The Austrian former Freeride World Tour champion talks to Sophie Mead

Sophie Mead: Having hung up your competition hat in 2018, you were offered a job last season as commentator on the Freeride World Tour. What was that transition like?

Lorraine Huber: I was offered a role as a field reporter for the Tour. That meant I was responsible for doing interviews at the finish line and also for the Insider video series – something I haven’t done before. I’m used to being in front of the camera, but always as an athlete and for my own projects, so I was really learning with each stop. I was nervous before the first live broadcast in Hakuba, which was a 20-minute piece explaining the decisions behind why the competition was postponed [due to changeable weather conditions].

I realised that in some ways it’s the same as being on camera as an athlete, because you have to perform at a very specific point in time. The difference with commentating is that you don’t have that fear of physical injury. But there are, on the other hand, social risks. In a way it boils down to the same feeling and effects.

SM: Do you prefer being in front of the camera as an athlete or presenter?

LH: I prefer being an athlete because for me that’s very simple – it’s about my own development. As an athlete, you’re making decisions on a daily basis to ensure that you can be at the top of your game and perform well. It’s something that you are doing directly for yourself. In this new role, the spotlight was on me but in a different way. There were more moving parts; I worked as part of a team and that was new for me. I was starting again as a beginner! I spent a long period of time developing to become World Champion on the Tour and mastering those skills, whereas here I was throwing myself into the deep end again and I think it’s good. I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with learning.

SM: Did your experience as a former champion help you connect with the athletes?

LH: When I was commentating I had so much empathy for the athletes who were crashing. I was like, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll have your next chance soon,” because I know how it feels. It’s more in my nature to do the athlete interviews at the finish line because I’m at eye level – I enjoy being close to the action and the emotion; when you’re up in the commentary box you’re very removed from it all. I enjoyed the opportunity to bring in expertise, too – it’s great to be able to ask questions in such a way that you get those gold nuggets out of the athletes.

SM: What does the Freeride World Tour mean to you?

LH: This new role was a way for me to be involved in a sport that I really loved. It was my thing, my jam! I loved it and I loved competing. There are some athletes who don’t enjoy it that much – for example, if things aren’t going to plan or aren’t going well, they just stop. Or they don’t like the whole waiting game and would rather be at home shredding with their friends or filming. I loved it, because I think the challenge is very unique.

It’s different to filming. If you’re filming, you have multiple chances that day to nail the lines that you want to film, whereas here you have one chance. One time on the Tour we flew to Alaska and spent two weeks studying the line, and you would rarely do that in a film project unless it’s a really special line. To put all that energy into one line really ups the ante. So the pressure is quite a ‘candy high’, and learning to deal with that was fascinating for me. I enjoyed learning that process, because I was honestly convinced that I didn’t have what it takes [to be FWT Champion] –

I thought I wasn’t mentally tough enough and wasn’t a good competitor. I knew I was a decent skier, but I thought I couldn’t nail it on the day.

SM: Not being able to ski the competition face prior is a bit dangerous for athletes, isn’t it?

LH: Well, no. It’s a process of how to select the line, and how to study it so you can ski it without it being dangerous. There’s so much that goes into it. You have to stay focussed and not be distracted by other competitors and the media buzz around you. Of course, pressure creates anxiety so competitors need to deal with that. It’s not a matter of who’s mentally tough or not; I didn’t realise that you just have to learn the mental skills [to cope with the pressure] and so that was my path after competing. I’m just completing my masters in mental strength coaching.

SM: Did the Freeride World Tour lead you towards these studies?

LH: I love teaching and I’ve been doing it since I was 16 years old, working as a ski instructor. I’ve always been attracted to passing on knowledge and helping develop people’s skills, which I find super rewarding. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to ski at a competitive level all my life, and I wanted to have a job after being a sponsored athlete that I would be equally passionate about.

I considered full-time guiding, but somehow it wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough for me. It is an amazing job and can be very complex, but I didn’t feel 100% drawn to it as a full-time profession that I could do in my seventies.

I heard about the mentor college in Bregenz and went to a two-day open information event and decided to pursue that. It helped reassure me there’s not only skiing in this world; there’s a lot of other things that I can get equally passionate about, and I needed to channel that passion into something that matters to me.

SM: One of your speciality areas of coaching is performance under pressure. Have you coached anyone on the tour?

LH: I coached Hedvig Wessel [Norwegian freestyle skier] last season. I have done quite a bit of coaching, maybe 200 hours, as it’s part of my degree. I haven’t only been working with athletes though. One of the clients I recently worked was a 50-year-old man freshly divorced for the second time, trying to pick up the pieces of his life. It’s this personal development that I’m fascinated in. It’s not psychiatry or pathological; I’m not qualified to work with mentally ill people. I’m working with people who want to improve their potential, so obviously athletes fall into that space because they are always looking for ways to get more out of themselves and perform better, and the mental part of it is huge. Some athletes realise that more than others. I’ll also help people who aren’t able to reach certain goals and are blocked for some reason.

SM: When coaching athletes do you draw on your past experiences competing and the mental challenges you yourself faced?

LH: Absolutely. I see performance under pressure as one of my go-to fields, because I have so much experience in that area. It’s not enough to have the mental strength knowledge – you have to connect it with some kind of context or experience, so that you can create better tools for the clients. For example, being able to relax is very important, because if you’re constantly tense it gets tiring. Being able to switch off when you know the contest is delayed – and using the time for fun shredding or keeping up with strength training – is important, so you’re not under tension and stress.

SM: What are your thoughts on the announcement of equal pay for male and female athletes?

LH: I think it’s super good. We could have done it years ago. In today’s modern world it’s the only way to do it. People didn’t understand the system we had of prize money depending on the size of the category. It’s sending a really clear message that women are as valuable as the men and I think that’s very positive.