An Olympian explains: How to master freestyle skiing with Edgar Grospiron

Up until the start of Beijing 2022, will unveil the secrets behind each of the 15 disciplines of the Winter Games through exclusive interviews with legends who accomplished greatness in their sports. After learning more about curling, luge, biathlon, figure skating and ski jumping, it's time to discover freestyle skiing with a talk from a legend of the sport: the first-ever Olympic mogul champion, Edgar Grospiron.

By Guillaume Depasse
Picture by Getty Images/Chris Cole/Allsport

"A sport for people who laugh their heads off” - that's how Edgar Grospiron describes freestyle skiing.

When he became Olympic Champion almost 30 years ago at Albertville 1992, he was the first-ever gold medallist in the discipline. That year was the first time the sport had appeared on the Olympic programme, adding a new degree of spectacle and flair to the Games.

Back then, moguls was the only discipline on the programme, however, at Beijing 2022 there will be six: moguls, aerials, ski cross, halfpipe, slopestyle and Big Air - the last of which is making its debut next February.

Edgar Grospiron, who described himself as a "rebel" in the Olympic Channel’s Legends live on series, seemed to be the personification of the discipline’s unique characteristics. A showman, joker and party lover, yes, but also a fierce competitor and a triple world champion (1989, 1991, 1995) who dominated the sport for almost a decade.

The French athlete, who also won bronze at Lillehammer 1994, talked to about the origins of the sport, how the different freestyle disciplines complement each other, what’s needed to reach the top of the sport, and more.

Below is a transcript of that interview, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you discover freestyle skiing and what made you fall in love with it to the point of deciding to become a professional athlete?

I discovered freestyle skiing in La Clusaz, France, after years of alpine skiing. I wasn’t that good and I wasn’t having that much fun. However, I watched my friends who were freestyle skiing and they were having lots of fun. My coaches weren’t that satisfied with my alpine skiing, so they invited me to switch to freestyle.

I instantly fell in love with the environment. The coach wanted me to explore the entire resort, have fun with the powder, jump ledges and rock bars, race between the trees… it was a constant game.

Do you still participate in freestyle skiing after retiring from professional competition? What’s your daily schedule like now?

For 10 years, freestyle skiing was a job. Today, I don’t do freestyle but I still ski, particularly to enjoy good times with friends in high-altitude restaurants with the sun shining.

Nowadays, I host conferences for companies looking to motivate their teams. Sport is a wonderful way of supporting people and inspiring people in their careers.

I also created an association called En Piste that helps young people who are close to making the French national team but don’t have the financial resources to continue training and competing at the highest level. I gather funds from the companies I work with and that helps support these young athletes.

I also remain part of the Olympic Movement, working on missions for the IOC and Paris 2024. I lead quite a busy life, and also have two kids!

If you had to explain freestyle skiing and your love for it in a few words, what would you say?

It’s a sport for people who laugh their heads off!

You have to understand that this sport is called freestyle and practised by people who have free minds. It was invented by some crazy people who don’t fit in. They like rules, but they like playing with them and going beyond them. That’s the story of the sport: alpine skiers who preferred to perform acrobatics in the powder and invented freestyle.

Then there were mogul skiers who felt too stuck in their sport, so they looked at halfpipes, which were before that only for snowboarders. They took on that culture while also keeping their two skis and progressed to Big Air and slopestyle.

You can't say moguls is that different to slopestyle. When I discovered freestyle there were only three disciplines: moguls, aerial and ballet. Ballet has gone, but the others remain. And if you look deeper, those three disciplines have been reinvented. For me, ballet is a mixture of halfpipe and slopestyle, big air is like aerials and moguls is similar to ski cross.

Freestyle skiing in one minute

  • The basics: Freestyle skiing is one of the most entertaining sports in the Winter Olympic program. Athletes have to perform tricks in five of the six Olympic disciplines (moguls, aerials, slopestyle, halfpipe and Big Air), and to win a race after several stages for ski cross – a discipline that has its equivalent at the Summer Games with BMX Racing. In the five "artistic" disciplines of freestyle skiing, athletes have to land tricks like triple corks, backflips and slides with a high degree of risk.
  • Olympic History: The first edition to include freestyle skiing was Calgary 1988, with moguls, aerials and ballet as a demonstration sport. Four years later, moguls and aerials were introduced to the official program in Albertville 1992. Ski cross appeared in Vancouver 2010, halfpipe and slopestyle at Sochi 2014 and big air will make its debut in Beijing 2022.
  • Olympic medals by nation: Canada and the United States dominate the freestyle skiing Olympic rankings. Canada is the most successful with 12 gold medals and 25 in total. The United States follows closely with 25 medals as well, but only nine golds. Switzerland completes the podium with four golds and eight medals in total.
  • Olympic medal leaders: Alexandre Bilodeau from Canada and David Wise from the USA are on top of the medalist rankings, with two golds each. Bilodeau won his medals in moguls from 2006 to 2014, and Wise in halfpipe in 2014 and 2018. Kari Traa from Norway follows in third in women's moguls, with three medals: one gold, one silver and one bronze, from 1998 to 2006.

What do you love most about freestyle skiing and what is the most challenging part of it?

I was just chatting with my former coach a few days ago and he noted that in this sport you have to be very talented.

The time spent in the air and in the moguls, compared to the time we spend training, is tiny. For instance, descending down a track in moguls takes about 30 seconds. We do that around a dozen times in a four-hour training session. Six minutes action for three hours and 54 minutes of inaction, queuing for lifts, getting feedback, warming up… Six minutes a day over 200 days, that’s 20 hours. If you compare that to Japanese masters who say you need 10,000 hours to learn how to sharpen a katana, we can be an Olympic champion after only 20 hours. So you have to have the talent, in the same way as with other acrobatic sports.

What are the three most memorable moments of your career?

The first one is when I told my parents what I wanted to do with my life: ski. I realised then that my parents trusted me, which is something not that common in sport.

The second would be when I was chosen for the French team two years later, after being helped by Nano Pourtier, who won the general ranking of the Moguls World Cup three times (1979, 1981, 1982). He became my mentor and took the baton from my father, both in terms of sport and professionalism. He passed his culture onto me, taught me his values and made me realise that it’s cool to win, but that succeeding is better.

Winning is tangible: a medal, a score, a result. Success is intangible. So in victory and failure, I needed to learn how to succeed.

Then my gold medal in Albertville was the greatest moment of my career. But as the third and last moment, I’d say when I ended my career with the gold medal at the 1995 World Championships in La Clusaz - my backyard. It was like closing a circle.

Edgar Grospiron of France does the moguls during the Olympic Games in Albertville, France
Picture by Getty/Rick Stewart/Allsport

What does it mean to you to have competed at the Olympics?

It's the Holy Grail. It’s also a personal journey. If you practise sport you dream about the Games. The Olympic Village, the parade of nations, the national anthems… all of those things are thrilling. When you are an Olympian you are an Olympian for life and that demands respect. It’s the most prestigious thing in sport. It justifies every time you wake up early when your friends are sleeping. We do a job that for some seems like a sacrifice, but we do it because we will experience a life that is super powerful.

How can you explain your nation’s historic success in freestyle skiing?

Back in my time, 30 years ago in Albertville, we had a very strong team, but after that we had some difficult moments and the results weren’t as good. We’ve always had French athletes who have performed well, but not in the same way as before when we had four French athletes in the top 10 in the world.

Then we regained some structure and about 10 years ago, we asked IOC Olympic Solidarity for a women’s team that included 14-year-old Perrine Laffont, who needed support to continue. Our case was accepted and Perrine competed at Sochi 2014 before winning gold at PyeongChang 2018.

Today we have a better structure, we have more funds, good coaches and athletes who want to work hard and perform well, including when facing the Canadians who dominate the sport.

What can we expect from Beijing 2022 in freestyle skiing? Who are your favourites to win a medal in Beijing 2022? Is there a young athlete in freestyle skiing that you think people should keep an eye on?

On the women’s side, Perrine Laffont is the favourite. She’s the reigning Olympic champion, World Cup winner and World Champion… She’s coming off the back of a super season and is the queen of the sport. I spoke to her and she feels great physically and enjoys what she does. That’s a sign of good preparation.

On the men's side, I'd say Benjamin Cavet. He’s won World Cup stages and is one the few to have beaten Mikaël Kingsbury, the moguls athlete people see as a reference. Benjamin is ready, enjoys what he does and is improving. If anyone can surprise the world, it will be him.

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