It’s the beginning of December and thanks to a storm, that has brought 80 cm´s of fresh snow in the last 48 hours, Laax Ski Resort in the Graubünden Canton in Switzerland, has just opened it´s lifts. I’m standing above the treeline on a knoll, focusing on a skier above me. Dressed in a loose yellow jacket, the skier approaches the knoll in a tuck with no poles. He pops off the natural take-off and soars right pass me upside down.
The backflip over-rotates slightly and the skier ends on his back a few meters below me. He gets up laughing with his brown eyes beaming, shakes the snow off his dark hair and beard, and continues skiing, as if nothing happened.
Words: Jaakko Järvensivu, Photos: Ethan Stone
By Ahmet Dadali´s standards, nothing did happen. Raised in western New York and influenced by hip hop culture, Dadali is known internationally as the master of urban street stunts on skis, who is not afraid to have a go at tricks in sketchy environments. Sometimes pulling off a particular trick might require several attempts, a busted lip or a broken nose. Landed jumps have been included in several classic Level 1 ski movies, countless internet videos and iconic ski photos.
After the jump we head into the trees next to the Plaun lift with Ethan Stone – editor of Downdays Magazine and Dadali´s friend. Dadali skis with the speed and confidence of a professional freeskier. His N.Y. jib background is evident both in the baggy clothes and his preference to ski without poles, the latter brings a certain element of unpredictability into his skiing: the turns aren’t rhythmic and are often mixed up with sudden starve turns or hand drags.
The pine forest is not too dense, the snow is light and other skiers scarce – I’ve had worse season openers. After a few high-five-filled runs and landed backflips by Dadali later, we decide to have a coffee break in the Galaaxy bar on top of the nearby Crap Sogn Sion mountain.
Dadali says jokingly that he wants to apply for an asylum in Switzerland, referring to the current political turmoil in the U.S., caused by Donald Trump. In a way, Stone has already achieved this – he has been living in the old continent for several years, currently residing in Switzerland with his German spouse.
We also discuss the differences between skiing in the U.S. and in the Alps. While both acknowledge that there are good ski areas with great off-piste runs in their native country, skiing in Europe does have it´s advantages: “I’ve never been anywhere in the U.S. where you can ski a steep, feature filled run for so long. Most of the mountains (in the U.S.) will have much shorter runs that leave you wanting more when you get to the bottom”, Dadali concludes.
While Dadali has done his share of ski travelling, it’s actually his first time in Laax, which is, of course well-known in the freeskiing community for the Laax Open competition: “While growing up I would see it (Laax) all the time in ski movies, and the park looked absolutely unreal. The ski terrain is super fun to follow that up, so when it´s a pow day, like today, you can have a lot of fun.”
Stone and Dadali met in 2014 on a ski trip to Slovenia and the two have worked together. The casting on the joint trips has been simple: Dadali has played the pro skier part, while Stone has taken on the double bill of both the ski photographer and the journalist.
Dadali has an outspoken personality and he likes to spend time on the road. After graduating from high school, he packed his bags and, like so many young aspiring skiers before him, headed west towards bigger mountains and better snow, leaving the puny ski hills in western New York with their 300-meters of vertical behind him.
In the beginning, Dadali followed the traditional ski bum path, working through the summers and skiing the winters, having just enough money to survive. Although Dadali and his brother Giray had gained attention for the videos they released through their I hate NY ski collective, the real break through was a Skiing Magazine profile and a couple of outstanding ski photos of him that were published in magazines.
Not many east coast skiers were being featured in the U.S. ski media at the time, but there was one exception – the ski film company Level 1, founded by Josh Berman, came out in 2000 with their first feature film Balance, focusing primarily on the east coast rippers.
Photo: Ethan Stone, Skier: Ahmet Dadali, Location: Sarajevo
The driving force behind the change of focus was new school, i.e. the new, more contemporary version of freestyle skiing, which introduced grabs and style aesthetics, found in snowboarding and skateboarding, to skiing. To do this new sport, you did not need big mountains or steep slopes – all that was required, was a shovel, some snow, a rail and creativity.
After Dadali´s Level 1 debut, Real Time, published in 2007, he won the Best Male Performance at the Freeski Film Festival in 2010 and the Best Jib at Powder Magazine´s 2011 Powder Awards. All together, Dadali has skied in ten Level 1 films, the latest being Romance, published in 2019.
The “gangsta image” associated with Dadali especially in the beginning of his career has probably more to do with his hip hop influenced style and New York background than his personality. Now, sitting next to him by the coffee table he seems open and warm, but he also strikes as someone who is not afraid to express himself. He is appalled by the lack of general knowledge of the current U.S. president and has other critique for his native country, as well: “Our incarceration rates are as large as the next two countries combined and the police kill people on a consistent level and walk away with smiles, which I think is scary.”
Dadali´s political awareness could have something to do with his childhood – both he and his brother experienced racism in their home country, due to the fact that their father was born in Turkey. The family also wasn’t your typical wealthy ski family – the brothers´mom had to take a job at the local ski hill, just to enable her sons to continue their skiing with the help of free season passes.
In a way, Dadali remains the same ski bum, who left home for bigger hills and better snow in his youth. Fort the past three seasons, he’s lived in an RV, driving from one ski area to the next, releasing two video series along the way: Driving Dedication and Eurovanventure, which showcase his adventures.
The advantages of vanlife are clear for Dadali:”I just hate the idea that I’m paying all the money I make to a landlord to pay off his house, while half of the time I’m not even there. Instead, I’ll choose to be able to live life in a far more mobile fashion, If I want to go to Utah, I don’t have to pack anything, i just fill up the gas tank and head out.”
Dadali is also keen to explore new countries and cultures and share those experiences to others: Eurovanventure took him to the former Yugoslavia and on a recent trip he visited Kyrgyzstan, where he helped local skiers in their effort to organise the country’s first freeride ski competition.
As a 32-year-old freestyle skier Dadali is already a veteran of the sport, and remains one of the few skiers of his age group to retain his sponsorships and the interest of thousands of viewers, who regularly tune in to his videos. Dadali has also shown exceptional commitment towards Völkl Skis – the brand that he has skied throughout his career.
Now, after the release of Level 1:s latest flick Romance, the circle has closed. Once again, DIY videos are the main format for Dadali´s self-expression on skis. The only difference between now and the beginning of his career is the main publishing channel, which has changed from YouTube to Instagram. His Instagram channel has more than 30 000 followers, and the format seems well-suited for the creative, charismatic and opinionated Dadali.
As Dadali has grown older, his skiing style has also evolved: the recent videos have shown Dadali exploring into big mountain skiing with steep slopes and cliff drops, instead of the usual kickers and tricks. The change of ski terrain has also introduced another novelty rarely seen before in his videos – poles: “It´s difficult to ski a mountain that is already skied out without poles. The poles really help you initiate those quick turns and stay in the front of your boots.” In powder Dadali still prefers to ski without poles, because of the liberating feeling it brings, which according to him, ads to the creativity of the run.
Photo: Ethan Stone, Skier: Ahmet Dadali
As the new generation of freestylers are pulling off bigger jumps and more rotations, retaining the sponsors and media exposure is not something to be taken for granted, when you’re getting older. Dadali hopes that the ski industry would still give opportunities for creative skiers focusing on filming, instead of competing: “Snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding (industries), all truly support film guys nearly as much as competition riders. As there´s more budget for filming, they can do more inspiring adventures or partake in tours for the kids that help keep the sport healthy. I hope that we remember this into the future and don’t lose everything to the olympics.”
Dadali has often stated in his interviews, how in his opinion professional skiers are living every ski bum´s dream. As we’re sipping cappuccinos on a sunny terrace in the trendy Laax resort after the ski day, it seems like a plausible notion. For me, this is one of the couple of ski trips I´ll get to do this winter, but for Dadali, it’s only the beginning of a long season filled with countless of similar powder days and filming in newly discovered ski destinations.
Yet he seems like a person, who keeps both of his feet firmly on the ground. When I tell him how surprised I was for the high standard of accommodation the Laax resort has provided me for my journalistic duties, claiming to be merely a washed out ski bum, his reply is short: “well, aren’t we all?”
Dadali has also emphasised the importance of the help he received from the old guard of professional freeskiers during the beginning of his career. Now Dadali is paying it back through his LaFA company, by giving east-coast kids with a modest background free ski equipment, as well as advice on video production.
When I ask Dadali, how he manages to maintain the passion for skiing year after year, he responds, that he still wants to experience new countries and cultures, and see the smiles by the local skiers. For Dadali, skiing is obviously also more than just a sport: “I’ve been skiing since I was a little and it is the only way I know how to live life. If I took a winter off I would go crazy.”
Photo: Jaakko Järvensivu, skiers: Ethan Stone & Ahmet Dadali, Location: Laax
Dadali´s future dream is to combine skiing and experiencing new cultures in way, that would also produce something else besides the ski videos: “There are a lot of things I’d like to still accomplish, one being to mix together humanitarian projects into skiing, which I will hopefully be doing soon. I feel like thats my mission in skiing and why I was given the ability to do all this.”
After we finish our coffees, Dadali and Stone continue their journey. The footage featuring Dadali´s stunts in a deserted hotel complex on the scene of the 1984 Sarajevo Olympic games ended up in the pages of Powder Magazine photo annual, as well as in Romance – the swan song release from Level 1.