These two Swiss legends really require no introduction. Their story is long and fantastic and has been chronicled in many interviews and in some of the greatest snowboard movies ever made. But, for the sake of wholeness, we will lay out a brief background. Long-time friends, Nico Müller and Frederik Kalbermatten were first introduced when Nico’s mother took the family on holiday from Zürich to stay at The Dorfblick in Saas-Fee, which the Kalbermatten family owned. In an incredible snowboard-fairy tale sort of way, the two hit it off immediately, riding day in and day out throughout their teenage years, skating, spinning records and enjoying their shared interests. Toward the end of the ‘90s, the pair was signed to the Burton Rookie team and it was then that their paths began to split, as Nico filmed segments for Absinthe and Fredi for Standard. Over the next decade-plus, the two of them built legendary careers, riding our Earth’s most spectacular terrain and producing monumental video segments. Now, about 20 years after their initial introduction, Nico and Fredi find themselves in a more intimate position than they’ve been in years, both riding for the Mervin family, Gnu and Lib Tech, respectively. The style hat earned them their moniker has only improved over the past two decades, and they are now as they ever will be, The Dope Bros.
One of you is in Costa Rica and one of you is in the Swiss Alps. Are you both happy with that or would you prefer to swap places?
Fredi: I am pretty happy. I was snowboarding today and I am still a little bit over traveling. I spent five months in the States this summer with the family so I enjoy just being at home, knowing that winter is, maybe, around the corner and I will probably be gone again. At this time, I am happy here and don't want to be anywhere else.
Nico: It's pretty nice here, but I would be happy where Fredi is, too.
Fredi, you surf as well?
Fredi: Well, I have tried it before and will probably try it again. I have a respect for the ocean, for sure. To me, sometimes, it feels like a lot of work just to do a turn compared to snowboarding where you just strap in and go. Nico is really talented though.
Does your brand, Atreebutes, make swimwear?
Fredi: No, not right now. We have sampled in the past but with the new production, new factory and the way we produce and manufacture it's pretty much not possible to source the organic, from the ground up fabrics for swimwear.
What exactly does organic production mean?
Fredi: First of all, what we do, not every brand is doing it. We work with the Global Organic Textile Standard and they monitor the process from the ground up, from the seed to end production. Every supplier has to be certified though GOTS. A lot of brands offer organic cotton or say, "Look here, we have a small line, too. It's all organic," but when it comes to sourcing, they can't really track it down to the beginning. Lots of cotton ends up in warehouses and you just don't have transparency at all. We are really big on that. I don't want to just make clothes and say it's organic and fair. I want to prove it.
And everything is going well?
Fredi: Yeah. We develop our own fabric from scratch. In the new collection, every single piece is made from our own fabric. It's not stock fabric. That's really nice, not a lot of brands have that.
Glad to hear it. Let’s jump to the beginning real quick. I’ve read that you and Nico met at a young age when Nico's family came and stayed at your house, The Dorfblick, in Saas Fee and you guys hit it off right away. Kind of sounds like a fairy tale. Is that really how it went down?
Fredi: Yes, it is a fairy tale.
How old were you?
Nico: Teenagers. 14, maybe 15.
What age were you both put on the Burton team?
Fredi: 18, maybe?
Nico: Yeah, you were 18 and I was 17.
Right at the end of the ‘90s. The Burton team was stacked with legends then, huh? Quite a large team, too.
Nico: Maybe like 200 people. Michi Albin, Johan (Olofsson), Terje, Jason Brown, Kier Dillon, Ross Powers, all these people.
Do you remember your first Burton experience?
Fredi: Yeah like it was yesterday.
Nico: When we were first discussing the contract, one of the guys from Burton Europe met us at to the train station in Zurich and he was like, “So, what do you want?" “What do you mean,” we asked, and he's like, "Money?" We were like, "Oh shit, we are getting money!" (laughs). And yeah, we got our first contract. Our name actually was The Dope Bros. It's kind of cool that we are doing this interview because it means The Dope Bros are back. Back at Mervin!
Why The Dope Bros?
Nico: Oh you know, just because.
With that Burton deal, you guys kind of got put onto different video projects. Fredi you went on to film with Standard and Nico with Absinthe. You’ve worked on other projects since then as well, but now you are back together in the Mervin Family. Fredi, how psyched were you to hear that Nico would be joining Mervin and riding for Gnu?
Fredi: Pretty stoked! It's like it's all come full circle. It's funny in a way but it makes sense. I don't know if anybody would have predicted it two or three years ago. It's super cool having somebody like Nico on board for Mervin. They are so cool and so rad. They are snowboarders.
Nico: It really feels like family.
Did you have anything to do with him getting on, Fredi?
Fredi: No, not really. Everybody knows Nico, you know? It's pretty much a no-brainer. You don't need to suggest, “Hey, you should sponsor Nico Müller.” It's pretty clear.
Nico: Thanks, bro!
Even though you are technically on different board companies, it’s all Mervin. Do you think you guys will be working on any projects together?
Fredi: I would be stoked to do a trip or two together again. It depends a little on your project, Nico? How's that looking? Maybe a good question for the interview.
Nico: Let's do a trip! I am super charged here in Costa and am coming back to Europe in a couple days and snowboarding and filming until the summer. Where do you want to go Fredi?
Fredi: Probably no trip before Christmas.
Nico: Christmas is sacred riding at home.
Fredi: If I could pick, I would spend the whole season in Switzerland and then go to Alaska in April, or something like that. I guess it is hard to predict, like always. But yes, we have to do a trip, wherever the terrain and snow is good. I haven't been to Alaska for a couple years now. I'd be stoked if that would be the one trip. We have good mountains and usually good snow in Switzerland.
Nico, is there any news you can disclose on your movie?
Nico: Can't say too much, but the plan is the same and we will be releasing it at the end of 2016.
Fredi, how has being a father changed the way you look at traveling?
Fredi: When I was filming with Standard for example I used to spend two and a half months in the States in Tahoe but that was more because we had to at that time. Tahoe was always good every year snow-wise and all our filmers were based there. There wasn't really another option. We used to do trips too, but anyway, I think you can still do both - travel but just not be gone for two and half months. Look at Jussi for example, he has two kids and I think he has a pretty cool setup where he had his sled in Whistler for the season and then flew back home and would fly back to Canada according to the weather forecast. Of course, it's easier to do short trips if you don't have to cross the Atlantic every time but you know. I can be gone for 10 days no problem, and then, once in a while you have to charge you batteries again and just take a small break. Go home for the weekend or something like that. I am not traveling anymore like back in the day, where I am gone for two months or more. Last year I went to India for ten days total. You get a lot of stuff done in a week if conditions are good.
Will we be seeing kids any time soon from you Nico?
Nico: I don't think so (laughs). Depends what soon means, but I need to find a woman first.
That's usually a big part of it
Nico: That's what I hear.
Fredi: The challenge is to not just find a woman, but a good woman. Makes everything easier. For me, it helps being married to Nicole. Her brothers do the same thing so already knew how it is.
You are both on Mervin and have both been at this a long time. How has what is required or desired of you from your sponsors changed?
Nico: I think it's become more about what you want. You don't get this far into the game by having people tell you what to do. You are this far in the game because you are you and the longer you are in the game the more you can be yourself. That's your career. There are so many good kids coming up and they are in this very competitive mindset, which we used to be too and it's awesome, but there will come a time where you step out of that competition and you fulfill yourself and go your own way.
It seems there are quite a few kids who end up in situations where they are producing lots of content but are not receiving nearly what they should be in return. They are expected to carry more of a burden.
Nico: For sure. It's because at some point they are doing so much of what they've been asked to do that they've kind of forgotten who they are. They just say standard answers and they throw themselves over the big jumps and they've got the tricks, they know they do, but how does that make them different from this guy or that guy and how is that going to inspire someone to start snowboard or keep snowboarding? That's not the reason why the majority of us snowboard. We don't start to snowboard to become an Olympic champion and so you can tell that to the rest of the world. You snowboard because you forget about everything and you are having the time of your life and are in the moment. That's why people surf, why people snowboard, why people skate, because these things have another level. Snowboarding, skating and surfing have another level, and that's no rules. The only rule in riding is to pay attention to your self. Whatever will give you joy, you go that way. You work on that. The more you work at it, the more it will radiate, and then you have people who want to snowboard because of the shit you do. People want to buy the shit you wear because of who you are and not because it’s like, "Oh, he's the greatest." It's like, “That dude, he is himself and he is having a fucking blast. I want to do that.”
Do you feel a responsibility to show these kids you are referring to, who might feel pressure to be a certain type of snowboarder, that they can forge their own way?
Nico: They just look at Fredi and me and can see that it's possible. There is a life after competition, and that is what I want to show with my movie - from competition to fruition. Just speaking for myself, it is very hard when you are in that spot because you are at the contest and you are in the light and everybody wants a piece of you, It’s especially hard at that moment to kind of really listen to yourself. "Should I keep doing this or should I step away to fulfill what I really want?" That's not easy. For me, it was challenging, but it works. If you really want something, I think the universe conspires and helps you.
Whether it's in Saas Fee, Laax or elsewhere, who do you feel is on the right track?
Fredi: You know Max Buri? He comes to mind because he, as far as I know, doesn't compete and he is on a good way to do what we are doing. I rode a little bit with him last winter because he filmed with Absinthe too. It's just funny. He reminded me so much of Nico and myself back in the day and how we looked at the world and snowboarding. He is definitely learning still. He is young and doesn't have that much experience yet but he is going for it, looking at stuff to hit in the backcountry that other people his age probably wouldn't see.
Nico: Max is a good example. There are others as well. Fredi and I used to compete a lot, too. There are guys competing now and they can have a bright future after competition too. Time will tell, but I have faith. David Hablützel is another example. He is so amped about everything in snowboarding. There probably will come a time where it feels like Groundhog Day at the contest and you just take that passion to the next level.
Interesting point. People are very quick to categorize or label a rider based on what they are riding currently. People maybe forget sometimes that this isn't a race. There's no end to it. You can be one snowboarder when you are 15, and by the time you are 25, or 35, a completely different snowboarder. In fact, that's most likely to happen.
Nico: Like you said, as humans, we are so quick to put a label or a word on something. How can you label a human being who is so awesome at snowboarding as "a contest rider" or this or that. How can two words possibly describe a human being? There are not enough words to describe that. It's cool that you say that because I am reading Eckhart Tolle right now and he says that is one of our biggest problems. We just label something with one word, but that one word could never describe even a fragment of what the thing is. It kind of limits us so much.
Laax is a place where there are plenty of kids with great style, Sevi Van Der Meer, for example, who may be spending most of their time riding the park or competing right now, but you can see that once they get out there, they've got that flair and style to their riding. Just need the opportunity.
Nico: Dude, he is so dope. I was actually going to say he before. I just talked to Justin and am trying to get him into the Absinthe lineup for this year.
Yes, make it happen! Ok, one of you lives in Laax, one in Saas Fee. What do each of you like most about your spot and would you ever switch places for the winter?
Fredi: The set up we have is pretty cool, actually. Nico always has a room here in Saas Fee when he wants, and I can do the same for Laax. I think that is an advantage, more than any one in particular being better than the other. In Saas Fee, we only get snow if it comes from the south. And Laax is more from the North. It's not always that way, but it is really rare if it is good at both places at the same time as far as snow goes. That's pretty cool. They are not too far apart.
Nico: Laax has a really good pipe in the winter and then you can go ride pow in Saas Fee at the end of April when it's like total spring. It's the best of both worlds.
Fredi: And sometimes in September on the glacier. Personally, of course I prefer Saas Fee. I live here. I know the mountain better than I know Laax. My setup is pretty awesome. I live next to the gondola, which means I can ride all the way to my house. I like the long runs we have. From top to bottom is almost a 2,000-meter vertical. Because Saas Fee is 1,800 meters above sea level, if we have snow, it's usually powder all the way down to the village. 2,000 meter runs full of powder. If you do that three times a day, you've rode a lot.
Sounds perfect. Let's wrap this one up boys. Any other projects or things you want to mention?
Fredi: I don't know for sure yet, maybe film with Absinthe. I guess it also depend on Nico and how much he wants to shred with me. I'd be stoked. It's always fun hanging and shredding together. We will see what happens.
And you, Nico?
Nico Müller: Pura vida! I will slash one for you guys.
Fredi: Please do!