Arctic 12 : Interview with Jackie Paaso

Jackie Paaso during the trip ©Martin Olson

26 days, with mostly difficult weather and snow conditions: skiing the 12 highest peaks in Sweden last april, beyond the Arctic Circle, was not easy for skier Jackie Paaso and her team. Interview with the athlete Jackie, who is also the film‘s executive producer.

In the movie, the group (Jackie Paaso, Erin Smart, Reine Barkered, Benjamin Ribeyre, Ed.) is very honest about the challenges of this expedition. Was it a difficult decision to show these aspects of the trip?

Yes and no. We had different ideas amongst the group as to how deep we should dive into the challenges of this trip. Those that were on the trip were perhaps a bit more guarded versus those in the production team that followed the trip from the sidelines. We wanted to be careful with what we presented but also real. It’s not unheard of to have troubles on expeditions such as this but it’s not often that people show that side of the story and the more we thought about it, the more we realised that we needed to be honest.

The gear, two men and two women for a 26-day ski tour of Sweden’s 12 highest peaks ©Martin Olson

at any moment one or more members of the group could decide to just bail

The final scenes show the group reflecting on the ups and downs. How do you feel about the trip now, with many months having passed?

Months have passed but I’ve still had to relive the experience quite a bit. I’m very proud of the whole team for having finished despite the challenges but I do still wish that we could have worked together better as a team. It’s still a bit bittersweet when I look back on the trip.

Despite the difficulties, how does it feel to have accomplished your goal of summiting all 12 peaks during this trip?

I’m very happy that we were successful with that one part of the project. It was a big mission and despite the challenges we did what we set out to accomplish for the most part and for that I’m really grateful.

In the film, you say that “the real adventure starts when things go wrong”? What enabled everyone to keep going despite the tensions?

I’m not sure what kept everyone going. That was a big fear of mine, that at any moment one or more members of the group could decide to just bail. I was so committed that it would have taken a major injury to pull me out. The others, I suppose could have given up at any moment, especially towards the end when we were closer to civilisation. I’m really happy that didn’t happen and commend the whole group for sticking in it the entire time.

©Martin Olson

©Martin Olson

©Martin Olson

Reine and yourself are both professional skiers, however in the movie you mention that you have not done many trips like this together. How was it, undertaking an expedition like this with your partner?

The first four days were tough for us as a couple. I had a really tough day two days in and as a result was leaning on him a bit for help. I noticed on maybe the third or forth day that it was wearing on him and I think a lot of that was due to the fact that this was his first real expedition. I was worried for a moment that he wouldn’t adjust. I was doing better, and soon after he found his flow and really got comfortable with the discomfort that can come with winter expeditions. In the end, it was great. We bickered a bit from time to time but I can say it was a huge bonus to have him by my side.

©Martin Olson

©Martin Olson

©Martin Olson

we only had two months to adapt and prepare

How much preparation went into a trip of this scale? And much were you able to stick to the original plan? Or did you have to keep adapting?

I had been working on this project for a few years prior to our departure. However, the original plan was an expedition in Alaska with a different team and slightly different approach. Sadly, due to permitting issues and then in the end with the pandemic the decision was made to change locations and the 12 tallest peaks in Sweden became the new objective. By the time that decision was made we only really had two months to adapt and prepare. That meant some new team members, different equipment and logistical challenges needed to be addressed. Once finally out on the route we still had to keep adapting due to challenging snow conditions and weather.

It was obviously important to keep weight down, whilst preparing for uncertain conditions. What gear decisions did you have to make? How did you select which skis to use?

In Sweden you actually have quite a lot of mountains. However, the approaches in between are often long and flat. So because of this we decided to use nordic touring skis and leather boots in between summit days. This is a common practice in that part of the world. That enabled us to take the touring skis of our choice and for the majority of the team that meant the SCOTT Superguide Freetour ski. For backpacks we kept it light with the SCOTT Mountain 35 pack.

©Martin Olson

©Martin Olson

©Martin Olson

The movie shows some of the difficulties of filming a trip such as this. What are the biggest challenges when filming a ski movie?

Snow, hands down snow quality and snow safety are the biggest challenges when filming a ski movie. We of course wish for stable powder but unfortunately that is often not the reality. Even though we were out for 26 days we either had to work around unstable snow and or poor snow conditions for many of those days.