Saying Goodbye to Matilda

Like for many of you, my world was turned upside down ever since I was informed about Matilda passing away in an avalanche in Chile. I have not been able to write about her until now since I needed time to gather my thoughts and calm my feelings. I have been thinking about Matilda, her Mattias, and her family countless times a day. I have been talking to both people who loved her and knew her well as well as people who knew her only fleetingly or through the media. She touched the lives of so many.

The hashtag #inspirelikematilda couldn’t be more appropriate to celebrate the unique person Matilda was and continues to be through our thoughts and feelings about her, and more importantly, through our actions inspired by her. Matilda was a person who did what she loved in life. Her life was a product of amazing, challenging and beautiful experiences that she had purposefully created. She loved her Mattias, she loved skiing, she loved her family and friends, she loved creating things and bringing people together. She was beautiful, both loving and gentle, yet courageous and fierce.

In Mattias, Matilda found her soulmate and experienced a relationship in her life that many people literally never experience. As a professional skier, Matilda learnt to face her fears, grow as a person, and challenge herself like many people don’t often do in their lives.

Looking at it in this way, Matilda lived a rich and fulfilling life, a life that can inspire us to do the same. Do what you love! Life is too short to waste time doing things you don’t like or even hate, to spend time with people who don’t enrich and inspire you, to not be doing the things you love out of fear or other reasons. You could be living a perfectly safe life, and then become involved in a fatal car accident or be shot down tomorrow going about your normal day. We simply don’t know when our time is up.

So that’s what I have taken away from Matilda’s passing. Matilda is a true inspiration and I am so very grateful to have spent a lot of very special moments together with her, especially during our time filming together for Shades of Winter in Alaska and during the many years of competing together on the Freeride World Qualifer and Freeride World Tour.

I want to extend my deepest sympathies to her husband Mattias Hargin and her family during this most difficult of times. We are all thinking of you and sending you much love and light.

 

The Alaskan Reality

Now, after having had the incredible luck of four blue-bird days in a row of skiing in Haines, Alaska, I feel like my life as a skier has changed forever. The Alaskan mountains are like nothing I’ve ever seen before; skiing this terrain is completely different to anything else I’ve ever done before. First of all, the sheer size of the mountains, with their steep spines, enormous glaciers and crevasses, and ridge lines crowned by meter-high cornices completely overwhelm you. The helicopter can drop you off on the top of lines that are otherwise simply impossible to access.

Ready to drop in!

Ready to drop in!

On my very first day, my very first line, I was towed in by the helicopter and dropped off on a small pyramid-shaped peak on top of a ridge line, offering just enough space for me to get my skis on. A second later the heli and the noise was gone and I was all alone, standing there quite petrified, without time for my mind to adjust to the steepness and exposure. On top of that, there’s a film crew waiting and ready for me to drop in. In that moment I really felt like everything I’ve ever learnt as a skier, all the skills I’ve acquired and all the experience gained, would be put to the test. But I also kept calm and believed I could do it, and then I nailed that run.

Haines, Alaska, is home to the most beautiful mountains to ski in the world

Haines, Alaska, is home to the most beautiful mountains to ski in the world

Alaska makes you a better and stronger skier, especially mentally, because here there is no room whatsoever for self-doubt, hesitation or uncertainties. If you’re skiing big mountain lines here, you better know what you’re doing and you better send it, because there can be serious consequences if you don’t.

You can check out my facebook album of photos from this Alaska trip so far here.

 

 

The Alaskan Dream

Alaska – the mythical last frontier on every skiers’ bucket list, the most filmed mountains in the world due to their beauty and insane terrain, countless stories of skiers waiting for weeks on end just for that one epic day in the mountains with the heli. When Sandra Lahnsteiner sent me an email on 18 March asking whether I wanted to join her and Matilda Rapaport for 2,5 weeks heliskiing and filming in Haines, Alaska, I couldn’t refuse. I’ve never felt ready to ski the terrain and spines I always see in the ski films from Alaska, but I just figured you have to start somewhere. So here goes!

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 12.20.41 PM

We’re here to ski the Chilkat mountains accessible by heli just 33 miles north of the town of Haines in South-East Alaska. We’re living in the Funny Farm at Mile 27 so we can be close to the heli port when the weather pops. We’re flying with Alaska Heliskiing, one of two heli-operations in this area. Haines has apparently not the extent of terrain Valdez offers for example, but the mountains here are meant to be the most beautiful in the world if you’re a skier/snowboarder.

Hanging with the girls at the 33 Mile House next to the heli base

Hanging with the girls at the 33 Mile House next to the heli base

Getting a glimpse of the mountains when we first arrived

Getting a glimpse of the mountains when we first arrived

Today is our 6th day without skiing. We’re waiting for good light conditions to fly in the heli and also to film. The great news is that it snowed 70 to 100 cm two days ago above approx. 800 metres, and we’ve got a good weather window from tomorrow onwards for a couple of days. We can hardly believe our luck, but we’re still trying to keep our expectations low because you never know what’s going to happen.

Mastering the Little Bec

Competing at the Verbier Xtreme, the Freeride World Tour finals, is different from any other tour stop. The terrain is extremely steep and rocky, with a lot of sluff and consequences if you fall in your run. Jumping a cliff in this terrain means you fly a lot further and get very fast after your landings due to the steepness. Add to this the huge spectator and media interest (the FWT is expecting 100,000 viewers to be watching the live stream online) and you’ve got every reason to feel nervous up there at the start. More than ever I had to remind myself that we’re just skiing here and it’s just a run, not the final day of judgement 😉

The women's venue to the lookers right of the Bec du Rosse at the 2013 Verbier Xtreme, taken on inspection day

The women’s venue to the lookers right of the Bec du Rosse at the 2013 Verbier Xtreme, taken on inspection day

The female competitors were flown to the start by heli because the hike up was deemed too avalanche dangerous and exposed by security, a call I was very grateful to hear. We were six ski women and five snowboard women at the start, including three wildcards given to Matilda Rapaport, Estelle Balet and me. We were all really quiet at the start during the wait for the flat light to improve, the tension was palpable. I was the last girl to ski the Little Bec which I actually liked since it gave me a chance to get a bit of a feel for the conditions. Generally the snow was excellent, nevertheless there were sections to be aware of, such as the take-off of my first air which was peppered with rocks.

Dropping my first air in extremely steep terrain

Dropping my first air in extremely steep terrain (copy Freeride World Tour, J. Bernard)

I was able to ski my line as planned with the goal to ski as fluidly as possible on the face. I had some bad memories of the top air where I crashed above exposure last year, but I knew conditions were much better this year and I adjusted my take-off angle somewhat. My top air went really well without getting caught on the pepper and I landed cleanly. I was very fast upon landing, the light was quite flat and I was surprised by a small fracture from a slab avalanche which I couldn’t see. All I had to do now was ski down the gut to my second and bottom air. As I had expected the snow here varied quite a bit due to old sluff which had set up and become firmer than the fresh powder. After jumping over my bottom air without hesitation I became so fast, all I could do was straight line out of the venue and loose speed once the terrain flattened out again. I was super happy with my run and very happy to be at the bottom all safe and sound!

I came second behind Matilda Rapaport who’s line was very similar to mine with Nadine Wallner coming third with another solid run. Congratulations also to Nadine who won the overall title this year with very consistent and strong skiing, very impressive for her age and for being on the tour for the first time!

The female ski podium for the Verbier Xtreme 2013 (f.l.t.r. Lorraine Huber, Matilda Rapaport, Nadine Wallner)

The female ski podium for the Verbier Xtreme 2013 (f.l.t.r. Lorraine Huber, Matilda Rapaport, Nadine Wallner)         copy: Freeride World Tour

 

Second Victory in Hochfügen!

After a disappointing run at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in Engadin on 31 January where I placed 4th, I was determined to give it my all at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in Hochfügen, the fantastically organised Big Mountain Hochfügen. I came into the contest knowing that a first or second place would clinch the deal for a spot on the Freeride World Tour 2014. At the same time, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself by thinking too much about results. A mental game!

Snow and weather conditions were perfect; the right conditions to choose a big air to impress the judges. Sweden’s Matilda Rapaport, who has been skiing very consistently this season with a podium at every contest, and Austria’s Nadine Wallner, who has placed second at stop 1 and stop 2 of the Freeride World Tour this year, were also at the start, as well as some other experienced female skiers. I knew it was time to step it up.

I chose a line I could ski very fast in the top and middle section, coming into a steep section of around 45 to 50 degrees in the bottom part of the venue and ending in a big cliff drop. I chose this specific cliff because the landing had a perfectly clean run-out, although I knew the run-in would be very skied out with bib number 42. There would also be sluff to deal with, which can be compared to a small loose snow avalanche. It can knock you off your feet so you have to think about where the sluff is going to fall down to make sure you’re out of the way.

Big Mountain Hochfuegen Venue

The competition venue “Ostwand” at the Big Mountain Hochfügen, a gorgeous face!

For this contest I was very well prepared, I had studied photos and previous competition videos for the past two days and I could visualize my line in my mind and how it would look like from a skiers perspective. Being well prepared helps me feel less nervous at the start, and I was looking forward to skiing the amazing, fresh powder and dropping my big cliff at the bottom. I skied my run almost just as I had planned with a lot of fluidity, landing all my drops cleanly. It was an amazing feeling!

Big Mountain Hochfuegen_Straight line

My goal was to ski fast. Photo credit: Michael Neumann

Big Mountain Hochfuegen_Lorraine Huber_Cliff

Committing to the last drop in my run. Photo credit: Michael Neumann

I knew it was a good run but I didn’t allow myself to think much about what result I would get until the prize giving ceremony at 4pm. When my name was called out last of all for the top of the podium, I couldn’t have been happier. All the hard work, all the perseverance and all the determination were worth it now. And lets be honest, winning is so much more fun if you’ve made it back through the tough times, right?  

Big Mountain Hochfuegen, Podium Ski Women

The podium ski women at the Big Mountain Hochfügen (f.l.t.r. Matilda Rapaport, Lorraine Huber, Laure Vailley)

Sweet Victory in La Clusaz!

Last weekend I was able to place first at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier in La Clusaz, France. Conditions we’re excellent: 50cm fresh powder and blue skies. We couldn’t inspect the competition venue as planned the day before due to bad weather. With bib number 12, I only had 10 minutes to decide which line I would ski. I pictured the line in my mind on my way to the start; luckily I had some time in the cable car. Usually, that would have made me very nervous, as well as the fact that I was competing on new skis – the Kästle BMX118 in 183cm – but on this day I was calm and confident. I skied a fluid and perfectly executed run with 3 cliff drops and a steep, technical middle section and scored a run of 8.80 points. Sweden’s Matilda Rapaport came 2nd and Geli Kaufmann from Lech came third, a fantastic result for Geli.

La Clusaz competition venue

La Clusaz competition venue

Women Ski Podium La Clusaz Radikal Mountain 2013

Women Ski Podium La Clusaz Radikal Mountain 2013

This victory is my first since 2009 and it is an especially meaningful one to me after a difficult 11/12 season of crashes and small injuries. The season before that I was battling a long term illness and basically had to quit skiing for the season. I started believing that although I was a good skier, I just wasn’t cut out for competition. Now though my hard work and dedication is paying off and I’m so very happy.

Boys La Clusaz 2013

Revelling in some male attention after the competition in La Clusaz

2nd Place Big Mountain Hochfügen

I finally have some good news to blog about regarding comps: I came second at the 4-star Freeride World Qualifier Big Mountain Hochfügen last weekend! I came to Hochfügen mainly for training purposes of being able to compete in a low-pressure environment (compared to the Freeride World Tour events) and get over my nervousness at the start. The contest itself is very professionally run and amazing to be part of. The contest face “Ostwand” is awesome with lots of different options and the snow conditions were great with plenty of fresh powder and good snow coverage. The judges told me that the high level of the female skiers surprised them and that it wasn’t much lower than at the FWT events. Yay girls! On another positive note, the female prize money was only EUR 100 to 200 less than the men’s, usually it’s only half the amount.

BM Hochfuegen Women's Podium

The ski women from Big Mountain Hochfügen: 3rd Matilda Rapaport, 1st Pia Nic Gundersen and 2nd Lorraine Huber (f.l.t.r)

I chose a line which I knew I could ski easily, that was also a reason I wasn’t really nervous at the start. And further more I was really looking forward to skiing that line! I drew an early start number (30) and it is really so much better to be able to start earlier in the day as opposed to having to wait for the entire men’s field to race before the women can start – that’s just so nerve racking for me still! This good result gives me confidence for the next FWT event in Röldal, Norway on 25 February. Stay tuned!