Fredi Kalbermatten - Making of ‘The Glacier Express’
'The Glacier Express', the new five-part digital content series from Holden Outerwear debuting November 2019, follows legendary Holden Explorer Fredi Kalbermatten, photographer Silvano Zeiter and filmmaker Gray Thompson as the trio embark on a train travel adventure aboard Switzerland’s fabled Glacier Express. Traveling from Zermatt to St. Moritz on “the world’s slowest express train,” they explore the pristine valleys, towering peaks and mythic Swiss mountain towns in between.
The Glacier Express train has been in service since 1930. It passes over 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and 281-kilometers as it journeys through the heart of the Swiss Alps. The route was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 for its engineering, architecture, and unity with the landscape. For ardent explorers and casual vacationeers alike, this incredible journey has something for everyone.
We recently sat down with the trip’s creative mastermind Fredi Kalbermatten to get a behind-the-scenes look at how this spectacular travel adventure came together.
*All photos by Silvano Zeiter.
Hello Fredi, how are you today? Let’s jump right into it : )
This new 5-part digital content series offers a beautiful travel portrait of the people, places and things to do along the route. Only someone with deep regional knowledge such as yourself could have come up with the idea for this project. Can you tell us a bit about how the trip came together?
I’ve taken this train before when I was younger, and I used to look at all the shred-able spots out the window, wind lips and insane terrain, and I always wanted to go explore the area. For many years, my winter travel schedule was too busy to allow such a trip. But now I am a father, and I like to stay a bit closer to home when I can. Switzerland has so much to offer, I could explore it forever. The Glacier Express stops at really cool resorts, so we made a pitch to Swiss Tourism and they were really down with the idea of it.
The railway was originally constructed to overcome the isolation of settlements in the Central Alps during the early 20th century. Would you agree the route has had a major impact on life in the mountains? Or do many of the stops along the route still feel quite removed from the world?
I would say both. The route itself is used by many trains each day like any other public transit line. But there is only one Glacier Express train per day, and it only makes a few stops. It’s like a Caribbean cruise ship through the Alps, all first class, with great wine and food. The purpose is to enjoy the scenery and the experience. It’s totally booked out most of the time. And within this, you pass little mountain villages with farmers who only leave their alp once a year.
In addition to Holden, you also worked with Swiss Tourism and Doodah on this trip, yes? Are they as excited as we are to tell the story of the Glacier Express and the terrain near the route?
For sure. Matt, one of the owners of Doodah, helped me put the original pitch together, and they are amped to host a premier when the story comes out. And Swiss Tourism is really stoked, proud to tell the world about the beauty of our country.
Logistically, was traveling by train easier or more difficult than other film and/or photo projects you’ve worked on over the years?
For me personally it’s easy because I’m used to it, I don’t even own a car. Perhaps the camera crew would have found driving easier with all their gear, but they wouldn’t enjoy the trip and get to relax in the same way in a car.
Have you done other projects with the Puzzle Media filmers? What is it you enjoy about working with this two-person camera crew?
You know how some filmers and photographers consider themselves such artists that they don’t take input well? Like they know the shot they want and they have ideas about how you should make that happen. Maybe in some cases that’s helpful. But I like working with Jack and Jamie because they are super respectful, they are down for the athlete’s ideas, they listen to what you want and what you think, and there’s never a power struggle. It makes them a pleasure to work with.
What can you tell our readers about working with photographer Silvano Zeiter and filmmaker Gray Thompson? What was the process like?
Silvano is simply the best. There are a lot of photographers out there, but his work continues to amaze me. He works a lot now with Swiss Tourism, so he was like the team manager on location, making sure all the details and logistics lined up. He’s 10 years younger than me, and we have worked together for a long time, but this was the first time I saw this side of him, and it was great.
Grey was on the trip as an athlete, but also edited the piece. So he was a part of the vision and the story and in communication with Jack and Jamie about filming everything. Grey had a bird’s-eye view of all that was going on, and that’s one reason this piece came out so great.
What about the train travel experience did you find surprising? Most enjoyable? Inspirational?
I don’t own a car, so the train is the way I usually travel, and I like to be able to just enjoy the ride. But I’m always inspired by the architecture of the bridges, and the tunnels that go straight through the mountains.
Where were your favorite stops along the route? Ski resorts, hikes, hotels, food, après-ski?
Andermatt was for sure my favorite shred spot. It might not be the most beautiful glacier scenery, but the lift access to big mountain lines is insane.
What were your favorite Holden technical outerwear pieces, mid-layers, and travel pieces during the trip?
I love Holden because I really use it. I feel like so many brands are one or the other, technical or good-looking. Every day I’m out in nature and these pieces really function for me with an aesthetic that very much appeals to me. It’s the perfect combination of looking good and being technical. My favorite pieces on this trip were the Corkshell Summit Bib and jacket because they are so light and breathable, but also waterproof. And the active insulation was super cozy for the train.
Did you bring mountaineering equipment? If so, what? Did you do any skinning or split-boarding on this trip?
Just split boards, which we used to explore in Aletch. That’s where we found that ice cave in the Aletch Glacier.
What did you enjoy most about the process of making the film?
It’s such a good story, not like a snowboard film with just take offs and landings. It’s a travel piece about Swiss culture and adventure.
And as a snowboarder, I liked scoping out the different terrain each resort has to offer and then working with what we could find in each unique spot.
What was the weather and temperature like while shooting the project?
The forecast wasn’t great, but somehow we got lucky, little bits of snow at the right time, and good weather for expeditions.
Any information that might help other travelers on the Glacier Express train route?
Sit back and relax, roll through the Swiss Alps with great food and a glass of Swiss white wine. Don’t forget your sunglasses.
How did your passion for the mountains and outdoor exploration begin? How has it evolved over the years?
My father and grandfather were both mountain guides, so I was born into this life. I summited my first 4,000-meter peak when I was seven. As I get older I appreciate the mountains even more. When I was in my 20’s I was all about the action of snowboarding, but now it’s more about the whole experience of being in and enjoying the mountains in all seasons.
How would you describe your creative process as an athlete? Photographer? DJ? Do you have any upcoming 2019-2020 plans for each of these pursuits?
For me inspiration comes in waves, and when it’s there I just have to ride it. If I get an idea for a song, I pretty much drop everything to see if it works. It’s the same with photography, when the light is magic, or there’s a fresh dusting of snow, or the long light of summer, inspiration just hits me and I run with it. My wife is great about allowing me to make that happen ( ;
When not traveling on The Glacier Express, where do you live and ride, hike, climb? How do you spend your time with family and friends? Any plans for fall and winter 2019?
I live full time in Saas-Fee. I’ve got two young boys, and we spend a lot of time outside. We use e-bikes for transportation around Saas-Fee and we do a lot of local family expeditions, hikes, gondola rides, etc. And I get to make it up to the higher peaks quite a bit, both in summer and winter.
What do you hope viewers of the 5-part film series will gain from watching ‘The Glacier Express?’
I hope they feel inspired for their own adventures, and maybe they get online and book their ticket for the Glacier Express.
The world premiere of "The Glacier Express" happens November 01, 2019 at Doodah in Zürich, Switzerland.
The U.S. premier of "The Glacier Express" happens November 15, 2019 at Tahoe Art House & Cinema in Tahoe City, CA.
Episode One, "Zermatt," will air on November 18, 2019 on the Holden Vimeo page and with select online media partners.
For more information please contact Jill Thomas at Backbone Media.