Your initial impression of tall, blonde, undeniably Nordic Sanne Mona will depend on the kind of numbers that most resonate with you: numbers such as Michelin stars and high thread counts — or numbers of vertical metres and Freeride World Qualifier points. Eventually, you will come to understand the appeal of this 33-year-old Swedish woman is how she is a seamless amalgam of these two disparate realities.
The journey connecting Mona’s myriad experiences began in Åre — Sweden’s premiere ski resort. In a small town with 40,000 guest beds, the entire economy revolved around ski tourism. If Mona wanted a professional career side-by-side with the ability to ski endless laps — she had been born into it. But Mona proved to be anything but predictable.
Today, Mona has her professional career and endless skiing at her doorstep — as a product brand manager for Ski Lodge Engelberg, a leading hotel in one of the Swiss Alps’ most well-established ski towns — a long way from her roots in Åre.
It started when Mona, as a young kid, was inspired by her mum’s partner — a dedicated skier. Mona joined the local ski club and got hooked on moguls. She soon showed promise and set her sights on a national team spot. However, a few years later, as a teenager, Mona also discovered Åre’s nightclub scene, which began to compromise her training. In her final year of high school, she barely missed out on selections for the European Cup.
In what has become her trademark style, she shook herself off and soon trained among the world’s elite again — but this time in an entirely different milieu — as a server in one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”. Fäviken Magasinet was famously remote and mythical — led by gourmet impresario Magnus Nilsson, who has been featured on Netflix Chef’s Table and been honoured with two coveted stars in the prestigious Michelin Guide. Nilsson was uber detail-oriented, hyper-focused and obsessed with perfection — and Mona learned valuable skills that proved pivotal in her next adventures.
In 2015, with impeccable restaurant credentials firmly established, she agreed to a month-long stint as head waiter at Restaurant Konrad in Ski Lodge Engelberg.
A small, picturesque village, Engelberg sits in a narrow valley at 1000 metres, surrounded by massive mountain peaks and world-class skiing. It has long attracted a range of skiers, including those drawn by the famed snow of central Switzerland and the professionals searching for the legendary steep and deep.
The month in the Swiss Alps turned into an entire winter, then into years, and then a new life.
Not surprisingly, Mona’s passion for skiing was instantly rekindled amid some of the Alp’s most legendary mountains. She began to tag along with pro skiers doing laps on Engelberg’s infamous backcountry lines, and Mona kept up better than most. Her Nordic good looks and strong skiing ability soon came to the attention of photographers and filmers, and she began to get work in front of the camera. Not surprisingly, her new friends encouraged her to enter Freeride World Qualifier events held on some of the most challenging alpine faces in the Alps. The results started accumulating; the sponsorships rolled in; the restaurant was cranking — and life was damned good.
But just as Mona was getting comfortable in her new niche, her life took another unexpected turn. In March 2017, during a photo shoot in the mountains above Engelberg, an avalanche swept over Mona and buried her under a meter of snow. Luckily, her friends handled the situation perfectly and dug her out quickly. She was physically unharmed.
Soon after, however, Mona began experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She began to fear she would die in gondolas if there was too much wind or if she was driving her car or taking a bus ride during a heavy snowstorm. For five years, Mona struggled to find her courage. Her attempts to ski off-piste again resulted in panic attacks and difficulty breathing — even with no exposure. To her, the highly controlled environment of the Freeride World Qualifier events was a cakewalk compared to the unpredictability of off-piste skiing.
To cope with PTSD, she chose her ski partners very carefully. She educated herself, taking multiple avalanche safety courses, asking many questions, and learning a lot about avalanches and avalanche bulletins.
Slowly, Mona has worked her way back. She skis almost daily from October to May, sometimes with her whirling dervish dog Janne and sometimes with the best skiers in the world. Five winters after the accident, she is once again skiing the prominent and exposed lines she has come to love.
Not to tempt fate, but once again, life is looking settled for Mona.
As the manager of sensory impressions for Ski Lodge Engelberg, she is responsible for how things look, taste, feel and smell. Here, owners and devoted skiers Eric Spongberg and Niklas Möller ensure everything revolves around skiing, from the warm decor to the enticing smells emanating from the kitchen to the music drifting over from the après bar — all designed to make skiers feel at home. Guests are charmed by the depth of the quality and comfort that gives this hotel its authentic character but have no idea that this seemingly effortless vibe is being carefully, even obsessively, managed by a curatorial approach that Mona has honed to perfection through her eclectic range of experiences.
“We hope everyone who visits us feels at home and part of the community as soon as they arrive, regardless of who they are as a person or skier,” says Mona. At the heart of her work are the connections she builds with skiers and photographers, supporting these winter nomads to inspire them to create content on the mountain — content that clearly conveys to the outside world what Engelberg and the Ski Lodge are all about.