Behind the Shot: A Cautionary COVID-19 Tale From Laax, Switzerland

Last week, a photo popped up on our social media feed that jumped off the screen—a shot of a rider airing out of a slushy halfpipe doing a method. Sounds pretty normal, right?

When we looked a bit closer, we noticed the rider was on a splitboard. Then, we noticed who shot it—Aaron Schwartz, in charge of creative direction, photography, and design at Korua Shapes.


When we realized it was Aaron, whose home hill is Laax in Switzerland,  we started to put the pieces to the puzzle together. With all the resorts closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo had to have hiked up the resort to get this shot—hence the splitboard, something you don’t always see in the halfpipe.

An empty resort represents the perfect playground—but is it worth the risk?

As everyone seems to be interacting with nature differently we wanted to get the backstory from a unique and beautiful photograph in these unprecedented times.

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When we reached out to get the full story, Aaron gladly obliged, and we ended up with a lesson we didn’t expect. Read Aaron’s account below to hear more about the day and how the shot and the rest of the day unfolded. Here’s a hint: the day didn’t end for well for everyone on the mountain that day.

From Aaron Schwartz, Korua Shapes:

As of March 14th, most resorts in Switzerland closed due to the Covid-19 virus, including our local resort Laax. My friend and KORUA ambassador James Niederberger became my “quarantine buddy” as his university closed and he chose to stay here in the mountains instead of being holed up down in the city (Zurich). While the current situation is very serious and we all need to take the necessary precautions to stay safe, fresh air and exercise are still essential to our health and well-being. Split-boarding is one option, although best enjoyed responsibly – by no means should one be taking big risks right now.
On Wednesday, March 18th we took our split-boards and hiked up to mid-mountain. The halfpipe had been freshly cut a few days prior (before the final calls were made to shut down resort operations) and the spring sun had been baking it like a soft brie. It was about a 2.5h hike to get up there, and following a delicious bread & cheese lunch, we started to session the bottom hit. Seems as if a split-board and stiff touring bindings work just fine for a good old method with proper height and tweak. One of the most admirable things about my pal Jimmy: no matter the circumstances, he’ll put in the work and hike until the light’s gone, all while having a blast.
KORUA Ambassador James Niederberger on the Escalator Split—who says splitboards can’t perform?
For us, it was a great day, but something we saw quickly changed our perspective. Some ski touring folks had also hiked up and took some laps in the pipe. One of them took a heavy slam and broke his collarbone. We helped him to the bottom of the pipe and called the Rega (helicopter rescue) and sent him off to the hospital. The Rega will always come no matter what, but the rescue team made it quite clear it was pretty stupid to be up there and that the hospitals had plenty to do without silly injuries like that one. —Aaron Schwartz
Even on a simple tour up their home resort, the duo walked away realizing more than ever the inherent risk of getting out into the mountains. While most of the time we accept this risk, is it your responsibility to alter your level of tolerance during a global pandemic? When your daily routine might jeopardize the health of others, that is a question that everyone must ask themselves. — ML