Mathilde Gremaud: "A trick is like a painting"
Freestyle skier Mathilde Gremaud, who won slopestyle silver at PyeongChang 2018, is set on returning to the podium at Beijing 2022. She talked with Olympics.com about the freeski community, the 'essence' of the sport, and her goals for the upcoming Games.
When a freestyle skiier steps to the top of a Big Air platform, slopestyle park or halfpipe, they're likely thinking about the run they've planned, and what they need to do to achieve the best possible score.
But behind their bibs and their helmet, freestylers are first and foremost creators.
Creators of moves, tricks and positions that are an exquisite combination of athleticism, talent and style.
A free style.
Freedom is the ultimate prerequisite to inventing; it's what freestyle skiers and snowboarders do every day on the slopes: they invent, go beyond their limits and become pioneers.
Earlier this year Mathilde Gremaud made headlines thanks to a stunning performance that included a historic first in women's freestyle: landing a switch double cork 1440; a trick that consists of two rotations with four spins, all of which have to come with the athlete starting backside. Gremaud says she "never thought" she would be able to land the trick, but the freedom and possibilities the sport offers has allowed her to overcome any limitations.
"You come around and do what you like," the Swiss freestyler told Olympics.com, who will compete at the Big Air World Cup in Steamboat (USA) on 3 December.
"Of course there is some rules. You have to turn left or right, go through different axes… But it's so free that you can do whatever you want!
Inspiration from Instagram
And what Gremaud wants to do is simply enjoy herself on the snow; or in the air, to be more accurate, where new tricks are becoming more commonplace in the sport. Just a few weeks ago in November, Eileen Gu landed a double cork 1440, this time with a frontside start.
With more and more women attempting and landing incredible tricks in the sport, Gremaud knows that a Switch 14, which made Gremaud a three times X-Games gold medalist, might not be enough to win the inaugural Olympic Big Air event at Beijing 2022.
"I saw some stuff and I could realise that I won't be the only one with a 14, or more, at the Games," she said.
Today, the 21-year-old doesn't need to compete to see that the talent level in women's freeski level has grown exponentially.
Gremaud also takes inspiration and ideas from skateboarders on Instagram.
"When you know that emotion and you see the edits of the girls, you just say 'Wow, it's cool to see.' I feel adrenaline when I see those videos of tricks that are newer and more creative. It just gives me the desire to be part of the evolution of the sport.
"It's always about motivation; it pushes you to improve. […] There is a good dynamic and atmosphere in girl's freestyle that makes us want to compete and be better than anyone else, but at the same time, that makes really happy."
Airbags to extend creation
In recent years, a new tool has allowed freestylers to try some tricks that seemed unfeasible at first: airbags. Previously accessible only to top athletes, these big air cushions are now used by almost all freestylers.
"Before the airbags, there were [about five women] with big tricks," explains the 2021 World Championship silver medalist. "Today, I think there are around 10-15 girls that could reach the podium in Big Air or slopestyle. A lot of people have the skills to do the tricks; it's just that sometimes, it's a bit scary. Airbags allow [people] to realise they are also capable of landing the tricks."
In other words, having an airbag allows an athlete to fully explore their creativity. And like in the artistic world, some creations take time to be fully appreciated.
"I compare those [freestyle tricks] to artistic paintings", Gremaud says. "Sometimes when they are first painted, people say 'it's a nice painting…' Then 10 years later, people will say 'Oh yeah! This is a nice painting!' It's a bit the same with tricks. I feel like it always takes one or two months, even a season, to notice that a certain trick is special."
Her plan for a Beijing 2022 medal
On 7 February, during the first-ever women's Olympic freestyle skiing Big Air competition in Shijingshan District, People's Republic of China, Mathilde Gremaud will try to rise above the competition. At PyeongChang 2018, she came agonisingly close to winning gold in the slopestyle competition, finishing just three points behind her compatriot and friend Sarah Hoefflin.
"When I think about it, if someone had to be ahead of me, it had to be Sarah," remembers Gremaud, who often shares her training sessions with the slopestyle Olympic champion. "It's nice to share a podium with someone that close to you."
In 2018, Gremaud was a young gun and wasn't considered to be among the favourites for the podium in the event, especially since she suffered a fall a day before the start of the competition and almost dropped out entirely.
Ahead of Bejing 2022, though, the situation is completely different.
"[In PyeongChang], I was in the dark. It was pretty cool. Today, it's funny because all eyes are on me, particularly with my Switch 14, but the truth is that they could be on everyone."
Gremaud says her goal for the Games is to win another Olympic medal. And the colour?
"As long as it's not fourth place, it's all good!" she jokes.
Gremaud says she has a plan on how she's going to return to the podium, but for now she's keeping it close to her chest.
"I mean, I have a clear plan, but I prefer not to talk about it. Why reveal your cards when you can show them to the whole world on the biggest stage for the sport?"