Sandra Fransson grew up in a family of adventurers on the northern Swedish coast of Luleå. Her great-grandfather held the torch in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and her grandfather was a champion cross-country skier in Finland. Family reunions were spent at his family-run cottage, gazing at the northern lights and racing downhill with her brother Andreas and their cousins.
Sandra’s grandmother and many other family members painted. Like skiing, a talent for art runs in the Fransson family. All the paintings the family owns are self-made.
Sandra always loved art as well. She attended an outdoor high school, where she learned about climbing and survival. But when she finished high school, she debated whether she should study art or ski.
“I chose skiing because that was my passion. I needed to create a depth of stories to tell, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t ski.”
For the next six years Sandra traveled the world as a ski instructor. She taught in Norway, Switzerland, Colorado and France and escaped to Australia when it was green season everywhere else. When she was 22, she moved to Chamonix to live with her older brother who was also skiing there. “We had a season together in Chamonix where we got really close. As kids, we would play together a lot, and then during our teenage years – you know, I had my own friends, he was with his – then he moved away to Australia after high school. We didn’t see each other that much but we talked often.” Chamonix holds a special place in Fransson’s heart, as she remembers her 23rd birthday, one of her favorite memories.
“It was springtime, near Easter. It hadn’t been snowing, and Chamonix was crowded. I told Andreas I really wanted to ski some powder,” she laughs, remembering how she begged her older brother. “My brother said, ‘No problem’ and took me on this route from the back side of Chamonix. We had ropes and all this equipment, skied around glaciers…then after an hour, we ended up in this big terrain. There were no clouds in the sky, no crowds and I got to ski powder up to my knees. It was so typical of Andreas; he always found how to make the impossible possible.”
ART AT HOME
At 25, she moved back to Sweden to pursue a degree in travel hospitality. But she felt like something was missing; she couldn’t imagine having an 8-to-5 job. Andreas challenged her to answer honest questions about herself, and that led her to discover her true passion.
The day Sandra finished school, she became an artist, using mosaic tiles as her signature style. “When I was 10, we had this photo in our home of Andreas making a mute grab. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, it would be so cool to recreate this as a mosaic.’ But, at 10 years old, I didn’t know how to do that and forgot about it. After moving back to Sweden and finishing school, I suddenly remembered this. Funny how it took 15 years.”
The mute grab was her first artwork. Piece by piece, things started to fall into place: Sandra started getting orders from people who wanted to buy her paintings.
“Thanks to Andreas, I’m following my dream and am an artist today.”
A BROTHER’S LEGACY
“People think Andreas was a crazy skier,” says Sandra about her brother. “Yes, he always said he had to live his life to the fullest or there was no point in living. But he was also very knowledgeable in mountain safety and was about to finish educating himself to be a certified mountain guide. He would never take you someplace you couldn’t handle,” she says.
“I’ve seen him turn around many times if it was too dangerous – safety was key for him. Especially after a bad accident, when he broke his neck a few years ago, he knew he couldn’t push it.”
Andreas made his mark in the ski world as one of the world’s top extreme skiers and was Sweden’s 2012 adventurer of the year for his descent of Denali’s south face. In the fall of 2014, he was climbing Cerro San Lorenzo in Patagonia with fellow skier JP Auclair before the duo was engulfed in an avalanche that knocked them 2,300 feet down. Both were tragically killed in the accident.
This past fall, Sandra launched Safe Passions, a non-profit organization to raise awareness of mountain safety to youths and young adults. She’s had her fair share of close calls and wanted to do something to help educate young skiers.
“One of the craziest things I’ve done was going extreme skiing with some people I didn’t know well. I was more concerned about getting the ski lines than actually learning – I’m lucky nothing happened,” she said.
Safe Passions will be holding its first free ski camp in Chamonix to educate teenagers and young adults on alpine safety. Andreas had always wanted to give back to the community, especially to young skiers who may not have enough money but love to ski. In the spirit of his wishes, the first camp is free.
While backed by the support of outdoorbrands Salomon and Recco, Safe Passions also is supported by Sandra’s artwork, including her latest piece, From Darkness into the Light.
This mosaic follows a spiritual tale of a man who escapes from a serpent and skis his way upward toward the mountains. The two birds signify the South American belief that, when condors glide over the Andes, they help the souls of those passed on to move toward the light.
“This was almost like our last project together. It was a way for me to mourn but also remember my brother. Each time, a part of me leaves me and goes into the painting. Of course I was sad, but it wasn’t just grief that went into this painting – it was also the love and happiness we shared,” explains Sandra.
Posters of From Darkness into the Light are for sale. Collaborating with Salomon, a limited edition tribute ski collection is also available on seven pairs of Mountain Lab skis which Andreas helped develop.
Last season, Sandra followed her brother’s footsteps and visited Japan with their mutual friend Tracy Lenard. Tracy took Andreas touring around Japan, and Sandra wanted to see the places they visited together.
Sandra skied some of Japan’s finest powder in Niseko and Nagano, explored the urban landscape in Tokyo and enjoyed rock climbing in Ogawayama. She said she found inspiration in every environment.
“I love Japan because it’s a whole big experience, the whole package. People come for skiing, but there’s so much more to the mountains. There’s climbing for every level, the temples are beautiful and the snow…remember, I used to teach in Colorado and they boast they have ‘champagne snow’ over there. In Japan, it was even lighter than that,” she said.
Looking toward the future, Sandra is flexible. “I see myself living in the mountains, skiing and painting even more, also learning yoga and balance, really living in the moment, because you just never know with life.
“People live in a bubble. Andreas and I say, ‘Dare to ask questions.’ Is what you’re doing making you happy? You don’t want to be 90 without having followed your heart.’”