"We have an intuitive connection when we ski. This adds another dimension to our relationship.“
From being trapped outside mountain huts in their underwear to rapelling each other down couloirs, the relationship between Johanna Stålnacke and Tom Grant is far from dull. In our latest short film, The Lines That Bind, we explore the unique dynamic between this mountaineering couple as they adventure to the extreme. We have delved behind the scenes to learn more about how being in a relationship influences their adventures and the risks they're prepared to take...
1. So how long have you been skiing together?
JS: "We have been skiing together since we began dating in the winter of 2016."
2. Can you remember the first steep line you completed together?
JS: "The first steep line we skied together was the South Face of the Aiguille Rochefort. It almost began disastrously, the night before we accidentally locked ourselves out of the hut at 9pm at 3500m. We were alone and stranded outside in our underwear! Luckily, we managed to squeeze through a window… The skiing was steep, we had to keep rapelling and Tom had a flight to catch later that day - I remember thinking, if we have to do this one more time he's going to miss his flight!"
TG: "Skiing such a serious line for the first time with Johanna I had to have full trust in her that she wasn’t going to make a technical mistake and I felt that from the start. It had only been skied a handful of times before and it was the first female descent."
3. How has your skiing partnership progressed since then?
TG: "Since then we’ve helped each other become better skiers. We motivate each other to explore new lines, train, be creative and try to keep progressing. When we ski together it creates an amazing energy and connection between us. It’s also fun trying to impress each other and we both have a playful side that comes out when skiing."
JS: "We have both developed as skiers, inspiring each other to become more creative and expressive in our styles and Tom has given me the tools to evolve my steep skiing. I think skiing together has extended my personal ski style to become more powerful, more expressive and varied on the whole. I like that type of artwork!"
4. How do you prepare yourselves to ski a big line?
JS: "It’s important to be in tune with the conditions and the mountains. The easiest way to do this is by being up there, skiing every day. Checking the weather and avalanche bulletin becomes a ritual but the most important information is always gathered in real time, in the mountains."
TG: "Mental preparation comes through years of experience and knowing yourself but there are also little tricks you can use in the moment too. We both like to train and keep ourselves in top physical shape and this also gives confidence when skiing a big line."
5. In the film, you talk about knowing each other really well, do you think this keeps you safer because you aren’t afraid to express doubt or concern?
TG: "For sure, we have nothing to prove to each other and looking after our safety is a top priority when skiing with someone you love so much. I think we are very honest with each other and we have a similar threshold for risk in many situations. Although no matter who you are skiing with, it's really important to express concerns and I think neither of us is afraid to do that."
6. Do you feel differently skiing with one another than you do when just with friends?
TG: “Johanna might not always like me saying this, but I sometimes get a bit stressed and worried if I perceive she is taking some risk. I trust her very much, but I’ve seen too much happen in the mountains to pretend she isn’t sometimes in risky situations and I feel protective of her. We have a great intuitive connection when we ski together and sharing such an all-consuming passion adds another dimension to our relationship.“
JS: "We have a strong mutual trust and understanding for each other’s capabilities and we are very in tune. As a team there is 100% honesty and no doubt about that shared responsibility, we discuss and respect each other’s opinions - often better on the mountain than at home, ha! It makes decision making easier."
7. Do you ever feel nervous before dropping into a steep line?
JS: "It is very rare that I feel very nervous before dropping in, I wouldn't allow myself to be out of control in that moment because it is simply too dangerous. I use some mental tools that trigger the right mindset. I see and FEEL myself ski, where to put the turn and where to go. I trust my body to handle what I cannot see in advance and let curiosity energize me as I calmly plan my way.”
TG: "If I feel overly nervous, it could be a sign that something isn’t right or I’m not on my game. I’m usually nervous, but in a calm and focused way. I like the idea of using rituals at the top of a line, going through the same familiar preparations before skiing. I try and plan where I'll turn but I don't overthink what I’m about to do. My body knows exactly what to do and I try to let my subconscious take over if I’m skiing fast."
8. What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
TG: "A guide who was a mentor once said to me, ‘don’t try to be the best, because the best are all dead.’ In such a high consequence sport, we have to remember this and follow our own path, doing what feels right for us."
JS: "I think I grew up with that north Swedish stubbornness to try hard and never give up. In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I have been given is - ‘It’s always too early to give up’. Get back on the horse and don’t try to be like everyone else. I like making my own tracks and the rewarding feeling that comes with that."
9. What’s the biggest misconception people have when it comes to steep skiing and how do you challenge those ideas?
JS: "People perceive steep skiers as being these crazy adrenaline junkies, driven by taking excessive risk. In reality, what we are seeking is not high adrenaline levels or to get a kick of life danger, it's about the complexity of combining different technical skill sets such as freeriding and mountaineering. The decision making and mental aspects involved also offer a great sensation of mastery and satisfaction in amazing nature."
10. Finally, do you have any advice for someone wanting to take their freeriding up a notch?
TG: "If you’re able to, go and live in a mountain town where there are motivated and experienced people you can learn from. Ski as much as possible, working on both technical and mental aspects. Learn about what it takes to stay safe and make the right decisions. Ski with better skiers and learn from them. Don't just ski tour, get in mileage from using lifts too and you can always hire Johanna or I to guide and coach you!"
It is fascinating to see how Johanna and Tom's relationship augments their abilities in the mountains. The connection they share enables them to experience and accomplish far more when it comes to stretching the boundaries of steep skiing. Watch them in action in our latest short film: