Cooler talk tricks, using music to fight fear and being an A-grade student with one of Europe’s finest slopestyle stars...
Silvia texts on the dot to say she’s arrived. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in Munich and we have relaxed plans to meet at the river wave at Flosslände to sunbathe and surf. I’m running about an hour late, am the other side of town and don’t even know how to get to the wave. Silvia has already swum two kilometres at her local outdoor pool and is now hanging out having a picnic with friends, and waiting for me to join her.
I eventually turn up armed with just a small hotel towel and no snacks (why did I not bring snacks?). Silli, brown and toned, is pouring us all Radlers (“the best beer lemonade mix in the world!") from the glut of supplies in her cool bag. She’s brought glasses and a knife to cut the cheese and tomatoes. Heck, I think there was even a salt-shaker in that bag.
This, people, is why Silvia Mittermuller is a professional athlete and I am not. No word of a lie, as having spent a couple of days with Silli, I’m beginning to realise that high achieving individuals, especially athletes, are meticulous and measured in all areas of life, not just on the playing field or in the snow park. In the way David Beckham, for example, has to have all the Coke cans in his fridge facing the same way.
There’s a snaking queue of wetsuit-clad surfers forming for the wave – a bizarre sight in the middle of a river, especially when booze cruises come noisily past. The wave looks good so Silli pulls on a wetsuit and runs off to join the queue. After a good 40 minutes, as only one person can ride the wave at a time, she gets to go but almost immediately wipes out and gets washed down the river. Undeterred she joins the back of the queue again, and again, determined to get a good ride.
A few days earlier and we’re driving from her hometown of Munich to the Zugspitze glacier, the highest mountain in Germany, to shoot the cover. It’s quite a significant place for Silli. After learning to snowboard with her parents on the side of the autobahn (yes, really), she spent her first winters in Garmisch and on the Zugspitze mountain, before heading to the States. Although she now calls the super-groomed parks of Breckenridge her “living room", has spun a 1080 at the Nippon Open and got a silver at the X Games, she’s visibly excited to be back in the Bavarian resort, even if global warming means it’s no longer open for summer riding.
Apparently the crows that circle the restaurant terrace will eat food out of your hand. But today they’re not playing ball, no matter how much Silli tries to convince us they will, standing there patiently with bread in her hand. At the second lift station down, with the mist closing in and the last cable car about to go, she’s determined to make it happen and keeps Jørn, our photographer, behind.
Half an hour later we’re still waiting in the car park, getting slightly worried they’ve missed the last lift and are stranded halfway up the Zugspitze mountain. But through the drizzle and mist bursts two grinning faces. “We did it, the birds ate from my hand, we got the shot!" says Silvia. Of course they did.
Describe your best possible day’s riding. In the morning it’s perfect weather, sunshine, but not too freezing cold, as it gets real cold in Colorado. I go out with a couple of friends, not too many. It’s pretty early in the morning, and when we make it to the park there is no one there. Everything’s perfectly groomed. It has this corduroy-effect everywhere from the snow-cat – on the tables, on the run-ins, on the take off, just like it’s been painted in a mathematical view of geometry, as if someone calculated it. There isn’t a single track on the jumps. I know the steepness of them, because I have been jumping them for days, and I’m not afraid because I know exactly how it works.
What’s the best trick you’ve ever done? That depends on your definition of ‘best’. It could be the furthest jump, the highest jump, the biggest rotation or the hardest trick. But then you could also see it as the thing that really felt the best. To land on your feet is best, to ride away, and to realise that this does really happen.
What was your furthest jump? It was probably last spring in Utah. We built a massive jump and it was really warm so the landing was miserable, forcing us to jump really damn far. There was a gap of maybe 30 metres, but then we don’t travel with measuring tapes.
Biggest rotation? I did an accidental 1080 in the practice at the Nippon Open, but I honestly didn’t intend to! But what I learnt from it is that if I have a jump that is big enough and if I really feel confident on it, then I think I could do it. The biggest planned rotations I’ve done are 900s.
What’s the most technical trick you’ve done? A bunch of switch tricks on rails. Last season I learnt one of the most important lessons of rail riding from my ex-boyfriend Mike Casanova. He said any trick you learn regular, you should learn switch right away. Because when you first learn a trick, stacking on a rail doesn’t have as big a consequence as on a jump, and if you learn it normal it feels good anyway, so why don’t you just turn around and try to do it switch right away? So I’ve learnt a lot of complicated tricks switch, which helps me get points in comps.
Favourite comp? For atmosphere the X Games, it’s such a big deal in the States – I think it has even higher TV ratings there than the Olympics. And the Chicken Jam, just because it’s such a good vibe with all those girls, especially the first one they had in Park City. It was a really small set up, four jumps in a row, a couple of hits and another jump. They weren’t huge, but big enough to actually do tricks, and I still think it was the highest-level snowboard contest I’ve experienced.
Do you ever get scared before comps? I get scared a lot, not only in comps, but when I’m trying something new. There’s the ‘good’ type of fear that is respect and caution because you’re not 100 per cent sure of what you’re doing. And then there’s ‘bad’ fear that is real fear because you’re doing something you’re not really capable of. If it’s the good kind then keep doing what you’re doing, and if it’s the bad kind, stop what you’re doing. The best way to overcome ‘good’ fear is with a song. I look for a tune on my iPod that makes me think of either a previous good snowboard day, or just a song that I can sing along to really loudly because I love the lyrics and melody. It makes me think of something completely different and I’m not afraid anymore.
Do you listen to music when you ride comps? Oh yeah, especially during comps, because there’s the extra fear that comes from knowing that it’s just this one run on this one day and if I pull it together it can be a really huge thing, and could mean $20,000 and a humungous amount of honour.
If you weren’t snowboarding, what would you do? Probably study medicine [laughs]. I don’t want to say it like ‘Silvia says…’, but the year I finished school, I finished the best out of my school, which was 800 people. So, that’s why I could study medicine.
How about sport at school? Actually I was a ballet dancer for over 10 years. My school was Bavarian champion, German champion, and European champion in slow dance. I miss dancing. I’m also a horse rider, and I still love horses.
What sport do you do to keep fit for snowboarding? I do a lot of sports to protect me when I crash, rather than to stay fi t. I go to the gym regularly and work out. I do a lot of strength, balance and co-ordination exercises. I don’t need enormous muscles and I don’t need to be able to hike a mountain for seven hours without eating, I just don’t want to break my bones when I crash. And I love to swim. I think a lot of people think it’s extremely boring, but I love it and I’m sure it’s good for snowboarding. I also surf, I go skateboarding once in a while, and I like to go mountain biking. I also like to use my head by playing chess or trying to keep up with my foreign language skills.
So how did you get into snowboarding if you were so academic at school? Through my parents, which was kind of funny because my parents are pretty academic people themselves – my Dad’s a doctor, and my Mum’s an architect – and they decided somewhere in their early 50s that they would like to learn how to snowboard. My parents are pretty athletic, open-minded people, they go wakeboarding all the time too. Actually, yesterday I gave them a little lesson in how to sticker a board. Things like you go from big stickers to small stickers, you go closer to your bindings, they both face the same way etc.
So they took you snowboarding? They would take us to a little hill somewhere in the area, not even a ski resort, or a lift. We had rental snowboards for the day, like 33cm, super-narrow stance on them, maybe even set up the wrong way. Just like the worst. They had no idea what they were doing and they were hiking on the side of the autobahn trying to learn how to snowboard. I guess in the end it worked.
It seems like guys get more air than girls. Is it the physiology or just that they ride harder? I think there are defi nitely physiological reasons why girls are not going as big as guys, especially in the pipe where it really comes down to strength and speed. But if you look at slopestyle it’s the same jumps and rails for girls and guys. On a jump it doesn’t matter so much if you’re a girl or a guy and that’s what I love about jumps. If it’s a 12-metre table jump you’ll jump 14 metres whether you’re a girl or a guy. Whereas in the pipe, as a guy, you often have so much more air time, which gives you a bigger chance of doing whatever you’re doing beautifully. As a girl, if you’re struggling to get a metre out of the pipe, trying to do 7s is not so pretty. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve got more into slopestyle than pipe riding, just because I feel it’s more equal for girls and guys because you have the same rails, you have the same jumps and they are the same distance and the same height, and we have the same landings. So in the end we are riding the exact same terrain and have the same amount of air time.
Who are the best young girl riders coming through, do you think? One of the top riders is Jamie Anderson. She’s not doing the really big tricks yet or very big rotations, but she’s so good on her feet, and obviously has a natural talent. She’s not showing people her technical things yet, but it’s just a question of time and then it could be a completely new league for girls’ snowboarding.
Words: Poppy Smith