The Art of Trust | Mattias Hargin
The mountain is a living, breathing creature. It’s its own master, not answering to anyone, a mass of rock surrounded by weather that constantly shifts and changes. It’s unpredictable. It can be unforgiving. The only certainty is that the mountain someday will truly put you to the test.
Mattias Hargin knows the powers of mountains only too well. In 2016, he lost his wife Matilda Rapaport in an avalanche in Chile. Since then, he has worked to increase safety in the mountains through the MM Rapaport Hargin Foundation. Today, the former World Cup alpinist shares his thoughts on being in Chamonix with the Helly Hansen crew for some big mountain skiing.
Less than a week before arriving in Chamonix, three-time Olympian Mattias announced that he will retire from the World Cup circuit. A 15 year-long adventure is over. It’s been a trip that has taken Mattias all over the world as a member of the Swedish Ski Team, a trip that includes winning the slalom event at the Hahnenkamm races in Kitzbühel in 2015. Now the slalom expert wants to seek new challenges. He has been living in Engelberg for years and leaving the alpine circuit will free up time to explore new mountains and ski more powder.
Mattias started skiing when he was three years old, and he remembers always being on the slope watching his four older siblings train and trying to follow their turns. Since then, it has been natural for him to surround himself with inspiring people that push each other, care for each other and trust each other. Meeting up with the Helly Hansen team here in Chamonix meant trying to build this trust fast. It was a group of skiers he didn’t know, and safety was high on the agenda during their first day together in the village. “I could really feel the other’s experience. So, from day one, I felt okay. It was obvious that this is a competent group, that I am going to feel safe with them, that I can trust them. That was really important to me.”
This trust was essential for the upcoming trip where they would put their shared experience to the test. “I think touring up to the Argentière Hut was great. Coming up to this amazing hut with a glacier and a massive wall of mountains in front. Planning the trip with the others in the evening, then getting up early and skinning through the glacier in the dark. We definitively needed all the experience in the group. I didn’t know the area. I didn’t have the knowledge to do it myself. So, it felt good to have experienced local guides that took the lead. Johann and Aurélien really knew what they were doing. They knew the area, the conditions, they had the most experience in the group, and it felt safe to follow their footsteps and movements in the mountains.”
In addition to being surrounded by good people, trusting your gear is truly important to Mattias. “When you’re out in the mountains you will have to trust your gear, you need the right equipment and you also need to know the equipment and how to use it.”
This has led Mattias to arrange Pop Your Airbag-events with the MM Rapaport Hargin Foundation back in Stockholm. These events let people try the avalanche airbag and let them experience what it feels to pull the trigger. “I think it’s very important to not only buy the backpack and just go out in the mountains, but also get a chance to experience how it actually works when you really need it.”
This doesn’t just apply to the backpack. “It relates to all the gear you’re bringing into the mountains. You must train to get better, and you have to keep on learning more about your gear. This applies to me as well, I want to learn more about my equipment, so I’m trying to spend time doing that. With the Foundation we try to spread this to other skiers – the importance of both having the right gear and train with it.”
Some people have argued that equipment like the airbag can make skiers overconfident and make them take too much risk. Mattias doesn’t agree with this. “No, I actually don’t think that the gear is pushing us to go over limits, I think it’s just important to have it and be able to trust it when you’re out in the mountains. It’s not only about the gear, you need to have a lot of knowledge about your surroundings and be able to read the signs from the mountain. That’s something I’m trying to learn.”
“Here in Chamonix, being around people with more experience than me, I’ve really been trying to ask questions and learn from them. It’s difficult and complicated, but the more you’re out there the more you’re learning, which will make you a better skier and a better person out on the mountain. I like it.”
For Mattias, the perfect day of skiing is going out with a couple of good friends and just ski together and enjoy the mountains. It’s about sharing the mountains with friends. Having the right equipment and knowing how to use it makes the experience even better. “The right gear, when you know it, can free you up to have more fun, to be safer, to perform better, and to make sure that you come home again.”
Going back to Engelberg is always a bonus, no matter how spectacular a trip has been, and Mattias looks forward to spending late season in the mountains he calls home. There, in the heart of the Swiss alps, the former alpine racer will continue his transition into backcountry skiing.