Sheffield’s dry-slope freestyle prodigy turned Red Bull film star and producer Paddy Graham takes us on a tour of his home turf and the myriad ski areas surrounding the Tirolean city of Innsbruck
Matt Clark: How many years have you been skiing?
Paddy Graham: I started skiing when I was 11, so… how old am I now? 29 – so 18 years! Damn, that’s a long time! I begun on the dry slope in Sheffield, and skied there until I was 15. Then I did my first season when I was 16, in Serre Chevalier. After that I did five seasons in Laax, before moving to Innsbruck. And I’ve been here ever since!
MC: Why base yourself in Innsbruck?
PG: The friends I skied with at the time, and still ski with now [the Legs of Steel crew], moved here to study and to be closer to the Alps. We’d often go filming and go to competitions together, so they were like “why don’t you just move here and live with us, so we can go skiing all the time and make a ski movie?” They rented a house and said “there’s a room for you – you coming?” So I did. Plus Innsbruck is a really good base – close to so many ski areas and it’s better than going back to the UK after every winter season. It’s great in the summer too, with lots to do.
MC: Tell us about your first skiing experience in Innsbruck?
PG: I think my first time skiing here would have been in the autumn-time, so probably the Kaunertal or Stubai glacier. But that winter we used to ski tour up behind the house a lot, and also skied at Schlick 2000 quite a bit, a small resort at the entrance of the Stubai valley, just a 10-minute drive from Innsbruck.
MC: How many days total have you skied in/around Innsbruck over the years?
PG: Perhaps not as many as you might think, as I go away on trips a lot. But I’d say a good 40-50 days a season around Innsbruck. So probably 3-400 days total, I guess. I don’t just ski around Innsbruck though, but all of the Tirol – sometimes Zillertal, sometimes the Arlberg.
MC: Tell us about your best ever day skiing in Tirol
PG: It was the start of the 11/12 season, before Christmas, and I’d just come back from an ACL injury. It was probably my second or third time back on skis, and we took the lift up Nordkette [a small but steep resort with lifts directly from Innsbruck city centre]. It was the deepest snow ever, powder top to bottom, with only me and Pally [Learmond] and a couple of snowboarders. Though, on my last run I hit a handrail from one of the walking paths – my skis went under it but I went over the top. I was like “oh no, not again” but it was fine in the end!
MC: Favourite funny crash story?
PG: Probably that last one! But also when I blew my knee in Sölden; we were hitting a special jump feature and there was this side hit, onto an ungroomed landing with a few rocks. I covered them up with snow and was like “oh I’ll never hit those…” and what happened? Yeah I hit them, and blew my knee and got a big gash on my butt cheek, too. Oops!
MC: Have you ever been banned or chased by patrol?
PG: No, not really. Though pretty much every liftie in Tirol is angry, so you do get shouted at sometimes. For example, the little lift at the park in Nordkette – it’s only about 50 metres long but if you don’t put the bar down they’ll turn the whole thing off! I don’t think there are as many rules in Europe as in America and Canada though, so it’s usually pretty chilled.
MC: Which is your favourite ski lift and why?
PG: Well, the best lift is probably the Hungerburgbahn here in Innsbruck – going straight from the city to the top of Hafelekar [Nordkette’s main mountain] in about 30 minutes. That’s just an amazing lift, because when the snow’s good it’s such a sick place to ski – super-steep with lots of cool lines right above the city.
MC: One thing we shouldn’t miss in Innsbruck?
PG: Don’t miss out on the regional ski passes [like the one-week Olympia Pass] and season passes, because then you get the chance to ski a bunch of different resorts and try somewhere new every day.
MC: Tell us something we don’t know about Innsbruck
PG: They film Channel 4’s The Jump here [at Kühtai] every year; they all stay in Innsbruck so you can do a bit of celebrity spotting! What else? Not may people realise how easy and quick it is to drive to Italy; you can ski here one day then drive over the ridge and get totally different weather and snow skiing on the Italian side. Even Venice is only about three hours’ drive away.
MC: What is the best thing to eat in Innsbruck?:
MC: Which is your favourite bar for an après-ski beer?
PG: We don’t really get proper après-ski here in Innsbruck, but there’s Kater Noster, a chilled lounge-style bar, and Brennpunkt which serves fantastic coffee, good beer and even free wifi too.
MC: Best local superstition?
PG: It’s not really a superstition, but there’s the warm föhn wind that comes from the south sometimes, which is kind of a mystery – it always seems to give everyone a headache.
MC: Is there anywhere we should avoid?
PG: Avoid big resorts like Mayrhofen when you’re in the area during peak season – they get so busy. And particularly avoid driving to Stubai in the holiday period, as sometimes 30-40,000 people drive up there and the traffic jams get so bad you don’t even make it to the hill!
Paddy and the rest of the Legs of Steel gang have just released their latest ski film, Same Difference. Watch the trailer here, and head to legsofsteel.film to find out where you can see the full film.
►Freeride, Freestyle and Alpine racing united! Legs of Steel releases a detailed preview for the upcoming multi-discipline ski film ‘Same Difference’. True to the credo – ‘a film about skiers’, this documentary will provide a one of a kind view into skiing’s diversity.