Photo: Max Lowe
Carston Oliver, AKA “The Flying Fin,” is a 23-year-old native of Salt Lake City. He grew up skiing from the ripe young age of five and never looked back. He attended East High School, graduating in 2006, and then moved on to the University of Utah with a full scholarship. After two grueling years in the engineering program, spending his days skiing and biking, going to class in the evening and then studying all night, only to repeat the process again and again, he decided to take a break from the social institution of college for a while. He told me that it got to the point where he was becoming so exhausted day by day that he came home from skiing after a particularly long stint of sleep deprivation and passed out cold in the doorway of his house for several hours. Oliver intends to return to school in the future, but for now, the mountains hold his gaze.
SLUG: Where did skiing start for you?
Oliver: I really started skiing with my after-grade-school group at Snowbird. They would not let us off of Chickadee (the beginner run), and I remember going straight down without turning and thinking that I was not going fast enough. I told my dad that I wanted to ride the big lift, so he took me up the tram and down the cirque. It was trial by fire, but if you learn on something difficult, that becomes your norm to go off of.
SLUG: Who was your biggest influence growing up skiing?
Oliver: I really like Eric Pollard’s smooth style of skiing, making it look easy, and I also looked up to Seth Morrison, but the stuff he was doing was crazy back then to me. Really, my biggest influences growing up on the hill were my friends. Riding with my buddies Eliel Hindert and Paul Kimbrough really pushed me to new levels because we were all thinking up reckless ideas for things to do and then going out and making it happen.
SLUG: How did you attain the nickname “Flying Fin?”
Oliver: Well, pretty obvious, I think, haha. I like to jump off of things, and I just happen to be of Finnish heritage on my mother’s side. I have creative friends.
SLUG: Could you define the “Flying Fin” style?
Oliver: Well, my skiing style is pretty much picking stuff that looks just scary enough to be fun and then trying to do some flippy stuff in the interim. I guess my general lifestyle would be always moving. I can’t really sit around for very long, so I am always out engaging in activities that challenge my body and my mind. I have been known to just go run up Mt. Olympus if I am feeling bored or go bike up into the hills behind the capital building in the middle of the night because I can’t sleep.
SLUG: What is your favorite mountain?
Oliver: I can’t say that I have a favorite mountain, but the place I find myself continually going back to is Mt. Baker. When it’s good, it is so good, and I have been known to pick up and disappear into the Pacific Northwest for months at a time without warning. The Wasatch will always be home, though—there is no place like home.
SLUG: What competitions have you competed in or are you planning to compete in?
Oliver: Well, generally, I am not too competitive by nature. I really only do competitions when I have the spare time or money. Personally, I would rather be out pushing lines that progress me in the way I choose. It is more fun just seeing all your friends and seeing everyone going big and stretching the limits of their ability. In the past, I have competed in the Canadian Freeskiing Open at Red Mountain, where I ended up ninth one year. I have done the Free Skiing World Tour several times here at Snowbird and usually end up in the top five for the first two runs and then explode trying something crazy. My biggest achievement in any competition was probably at the U.S. Extremes at Crested Butte, where I got front page of the local newspaper for the best wipeout of the event. Ha. Competitions push you hard to impress, and that leads to being reckless. My main priority at the end of the day is to avoid injury and be able to ski again tomorrow.
SLUG: Top runs of all time?
Oliver: Again a hard question, I guess there is this one run in Wolverine cirque where there is no visibility of the run out from the top. You have to hop a rock patch, carve around another rock patch on top of a cliff and then cut through into a super-steep choke out. When you come out of it, you end up going like 50 or 60 miles per hour. It’s awesome. Another one might be this one big line I went to hike solo in the Andes around Las Leñas, Argentina. I was shooting with Sweet Grass Productions, and everyone else went off to different peaks, and the camera guys went to the valley to set up. I was just walking up by headlamp light in completely socked-in -30-degree-weather plus windchill, couldn’t feel my hands or feet and was generally skeptical on whether or not I was going to even be able to ski my line. When I got to the top, the sun came over the most beautiful alpine cirque I have ever seen in my life, and I made my first turns down this chute skirted with golden rocks lit up like fire: It was a speechless moment of awe.
SLUG: As of late, have you been doing any filming or had any big photo publications?
Oliver: Well, I have been filming with Sweet Grass Productions both here in the U.S. and then also in South America this last summer and hopefully again this summer. They are doing a multi-season film, which is set to come out this fall, titled “Los Andes.” In 2010, I had a spread in Powder Magazine and also a shot in Skiing Magazine’s Photo Annual, which actually won second best shot, as chosen by the readers.
SLUG: If you had to go biking or skiing, which would it be?
Oliver: Well, when it’s mid-spring and my brain is in ski mode, skiing. If it is the middle of the summer and my brain is in biking mode, biking. I would say skiing holds the crown in my mind, though, by an inch.
SLUG: If you could be sponsored by anyone, who would it be?
Oliver: Huy Fong foods, that makes Sriracha Hot sauce, and Sambal Oelek chili paste. Also, possibly a personal habañero pepper farmer. Peppers keep you warmer than any outerwear.
SLUG: Who has helped you get to where you are now in life and as a skier?
Oliver: Pretty much everyone I have ever met. My friends especially, but haters have helped me hone myself along the way also. I would also like to thank my family who has supported me wholeheartedly through my seemingly selfish, constant forays into the mountains. Also all of my sponsors: Smith Optics, Moment Skis and Core Concepts. Without them hooking it up with the gear I use every day, my habit would not be a possibility.
Oliver is an unbound spirit for certain. His constant exuberance both for the sports he is passionate about and life in general is contagious. He embodies energy that you would not see when you first meet him, as he is humble about his achievements. He is truly a leading example in the ski and outdoor communities.