15 minutes with Nat Segal

Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face (FWT 2013)Nat Segal talks to Amy Marwick about her path to becoming Australia’s leading female freeskier (all thanks to a local family in Chamonix), her comeback from an abrupt injury last winter and the places on her ever-growing must-shred list

AM: Tell us about your skiing background?

NS: I grew up skiing in Australia at a resort called Mt Buller. I competed in alpine and then moguls until I was 17, when I decided to quit so I could finish my final year of school and go to uni. I also tore my MCL on a rail around that time and so I put skiing on the backburner for a few years while I was at art school. I finally got the travel bug in 2008 and decided to head to France to go on a ski adventure.

I ended up in Chamonix and from the minute I saw those mountains I was converted. I lived with a local family for six months as an au pair; their dad was a mountain guide and their mum worked with the FWT in PR. They had a big impact on what I chose to do next. By June I was already making plans to return for the following winter to compete in the FWQ tour.

AM: That’s convenient! What was your first freeride competition experience?

NS: I first competed in 2009 when I took part in the NZ Freeski Open. I made it about 20 metres past the start gate before I crashed. Rookie.

AM: Coming from Australia, was there anyone riding there that inspired you?

NS: I grew up with an awesome group of friends, some who I have known since I was a little race grom, and who moved onto freestyle around the same time as me. They’re a super-creative bunch and they always make skiing fun. I think those guys, especially a few of the boys, inspired me and challenged me to step outside my comfort zone. I was also lucky to have a group of strong lady shredders to look up to, including my coaches Nicole Lewis and Zoe Jaboor and my sister Anna. Those girls made me believe that I could do anything.

AM: You came third at Revelstoke in the FWT last season; can you remember your tactics from that day?

NS: My focus in Revelstoke was sticking my line and staying on my feet – it was my mantra from day one of that competition. For that reason, I chose a fun line that I knew I could enjoy skiing. I wasn’t interested in winning or proving myself. I just wanted to put down a clean, fluid run. By the time I made it to the finish line I wasn’t overly stoked on how I had skied but I was ecstatic to have stayed on my feet (especially given the crappy snow on the venue). In retrospect they were good tactics!

AM: What was the best moment during the tour?

NS: Other than getting to hang out with a seriously cool group of people, the best moment was landing the first air of my comp run in Chamonix. It felt really good and smooth (despite the fact that I crashed about five seconds after landing as I misjudged how deep a snow bank was). That air was the kind of skiing I am working towards: being confident, stylish and stomp-crazy. It feels good when you start achieving small goals.

AM: What’s your favourite venue on the tour?

NS: I’ve never skied or competed on the Bec de Rosses [Verbier] – that is one line I want to tick off my list! Unfortunately, I was only able to ski on one of the tour venues before I hurt myself…

AM: Can you tell us what happened?

NS: I was filming for an Australian television program in Kirkwood two days before the comp. The snow was pretty sketchy – windblown pow that was unforgiving if you hit it the wrong way. I was tired from filming in bad conditions for four days straight and didn’t check a baby air out properly. I skied into it way too fast and upon landing, had to make a quick turn in very deep, stiff pow to avoid some trees. My left ski got stuck in the snow and my body kept on moving. Pop. I actually thought I had dislocated my knee; apparently that was my ACL. Luckily, I had a great group of people out with me and they got me safely onto a groomer and then pampered me with positives.

AM: What has been the biggest struggle while recovering from an injury like that?

NS: I’ve struggled with all the usual things; FOMO [‘fear of missing out’], fear of doing certain movements and activities again. I’ve been quite hesitant, as this is my first major knee injury, but it’s all coming back together. Every struggle has had a pretty cool outcome and I’ve learnt a lot. It’s also been weird to stay in one place for longer than a few months, but Melbourne isn’t a bad place to be stuck for a while. The coffee doesn’t suck.

AM: How do you see your career as a big mountain athlete developing, in light of your injury?

NS: All I know is that I want to push myself as far as I can go and continue to challenge my skiing by learning more. When I injured myself I felt like I was on the cusp of a big thing. I felt that my skiing was about to take jump forward. It was sad to lose that feeling and now I want it back.

AM: So, what’s next on the agenda?

NS: Lots! I’ve spent my whole time on the couch planning fun adventures. I’m heading to the US in a few weeks to get my ski legs back. I’ll be schussing in Jackson Hole for the start of the season and then I think I’ll head over to Europe to compete in a few FWQs and hopefully have the pleasure of cheering my sister on at Sochi. I want to compete in as many FWQs as I can manage, to qualify for the 2015 FWT. However, given that I’m coming back from an injury I’m not putting the pressure on. It’s all about fun and getting pow in my face.

AM: Which mountains would you really like to explore next?

NS: I could write an essay on this topic! Two places I really want to explore are some of the mountains on the South Island of NZ and the mountains around the South or North Pole. At the moment I’m working with four other ladies to plan a ski and sail trip between Iceland and Greenland. If all goes to plan, I’ll be able to tick the Arctic off my list come April and I’ll be heading to New Zealand sometime in June.

AM: Finally, what is your advice to girls who are passionate about freeride and who might want to take it to a professional level?

NS: I think that the most important lesson I have learnt is that you usually ski your best when you are having fun and loving what you’re doing. You’ve got to focus, you have to work hard and train hard so that you are strong enough to ski everything, but most importantly you have to have fun and be confident that you’re rad.??