Can you do better and more epic skiing, have more fun than ever and save the planet a bit at the same time? That was the question professional skier and filmmaker Nikolai Schirmer (28) asked himself when he decided to start the climate and film project Endless Winter in the autumn of 2018.
Text: Lone Helle. Photo: Private
Skiing down steep mountainsides on silky powder snow is the best thing Nikolai Schirmer knows. As a professional skier and filmmaker, he has made a living in recent years by travelling the world making epic ski films from the coolest ski destinations in the world.
“As a skier, you certainly notice the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures mean less snow. When you travel to Japan or Argentina to ski in the mountains, only to discover that the temperature is warm and the snow conditions are poor, you know deep down that the flight you have just taken is contributing in the long run to the disappearance of winter. Naturally it’s not a 1:1 ratio but feels a bit like pissing in your pants. The link between skiing and climate is very strong. It feels pretty senseless to know that you are contributing to destroy what you love most,” says Schirmer.
When the 28-year-old discovered that his annual CO2 emission was around 40 tonnes, he decided to try to do something about it. He set himself a target of reducing this to 12 tonnes, which is the level of the average Norwegian. This was the start of the film and climate project Endless Winter. The aim was to see if he could do more and better skiing, have at least as much fun but avoid travelling the earth. To put it simply: Do more but reduce his climate footprint – and make three ski films in the process.
From surf to ski
Schirmer grew up on top of Tromsø’s main island, overlooking majestic mountains such as Bentsjordtind and Blåmann from the living room window. It’s easy to think he grew up skiing, but as a child he dreamed of being something completely different.
“I actually wanted to be a professional surfer! There are not so many waves in Tromsø, so I often travelled to Lofoten. I didn’t discover the ski culture until I was 12 or 13 years. I was attracted by the freedom and because it was fun. There were no coaches; it was all about friendship, play and fun. I have never liked organised activities, so when we started freeriding it was like a counterbalance to organised skiing with mogul skiing and the like. It was about regaining our freedom. We went to Kroken every day to do skiing,” says Schirmer.
After finishing upper secondary school, Schirmer got his first sponsors. It provided money, but not enough to survive. Three summer jobs and a diet of porridge helped fund ski trips to the Alps in the winter. After a while he started studying law, which fitted perfectly with his lifestyle as a skier.
“Studying law was great because there were no compulsory lectures. I spent four seasons in Chamonix and travelled to South Africa and Southeast Asia to surf. After all, you get financial support to study and NOK 100,000 a year comes in handy,” says Schirmer.
He eventually completed his studies and for the last two years Schirmer has worked full-time as a skier and filmmaker. He combines his own film projects with commercial jobs and sponsorship assignments for clothing and equipment brands such as Sweet Protection and Norrøna.
“One day I began to question my own lifestyle. Did I really need to travel around the world to provide the content my sponsors and followers expect, or would it be possible to do things in a better and more sustainable way and also achieve a better result?”
“I’ve always done what I thought I needed to do to be a professional skier, like my ski heroes. I thought I had to fit a stereotype of what a pro skier is, but the Endless Winter project has proven to me that I was wrong to think that. I just hadn’t explored the alternatives to flying around the world to do heli-skiing in Japan or Whistler in Canada every time the opportunity arose.”
Can a person influence?
“Yes! I get paid to influence people to buy things, including as a Norrøna ambassador. When I go ski touring and post a story on Instagram from a nice mountain, it doesn’t take long until I get messages asking where I am. By the following day, many new people have been there. By raising awareness about our climate footprint, maybe I can influence people to think a bit more about their own emissions,” says Schirmer, who has looked closely at his own climate accounts.
He believes that the more you read about climate and sustainability, the harder it is not do something.
“Knowledge changes patterns of behaviour. What is unique when it comes to sustainability and climate is that this commitment must come from within. Very little is regulated. For instance, there is currently no tax on CO2 emissions, and we won’t get that without outside pressure that can contribute to holding people accountable about the climate.
Schirmer decided to use his voice to create awareness about climate emissions and how people can make a difference.
He believes that much of the problem with climate-related issues is that there is often a very negative focus.
- People really just want to have a good time! If the solutions to the problem are irritating and the result of doing nothing is also irritating, it’s hard to motivate people to make actual changes. The solution is to show that you can work to solve the problem and make it cooler at the same time. Immediately it becomes more motivating to make changes. Consequently, the aim of the project has been to do what I have always done, just in a more environmentally friendly way and have even more fun,” says Schirmer.
To achieve this, Schirmer has flown less, spent longer in the same place and become a vegetarian to reach the goal of lowering his CO2 emission. The three ski films were filmed in Tromsø and on the island of Kvaløya, in Tyrol in Austria and in Lyngen.
“I’ve rigged myself in a far better way. In 2018, I made 20 episodes for a web series. I spent the whole time flying around and I worked with professional photographers. In 2019, I’ve scaled my project down to three episodes. I have replaced the Hollywood folks with my closest and best friends, and I’ve spent longer in each place. It shines through in the result,” says Schirmer.
“People want to see good experiences on the mountain and that you’re having fun with your friends. The feeling of standing on the summit of a mountain in Lakselvbukt in Lyngen with my friend, Krister Kopala, and seeing the wonderful terrain we didn’t know about and the sun shining...yes, we were completely ecstatic. This project has been far more authentic than a lot of the other things I’ve done.”
What are your best tips for others who want to have a more conscious relationship with their own climate impact?
“Visit the website Ducky.eco and calculate your personal carbon footprint. You can enter information about your life and find out the extent of the emissions you are responsible for. I started with 40 tonnes. You can also enter the changes you make and see the effect of these. It was interesting to see with my own eyes which of my emissions had the biggest impact. Flying was my worst one so therefore my main change was to fly and travel less,” says Schirmer, adding:
“I reduced the number of flights I took and decided to spend more time at the places I visited. I also became more aware of the climate-related costs of things. Once you start counting and becoming conscious, something happens with your mindset. I was in Innsbruck when a photographer from a ski destination about an hour’s drive away called asked if I wanted to be in a shoot with Red Bull. I thought cool, but is it really worth it? Suddenly, I related to emissions in the same way as my bank account.”
Has it been worth it?
“Yes. I’ve skied a lot with my best friends. We have been extremely lucky with the skiing conditions. Good pre-season here in Tromsø, the best January season in the Alps since the 60s, and insane experiences in Lyngen. I’ve had the best winter of my life.”
Watch the films here:
The film series was made in collaboration with among others #pantforpudder and Infinitum Movement, which Schirmer is also ambassador for. The third and final film was released on 18 November 2019.
Endless winter 1: Skiing where the sun never rises
Endless winter 2: Saving the planet and the deepest winter in a decade
Endless winter 3: I’ve never seen anybody ride that fast!