Nalu Nussbaum is one of the up-and-coming stars of Switzerland’s freestyle ski community. His parents were part of the scene when the sport was born in the 1970s.
A yellowing photo hangs on the wall of Nalu Nusbaum’s bedroom. It shows his father, Nick, who back in the 1970s was one of the earliest freeskiers in the Engadin, per - forming a daredevil front flip over the bar of the Alpina mountain hut on the Corviglia. Surrounded by this spirit, Nalu grew up to become a talented freeskier himself. As two of the founders of the Engadin’s freestyle scene, Nalu’s parents had the chance to stand in as stunt doubles countless times when they were younger, often for productions by the film-maker Willy Bogner. “Already back then, in the lateseventies and eighties, we filmed 360s and backflips without GoPros or drones,” Nick recalls. Instead, scenes in terrain that was difficult to access were filmed from a helicopter or on skis specially developed by Bogner. These had curved-up tips and tails that allowed the cameraman to ski backwards and film the skiers in action at the same time. This was no easy task: the cameras were bulky, weighed about 16 kilos, and scenes were shot on the steepest slopes and on glaciers riddled with crevasses. The films made back then now enjoy cult status, such as “Fire and Ice” and the James Bond movies “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “A View to a Kill”: classics that Nalu grew up with.
Nalu, whose name means “Wave” in Hawaiian, was born in 2001 and grew up in the Engadin and Ticino. He attended the Swiss Olympic school in Tenero, and is a member of the Swiss Ski athlete pool. He describes himself as a dreamer and thinks the answer to the question about his free time is obvious: “Sport is my life.”
“I passed on my passion and respect for my beloved sport and for nature to Nalu from a young age, and to see him jump and fly through the air today – all that makes me proud and happy,” Nick says. But he adds: “Of course I also fear for him. The risks that kids face today are enormous. The triple and quadruple flips, sometimes with four or more twists – we never even dreamt of that.” Nick’s respect conceals a hint of regret about the wacky tricks that the new generation can do. “I wish we had the same opportunities back then to discover new things. There was no Instagram, no YouTube. When anyone brought a magazine back from the USA, it got read avidly until all the pages had fallen out. The inspiration came mostly from inside.” The professionalisation of the sport is also obvious in the Nussbaum family: already by the time Nalu was 10, his father had little more to teach him in terms of jumps and tricks. However, that never stopped the pair from pursuing their passion for their sport together
Nick was born in Ticino, and has been a ski instructor, body and soul, at Suvretta Snowsports for 40 years. To create action sequences for Willy Bogner’s film productions, Nick and the filmmaker would make giant kickers by hand using shovels. To this day, if Nick sees a kicker, he cannot resist jumping off it.
Whatever snowboarders can do, skiers can do, too: the spectacular sport of freeskiing is effectively the equivalent on two skis of freestyle snowboarding. Both sports feature the same competition disciplines: Slopestyle, Big Air and Halfpipe. In Slopestyle, athletes ski or snowboard down a course made up of kickers (for jumps) and slide features such as rails and boxes. In Big Air the riders do just one jump, but they may fly up to 25 metres through the air and up to seven metres above the snow. In Halfpipe, they once again display a variety of tricks, jumping up to five metres above the lip of the halfpipe. In all three disciplines, a jury evaluates performance. Important criteria include the height of jumps, difficulty and quality of execution.