30+ Years of Riding Sideways With Reto Kestenholz

I can’t even begin to describe the immense importance that Reto Kestenholz has had for our community over the past three decades. As a snowboarder, he’s been a leader on style and progression. And as a human, he’s been an inspiration with his boundless motivation and dedication to making Swiss snowboarding, and our world, a better place. The news that he was taking a step back from pro snowboarding caught me by surprise, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on his amazing career…

Hey Reto, what made you decide to “retire from the business-side” of snowboarding?
Let’s put it like this… I probably won’t spend more of my time shooting and hustling. Decent days in the backcountry tend to get even more rare, while there’s a growing group of hungry freeriders waiting for freshies. A rising average freezing level makes it harder to work in easily accessible areas, and I’m pretty much done with time-consuming missions. Another thing is, that I’m absolutely committed to keeping my carbon emissions low, to the point where I also feel responsible for photographers traveling to shoot with me.
Really good pics are getting thrown on the internet in an unvalued way because there’s less print. Some of my favorite frozen moments are sitting on hard drives. Probably just enough to remind me of just how beautiful it was out there when I’m sitting in the retirement home some day.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll stop riding. I’ll enjoy first tracks without any pressure or temptation to somehow get “work” done. So from now on, my focus will be on pure fun and enjoying the moment!
BS 5 Kelly Air in Gantrisch by Alain Eberhart from Whiteout 44
How old where you when snowboarding turned into a job?
Oh, that was kinda a fluent process. I got my first free board when I was 15… so almost 30 years ago. Around the turn of the millennium I started to work as a shaper in a summer camp and also got a little money from sponsors. That was just enough to make it easy to reject any “serious” job opportunities. The philosophy became: ride to live, live to ride… and I was happy with a very modest lifestyle in exchange for this privilege.
Stalefish circa 1993 in Belalp, by Papa Kestenholz
Did you enjoy the “pro” side of snowboarding or was it more of a necessary evil, just to feed your lifestyle?
There were some parts that I didn’t enjoy so much. For ecological reasons I wasn’t really into traveling. And when it came to contests, all that waiting for just a few short moments of actual “performing” sucked. But I really liked the whole creative part of shooting and never felt too tired to hike for one more try if the shot didn’t look the way it should – either for my personal standards, or for the vision of whomever was behind the cam.

So basically after quitting bigger competitions, I really loved to do what I got paid for…. if the material that I promoted was good enough… but that’s a different story.
Switch McTwist in Meiringen by David Birri from Whiteout 16
You’ve taken a pretty different path from your brother. What were some of the things that you learned from watching him run his pro career?
He was such an important inspiration and opened many doors for me. He introduced me to people in the scene and we even had a few shootings together. I learned a lot from him and have big respect for his achievements. I’ll always be grateful for all that he did for me, CHEERS UELI!

Finally I took my own path and was super lucky to have found a local crew in the Berner Oberland. We spend some of the best winters that I can remember filming. A BIG SHOUT-OUT TO EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THE DEDICATED PROJECT MOVIES!
Hunt & Gather, Circa 2007
Looking back, I’d love to hear about some of your all time favorite moments. Let’s start with your favorite video part / project…
As mentioned, the Dedicated years were probably both the most intense and the most fun, at the same time. It started with the first snowparks at Meiringen-Hasliberg. There was a big progression and great vibe with the crew around (cinematographer) Davide Tiraboschi.
Then the production of STEPS went literally one step further. It remains an honest, contemporary document from 10 years ago. It was challenging in different ways, but it really had quite an impact that reached beyond people in the core scene.
Sleeping in a tent or mountain hut, seeing lots of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, earning our turns while hiking with snowshoes… it was just a unique and unforgettable experience.
Steps, Circa 2013
How about a favorite photo?
I simply couldn’t ever decide! Big Method over the pipe dragon in Zermatt? Concret dam drop on Grimsel? Or the “loop-flip”? Hangtime above the lake of Thun? And there are nearly countless huge powder sprays or spring sessions on a big fish board…. there are just so many great memories.

But if you’d like to show some of my latest favorites, I’d probably pick the natural front 3 melon that has been my desktop wallpaper for a long time. The lip is just massive and magical. Everything below so pure and clean. It’s shot in one of my favorite zones, with so many options. Looking at it now, I’d love to be there and live this very moment again right away.
A recent favorite from Grindelwald by Alain Eberhart
Favorite comp that you ever rode in?
High-Fly Gstaad was consistently legendary over several editions.
Favorite board that you’ve ever ridden?
The DREAM 178 xxw – custom shape available at LTB Snowboards – best freaking thing ever for deepest pow.
All time favorite riding buddy?
Also there, hard to name just one – let’s make it three from different “generations”: Lukas Blaser, Reto Neiger & Marc Schärer ❤️
Phillip Hänni, Reto and Clemens Jezler in Hasliberg by David Birri from Whiteout 41.
What was the best thing about being a pro snowboarder?
You can tell everyone, that you “must” go riding – almost no excuse to miss a big day!
How about the worst thing?
The risk of injuries when you feel like you’re getting pushed too far… or simply want it too badly.
How did you see the job change for you over the years?
It didn’t get any easier. I’m happy to be finished with it. I wouldn’t wanna swap positions with younger riders today. I think they’ve got more pressure, less pow days, and just basically need to be more professional, I guess. The focus on social media these days is a whole new hustle.
A Stoney Backflip above Thunersee by David Birri from Whiteout 33
I head a rumor a while back that the reason why you left RIDE was because you didn’t want to get on airplanes. Is that true?
No. Quitting RIDE was actually my decision because they stopped producing my favorite shapes. But I’m still connected to the brand and super thankful to be riding and representing their bindings and boots. I’m still stoked on the products, I just needed wider boards.
Swiss riders were privileged in those days. We had so many international contests in our country and prestigious sessions close to our borders. So I wouldn’t say that could have had a longer career by traveling more. Either way, no worries, and no regrets for sure! By following an eco-friendly path, it might have even helped me to get a certain image, reputation and some new connections.
A snowshoe accessed mountain hut at a time when splitboards still kinda sucked, by Ahriel Povich from Whiteout 27.
In Europe you were one of the first pros to be extremely vocal about your ecological values. I guess that’s still a big part of who you are. Can you tell us a bit more about your life as an activist in the past?
Being a pro rider, I didn’t feel like acting as an activist. Being part of political manifestations, civil disobedience protests or standing in front of a slaughterhouse at 5 am, that’s different. I’m not sure, what helps more in the end. I think that people should just read and talk more together. We could and should speak out about all the severe challenges that humans are facing these days.

There’s still plenty of room for leisure and pleasure, which is essential for me. Find a good balance, not only on boards, but in general. Don’t leave shit to future generations while having fun. There are more responsible ways to live and love a good life.
Bs Rodeo in Zermatt by Dominic Steinman from Whiteout 38

What does that look like these days? Do you consider yourself more of a punk, or more of a politician these days?
It’s awesome to have the opportunity to walk into a parliament with a tattooed tie on the chest, inked fingers and a self-made haircut. Just being there is already a statement. I can still get some of my food from the dumpster one night, and the next day, talk to rich guys seriously at a big table with white clothes eating fine food with ’em. I’m gonna leave it up to the reader if that’s punk or not. Anyway, I’m still better at partying than making big speeches. Sometimes I’d love to have my skills the other way around.

What message would you like to pass on to the next generation of snowboarders coming up?
Enjoy every single minute up there! I’m sorry for not leaving this world in a better place for you. At least I’ve tried and on those issues I will keep on going. Take care to yourself, but also recognize some privileges that you’ve got. Going “all-in” might not always be the safest strategy. Humans shouldn’t stand above others. Respect and protect non-human animals, think about and act against any kinds of oppression and discrimination. Keep up peaceful coexistence and work for it when it isn’t the standard. Competition and rivalry don’t satisfy sustainably, so chill more and be appreciative for what you’ve got!
Line next to the Matterhorn by Michael Portman from Whiteout 27

What do you imagine your snowboarding will be like when it’s not a job?
You’ll still find me up there, if you get started early enough. And I’ve got still one shot in my head that I’ve love to see in the books. A simple turn, that I’ll surf anyway, with or without anyone shooting me. Maybe one day the light and conditions will be right. But I still have time for that as long as I can ride. If it’s not gonna happen, who cares. I’m feeling more relaxed than ever and will try to cherish every additional line more than the one before.

I’m done with one side of the biz, but I’m still around. I just designed a new board for LTB – pretty exclusive stuff. I’ll be riding with buddies, the kids, or just by myself with heavy pounding stoner-doom sounds in my earphones – that’s what I really love and will appreciate as long as possible.

Fs 3 in Grindelwald by David Birri from Whiteout 41
Thanks for your time and all of your amazing contributions to our culture Reto! It’s been an honor to “work” with you and feature so many amazing photos and stories of yours over the years. Is there anything else that you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
I’d like to thank you, and all the guys who keep this quality media thing going. Then I’d like to thank the countless patient photographers and filmers for capturing these memories. That includes family members, girlfriends and shred buddies as well as the professionals who gave their precious time. Then there’s the mates, who’ve heavily influenced my mindset to more open and social positions. And of course all of the sponsors, event organizers and so on.
It’s been almost unreal. I wouldn’t believe it actually happened without all of these photos and videos. More than 30 years of riding sideways, with the photo evidence to prove it – what a lucky bastard I am. CHEERS.
Poaching moguls in Zermatt by Sam Lanz circa 2007