After ten years she can finally hold it in her hands, the well-deserved title of World Champion. During the 2017 season Lorraine Huber, freerider from Lech, proved she has nerves of steel and rejoiced at her victory in Verbier, Switzerland – the path to success was not an easy one, though. The exceptional talent from Vorarlberg met up with La Loupe for an interview where she talked about her first time on skis, the decision to become a professional athlete and future challenges.
L.L. / You were born in Lech Zürs, the daughter of two ski instructors – your talent is in your genes, so to speak. When was the first time you were on ski? Can you still remember your first skiing experience?
L.H. / I was two-and-a-half years old – unfortunately I don’t remember any more. But my father had a super 8 camera and filmed us quite a lot. We are planning on digitalising the material in the future, but right now there really is no time.
I think talent is not enough, though. It takes hard work and persistence to be able to really harness one’s talent.
L.L. / When you were eight you moved to Torquay/Australia and stayed there until you finished high school. Did you miss skiing when you were there?
L.H. / Fortunately my sister and I had the opportunity to come back to Lech every year. That was the time I would spend with my dad, usually five to six weeks. Australia was summer, Lech winter, where we were able to ski a lot and always ski along with the groups of Skischule Lech. But I never had continuous, structured ski training and I was never part of the ski club. From when I was little I always rode off-piste and with a group where the participants were up to three times my age. I still remember very well: when I was 15 I was part of the 1B ski group and I wanted to get into the best group, 1A – and become the first woman in charge of that group. I really had a lot of energy and drive. The first week in the 1B group was a hard and tiring week for me. I was part of Raimung Bischof’s group and decided to adapt to the schedule, that way I was able to ride with him for seven weeks. Back then we only practised classic moves off-piste: short turns close to the fall line, on long, slim skis, in parallel lines. The goal was to create a beautiful rug-like pattern. Back then what I learned was mostly how to rhythmically swing the skis in every snow condition.
L.L. / When did you decide to become a professional athlete?
L.H. / When I was 27 I started freeriding professionally. I had been a ski instructor and ski guide since I was 16, so since 1996. Before I decided to become a professional freerider, I had a bad knee injury that was followed by a year of rehab. After that I gave myself a winter off. But I continued the work at my Freeride Center Sölden, Austria’s first Freeride school and since I had finished university I was able to focus entirely on skiing. During that season I realised that I want to ski professionally. Back then freeriding was still new and it was exciting to be part of the movement in the early years. I started late and my decision for the sport came only after I’d studied, which is unusual. But for me that worked out perfectly!
L.L. / You meant to study in Australia, but you came back to Lech Zürs for one winter – and stayed. Do you miss your second home sometimes?
L.H. / I often go there because my mum and my best friends from school live there. And yes, I miss the beach and the sea. Which is why I often go to California to work with my fitness trainer there. My ideal plan would be to have a winter in the mountains and a summer by the sea. I need nature and I feel strongly connected to it, that’s the life for me.
L.L. / In 2004 you took part in your first freeride competition, in 2017 you became World Champion. Was this a dream come true for you?
L.H. / Honestly, it wasn’t always my goal, for a while I doubted whether I could really make it. In retrospect I really went through quite the development. I was often plagued by self-doubt. But still, deep down I believed in it and that belief gave me the strength to keep going. And now I am incredibly proud! It was a long path, with several injuries and setbacks, but I always got back up and kept going. And because it took me so long to get the World Championship title and it meant so much fighting it’s all the more beautiful.
In 2014 I missed the title by a fraction because I was way too nervous at the end. After this time and an injury, I understood that it’s not about the result, but about skiing in the mountains, preferably with friends. Friends, experiences, and my own development as a skier and a person are much more important to me now. I redefined the concept of success for myself and it has nothing to do with the result. That was a very important step for me.
L.L. / What would be your advice for young athletes who are just starting their career?
L.H. / Focus on learning and growing rather than results. It’s about continuously progressing and one’s personal development. Don’t compare yourself to others all the time, take your own path. You’ll often have to struggle, and you mustn’t give up too soon. Setbacks and mistakes should be seen as something positive, they are the best opportunities for growth. And keeping your self-confidence intact is important too, by finding the right challenges and goals, that’s really important. Only by strengthening yourself will you find your flow.
L.L. / Each year you organise the “Women’s Progression Days” in Lech Zürs, they are Freeride Camps especially for women. During these days you and other experienced guides and coaches share your knowledge and experience on the topic of freeriding. Do you feel women should be given a more prominent spot in the scene?
L.H. / During the Women’s Progression Days I want to bring women together who already ride off-piste but who are only every able to do it with men. The participants get to refine their technique and they can acquire new know-how and skills to make sure they can make their own decisions and act correctly in emergency situations off-piste. During the Women’s Progression Days the atmosphere is just great, the participants support and push one another – without there being any pressure. The camps are a true highlight for me every winter. And I think women should definitely be given more space. I am sure the trend is already going in that direction though. There are more and more women-specific products and services, for example. I’m sure that’ll help!
L.L. / Lech Zürs is quite the Eldorado for freeriders. Where do you most like to leave your traces in the glittering powder? Do you have a tip for us?
L.H. / That depends on the skier and the level of skill, of course. Zuppert is a great route on a cold day – perfect for a low-risk powder experience.
L.L. / You appear in several top ski films, by Warren Miller and Hanno Mackowitz, for example, and you won the “Best Freeride Female” award at the International Freeski Film Festival in Montreal. Can you tell us something about your new project? What are the differences between working in front of a camera and normal powder rides?
L.H. / We shot the new film by Hanno Mackowitz, “STRUKTUR: eine Skispur in der Kulturlandschaft“ (= STRUCTURE: ski tracks in a cultivated landscape) here in Lech Zürs over the course of the last two seasons. It’s a 12-minute documentary film about the Arlberg’s cultivated landscape. Many freeride films try to avoid filming man-made structures. With the audience that may leave the impression that we freeriders move through empty, pristine nature. But that doesn’t really exist and that’s exactly what we are trying to communicate with the film. We want to show what kinds of structures there are and how man has shaped the landscape of the Arlberg in a lasting way – and we want to do so in an aesthetically pleasing and non-judging way. With STRUKTUR we were already awarded the Jury’s Award at the Filmfest St. Anton 2017. In 2017 and 2018 the film will be shown at several other festivals, too. And we’re planning a screening in Lech.
Now, as for the differences between film and contest: during the latter you plan one run for days and you only have one chance to perform as best as you can. Especially when you travel to remote areas of the world for it and spend a lot of money, time, and energy on it. It’s great challenge with a lot of pressure. These situations can be extremely stressful and that’s something you need to be able to handle.
When shooting for a film there is a similar kind of pressure and high expectations, but there are many more chances to perform. On a good shooting day, you manage to film several lines and you generally wait for the right snow and weather conditions. Contests and films are quite different – and somewhat similar nonetheless: One line in a film might just as well be a line in a contest. The energy level is the same and there are no trial runs. Films are great projects for me, they offer a lot of variety.
L.L. / You are currently doing your Master’s in Mentalcoaching at the University of Salzburg. How important are mental aspects for you as a freerider? And what are you planning to do with your degree?
L.H. / For freeriding the mental aspect is extremely important. I’d say that during a competition 80% of the success happens in your head. For a freeride contest you usually check out the area from the opposite side, consequently you have to turn the image around in your head, which means that freeriders need to be able to visualise very well. Aside from that mental preparation for a contest is important to make sure you can withstand the pressure – and there are big differences. Skiing is the basis, but psychological factors make all the difference.
My studies are important for my future. I am extremely lucky to have been able to make my passion my profession for the past ten years. But I’ve often asked myself what I’ll do after the sport and it’s important to me to keep doing something I like. Mental training is a very interesting field and I’ve been able to gather experience in it. I started my studies in 2015 and I have been preparing for my future during my entire active skiing career, that’s an advantage. In the future I’d like to work as a mental coach with athletes and in business. The idea would also be to transfer my experience from the sport to other areas in my life. I am still looking for challenges!
Lorraine Huber's Wordrap:
My goals for the 2017/18 winter season: To find my flow during the competitions.
I definitely want to try this freeriding area: Hakuba Happo in Japan. I’m going there in January 2018.
And Torquay? My second home by the sea.
When I’m not in the backcountry I am…studying or in the office. As a professional athlete I am an entrepreneur and aside from training there is a lot to do for the competitions, I manage it all myself.
My emergency gear…is what I always have on me when I’m off-piste.
Women’s Progression Days
Lorraine Huber has been organising Freeride Camps for women since 2008. Together with the best female ski guides and freeriders on the Arlberg the participants get to improve their technique off-piste and get to know unique freeride spots on the Arlberg. Safely navigating the alpine landscape and enjoying the sport in an ideal atmosphere make the Women’s Progression Days a highlight of the Arlberg’s winter season.
Date: 12 – 15 Apr 2018
Sponsors: Bergans of Norway, Lech Zürs, Kästle, Scott Sports, Pieps, Olympiazentrum Vorarlberg