a beautiful stretch, so when Janne Tjärnström and I came by, we just had to stop for some photos.
MBA: How many years have you been shooting mountain bikes now?
MF: About 25 years.
ANTI Days of Thunder was an event put on in Hafjell, Norway, in 2008 and 2009. It was progressive, big-mountain riding with massive jumps and a good-vibe type of event. A lot of the riders who came from all around the world have been instrumental in the progression of our sport, including Sam Reynolds, who got a late invite in 2009 and surprised everybody with his riding. Just look at this backflip no-foot can!
MBA: Where and when did you get your first photos published?
MF: I published my own fanzine at the age of 11–12 years old. It was called Heavy, and the content was about punk rock and heavy metal. My first photos were published there. They were, of course, horrible. Later on, I started to work for local newspapers. I think I was 17 years old. Then I mostly wrote but also got my first photos published. My first photo in a magazine was in 1994 when Åka Skidor magazine published my first ski photo. That was huge, and I still work a lot with this magazine. It is one of the oldest ski magazines in the world.
The west coast of Norway is one of the most spectacular places for photography and mountain biking. I used to live in a small mountain town in Sweden, close to the Norwegian border, before moving to Canada, and then I spent a lot of time in Norway. I love it there and still try to go for a trip every year. This place is pretty famous. The Geiranger Fjord has tourists coming from all over the world, but unfortunately most of them arrive in cruise ships, which pollutes the nature.
MBA: Were you working or going to school back then?
MF: I went to journalism school for one year. Then I got assigned to go to the U.S. to interview Gary Fisher and cover a Michelin tire launch. The school would not let me take a week off, so I followed my gut feeling and quit school. I never looked back.
Narvik in northern Norway is one of the most spectacular places I know for mountain biking. Some of the trails come down the mountain straight above the fjord. With its northern location, on the 67th parallel, the summer nights are long. This shot of local hero Micke af Ekenstam and Janne Tjärnström was taken at 9:30 p.m., and it’s still bright out for another half hour!
With 40 peaks over 4000 meters and amazing bike trails, Zermatt in Switzerland sure is a photogenic place. This is Stephen Matthews, same day as the other shot from Zermatt
MBA: What are some of your favorite places for shooting mountain bike photos?
MF: All over Norway, northern Sweden, Aosta Valley in Italy, and Valais in Switzerland. There are so many places. Mainly, I like to explore new places and tell unique stories.
Retallack is a unique bike destination in the Kootenays, not far from the cool little town of Nelson in the southeast part of British Columbia, Canada. Retallack is a snowcat-skiing operation in the wintertime, but in the last five years it has made a name for itself as an amazing place for biking. With a worldclass network of trails, shuttle transportation to the top and a guided program, this is a truly unique place. Here, Santa Cruz Bicycles’ Seb Kemp rips up one of the trails near the lodge.
MBA: Who are some of your favorite riders?
MF: My good buddy Janne Tjärnström from Åre (where I used to live before moving to Canada), Stephen Matthews and Martin Söderström.
Lenzerheide in Switzerland was hosting the UCI World Championships in mountain biking last year and has become a well-known bike destination over the last few years. As with many places in the Graubünden region, there are lots of great trails and amazing possibilities to explore in these mountains.
MBA: What other things do you like to photograph?
MF: Skiing, mountains, hiking, traveling and my dog Tikaani.
I lived in Squamish here in British Columbia before moving north. The riding there is incredible, and the nature feels like a gigantic greenhouse with all aspects of green. My buddy Fraser Newton works for Anthill Films and is also a great bike mechanic, but mainly he is a total ripper on the bike, like here, on one of my favorite trails in town, Rupert!
MBA: What’s the hardest part about your job?
MF: Waiting for weather and the traveling. But, at the same time, the reward after waiting for amazing light is one of the highlights, so I don’t mind. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize how lucky I am having this job; it is pretty amazing.
Val d’Annivers is one of the most beautiful valleys in Switzerland’s Valais region. Two summers ago, I spent a few weeks here and explored the mountains with a few friends. This place is above the little mountain town of St Luc, and the riders are Chris Winter, Julia Hoffman and Stephen Matthews.
MBA: What’s your current camera?
MF: Nikon D850 bodies and a bunch of Nikkor lenses. And my iPhone!
After the Deep Summer Photo Challenge in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2009, my buddy and editor for our slideshow, Dave Mossop from Sherpas Cinema, asked me for a favor. He and his friends were making a mountain culture magazine in Squamish at the time, and they needed a cover shot. He had an idea with a dressed-up theme, so I asked if Martin Söderström could ride at the dirt jumps dressed as Spiderman. We added some other characters in there to make it extra weird. It turned out pretty funny!
MBA: What are your favorite lenses?
MF: I mainly use only three lenses: a 16-35 f/4, a 28-70 f/2.8 and a 70-200 f/4. Light and fast!
The Romsdal region in Norway is a very popular place for backcountry skiing, mountaineering, trail running and nowadays mountain biking. Parts of Romsdal are very alpine and rugged, but Tarløysa, just above the Romsdalsfjord, is a bit less steep and has an amazing trail leading down from the mountain. We hit it in magical light and Janne Tjärnström nailed the mark for my shot.
MBA: If you could give aspiring photographers three tips to help them get better photos of mountain biking, what would you tell them?
MF: Make sure you are into the sports you like to shoot, so ride your bike—a lot. Then you will understand the culture of the sport. After that, document it.
Pack light. Make sure you can ride anywhere you want and don’t let a too-heavy camera bag stop you.
Have patience—and passion. It takes time to establish yourself in the adventure and mountain biking world. Be prepared to spend some years working it, and don’t expect things to happen too fast. Attend trade shows and events. Write good pitches, and try to make connections in the industry. And make sure you have the passion for mountain biking. It does not matter how good the photos you take are— you must love the sport. It will show otherwise. And realize one thing: you will not get rich shooting biking, but you will have a great lifestyle. That is worth a lot.
Stephen Matthews is the global brand manager for Rocky Mountain Bicycles, but honestly is as good of a rider as some of the athletes he sponsors. On this particular trip, we had already wrapped it after an epic week going hut to hut in the Swiss Alps, but our travel schedules got changed, so we got a bonus day in Zermatt. It was “all-time,” so I could not stick to the promise of not shooting any photos, and this one came out really nice.
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