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Photo Essay: Mattias Fredriksson and Ludo May in Verbier, Switzerland

Makin' magic in a magical place.


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No other mountain bike photographer brings the Alps to life in quite the same way as photographer Mattias Fredriksson. The Swedish native has spent decades skiing and riding in Europe’s highest places, and captures the vastness and sheer beauty of the continent’s most formidable peaks in a way that elicits instant envy and a yearning for escapism. His high-alpine landscapes, bathed in golden light with perfectly positioned clouds framing snow-covered massifs, as riders dwarfed by their jaw-dropping surroundings pedal past, almost make you wonder if they could even possibly be real. Indeed they are, and Fredriksson always finds a new way to make these scenes never feel old. Over the years, one of his most consistent muses has been the iconic Swiss village of Verbier and along with it, Verbier’s own Ludo May.

May, now 32, was raised in (and still lives) in nearby Le Châble, and was a rising DH star in 2011 when Chris Winter, the owner of Whistler’s Big Mountain Adventure guiding company who ran trips in the area, reached out about an opportunity to shoot with Anthill Films for what would become “Strength In Numbers.” May was beside himself, showing his idols Wade Simmons and Matt Hunter the local tracks at Verbier where he’d grown up racing and training. On that same trip, Fredriksson was along to shoot stills, and he and May hit it off.

Fredriksson has been back many times since to shoot with May, who’s sort of a photographer’s dream. He knows the region better than anyone, is a former Top 20 World Cup DH and Enduro World Series who can make any trail look spectacular, and enjoys the process of shooting, which can sometimes result in long days without much actual riding, all in the name of creativity.

But with Verbier as their canvas, Fredriksson and May have made magic many times over.

“It’s a place that resonates with my style,” Fredriksson says. “That place really has it all, which is quite unique in the Alps. It’s the most scenic DH tracks in the Alps, possibly the planet, and just that relief into the valley. Then you have the Grand Combin massif, which is stunning, and several other mountain ranges close by, so there are never any issues finding a spectacular backdrop.”

Fredriksson shared with us some of his favorite images from some 20 two decades of shooting in Verbier, and the stories behind them.

A classic Verbier landscape. Shot during “Strength In Numbers.” August 2011. 
Booms and water jugs—this is how you got the shot in 2011. The Anthill Films crew hauled an unbelievably amount of gear up the mountain to make “Strength In Numbers” happen. 
Stephen Matthews leads Ludo May down a stretch of trail on the lesser-trammeled Les Ruinette side of the mountain, with the formidable Mont Blanc Massif serving as a backdrop. July 2017.
In 2011, heli-biking wasn’t really a thing. And neither were drones so getting aerial shots for “Strength In Numbers” was significantly more challenging, and more exciting. Without racks or a way to transport bikes and people in his bird, the pilot flew the riders—May, Wade Simmons and Matt Hunter—up first, then dropped their bikes, then hovered above with the filmers inside to capture the vastness of the mountain as the guys rode below. The riders loved it—their only instruction was to follow each other down the trail, ripping as fast as they could go, a rare mandate when filming. 
A moment of beautiful light as the “Strength In Numbers” shoot came to a close. 
A young May, during a life-changing week shooting with Anthill Films and his idols.
All signs point to beauty.
Matthews and May traverse while taking in a sweeping view of the valley, with the village of Verbier directly below, May's home village of Le Châble to the far right and the glaciated peaks of the Grand Combin above.
The iconic Grand Combin, and the view May has every day from his house. After looking at the massif for most of his life, May decided two summers ago that he wanted to attempt to ride their bikes from the most prominent peak, Petit Combin. So, he and his close friends, pro skier, Jérémie Heitz, and Jérôme Caroli pedaled up on ebikes, overnighted and rode down the next day. “That’s typical Ludo, he comes up with often quirky ideas. It’s like this fun blend of French-style humor, then you add on his technical skills and his adventure drive. He’s done quite a bit of funny stuff that’s also super impressive,” Fredriksson says.
This image was from Fredriksson’s most recent trip to Verbier, in September 2020, and was taken on the Verbier DH track, May’s longtime training ground. Late-season snow kept them out of the high-alpine, and the thick fog settled in the valley created an almost B.C.-like scene in the forest.

Amazingly, this image was taken just a few hours after the fog-shrouded action shot above. They never got above treeline that day due to the snow, but suddenly, the fog lifted, everything opened up and a spectacular light illuminated the scene. May, of course, was game for “just one more.” Fredriksson: “Ludo is always fun to work with when it comes to that. Not only is he an incredible rider and a great host, but he really understands the value of being in photos. We’ve been quite successful with a lot of photos published.” This one earned a spread in Beta’s 2021 Photo Annual

As the light faded and May rounded a famous corner on the DH track, Fredriksson employed low shutter-speed tactic he gleaned from fellow shooters (namely Kevin Lange and Dave Heath), to capture the action.
May and Wade Simmons during “Strength In Numbers.”
One for the photo album. From left, Fredriksson, the helicopter pilot, Matt Hunter (legend), Chris Winter, Darcy Wittenburg (Anthill), Ludo May, Colin Jones (Anthill), Wade Simmons (legend), Darren McCullough and Jonathan Schramm, both Anthill Films. 
May amid a classic Verbier day—the Mont Blanc massif fully on display in the background. “It’s one of the most stunning places,” Fredriksson says. “You look in one direction, you have the mountains, look the other way, there’s the Gran Combin. It’s just all around, different ranges, and Verbier’s sitting there in the middle.”
From the ultra-scenic Les Ruinettes side of the mountain, parts of the Mont Blanc massif tower in the background, and a twisting road far in the left foreground leads the way to Italy's Aosta Valley.

How about this view on your backyard trails? May lives in a small village just below the mountain, and the vantage point from here looks out toward the French side, with Chamonix in the distance. “Ludo loves to travel, but he’s definitely staying home more these days because so much good riding in the Alps, and it’s so close to everything. It’s 45 minutes to Cham when you continue up the valley. It’s got one of the best bike parks in the Alps. When we did that shoot with Anthill, everybody was blown away by the singletrack, there are so many long descents you can do. It’s just endless.”
Alps in the fall—snowing one day, clear skies and tacky dirt the next. This image was taken in the alpine just one day after snow shut them out from shooting above treeline. 
A classic corner of a classic DH track.

May joined BMC after he stopped racing the Enduro World Series in 2018, and now has switched to BMC’s new mountain bike brand, SCOR.  
May outside his home in Le Châble, in his shuttle wagon. His village is about 500 meters below Verbier, and this little rig navigates the narrow mountain roads perfectly on the way to the trails.
Stephen Matthews and May on the Les Ruinettes side of the mountain, which is characterized by raw, natural trails and very few trees, classic old-school Alps riding that drops back into Verbier one one side, or France’s Rhône Valley on the other, where you can hop on a train or a bus back to the Swiss side. 
Currently clicking our heels three times, in hopes we’ll end up in Verbier.

“This is very Ludo,” Fredriksson says. “I just laugh when I see it, he’s such a funny guy. Always happy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry or not stoked.”
 
Verbier's remote trails are easier to access than the vastness of their surroundings might imply, with a pedal up directly from the village.
Photography: Mattias Fredriksson