FREERIDE SKIIER - BIG MOUNTAIN SLAYER - INFECTIOUS LAUGHER - WORDS LIVED BY: NO STANDING ONLY DANCING
We first met in New Zealand, where you were training for competing on the Freeride World Tour. I remember your booming laugh, your wonderfully goofy jokes, and the fact you were virtually impossible to keep up with skiing (despite still rehabbing post ACL reconstruction). Another memory firmly etched in my mind is trying to relieve your extremely sunburned butt, sustained in Manly after surfing unprotected in the harsh summer sun for a good 4 hours or so because you were having too much fun to come in. Do you feel my memories paint a fair portrait of you?
Can you tell us how you became involved in skiing? And what led you to become a big mountain skier rather than follow you sister Anna down the competitive slopestyle skiing path?
I skied since a young age, as a sporty and decently competitive kid I naturally got into alpine racing and later moguls. Anna, my older sister, paved the path for a long time but when I was 17 I branched off. I was offered an opportunity to start training with the pre-development team and after a lot of consideration I decided to not pursue it in the same way Anna had because I was a) not interested in going to the Olympics over pursuing my studies – art at the time and b) I didn’t feel that my jump abilities were competitive enough to make it as an Olympic mogul skier. Anna soon moved onto freeskiing and while I love to ski park, the acrobatic side never called to me. I got bored only skiing park. I didn’t have the passion for it. It wasn’t until I spent a winter overseas in the French Alps that I realized what my calling was. Following this winter, I soon became interested in freeride skiing and followed that pathway to freeride competitions in Europe and America and later to the Freeride World Tour. This in turn led me to backcountry skiing.
Over the last few years you and Anna have been working together filming your latest project, Finding the Line. Do you have any desire to return to the big mountain competitive circuit on the Free Ride World Tour? Or is filming the future…
Nearly three years on, I am still struggling with this question. Finding The Line came at a good time for Anna and I. Anna had officially retired from slopestyle skiing. I was still competing but after the first year filming (2016) I haven’t competed. I stopped competing and started filming this project as I was having a lot of trouble with my ‘mental game’ at events. I wasn’t willing to put everything on the line to win, more often than not I would back off bigger lines only to regret not skiing them after my event, I would always ski much too conservatively. I was also so concerned about failing that I had a hard time just skiing. The two times I just let go at events, I ended up on the podium. Part of the idea of Finding The Line was to explore the mental side and discover what was holding me back. While I feel I have resolved a lot of issues, I am no longer sure that competing will give me what I want. I find the competitive side of this sport too contrived and really it’s just a tool for me to prove to myself that I am capable. I can do that without spending $1000 a pop at ski events.
I know this year you’ve been struggling a little with some back troubles whilst filming around the globe. Yet in typical Segal style you’ve managed to push through. What other injuries have you sustained during your skiing career?
As a teenager I constantly had issues with my lower back while I was skiing moguls. I also tore my ACL in the middle of my comp season. I was feeling very strong but took an air too fast and ended up crashing into a tree and my ski didn’t pop off and got stuck.
Have any of these injuries changed how you train or approach skiing these days?
The back problems I had skiing moguls caused me to start training in the gym when I started freeriding, this really helped to alleviate the pain I had when I jumped. My ACL rehab made me really get in tune with my body but it also caused me to overthink situations and become a lot more cautious as I was afraid of being injured again. My most recent injury has made me realize the importance of my strength and up keeping not just the big muscles but the small ones as well and making sure I train better and not harder (and rest :P). Rest is so important but so hard to take, I never want to rest until it is too late.
With regards to your latest back trouble, what have you discovered works well for you to keep you at your best?
To begin with manual therapy, dry needling and rest were the best. Once the pain stopped yoga and pilates helped me to start regaining my strength but it was hard to find a balance, so I didn’t over-do it. Self-release has been awesome for the whole time and building up strength from my core and butt outwards has been important since I stopped feeling pain. I also think positive self-talk has been very important. While this hasn’t been a fully debilitating injury – the mental side of dealing with it has been more exhausting than the pain or re-training. Staying within my limits while training and being ok with it has made a big difference to every part of rehab - as well as making sure skiing stay funs.
Anyone with a bad back knows that travelling can be a nightmare. How have you managed to unravel and reset your body after long periods of travel on your way to different filming locations?
I carry a small spikey ball with me everywhere I go for my back and hamstrings, as well as a travel roller and travel yoga mat. I think it’s super important to not ski / train too hard before you travel, stay active and stretched out while you travel (yoga in airports is fun), hydrate and make sure you do light exercise when you first arrive and have time to warm up. I also pamper myself after lots of travelling. It’s ok to spend money on a physio session or take an extra day off to make sure you stay on top of you health- it’s just hard to stick with if it’s a pow day the morning after you arrive!
One of the focus points of your project Finding the Line is exploring the level of fear we are comfortable to put ourselves in front of. Do you feel that your experience with set backs and injuries has played a significant role in shaping how you deal with fear and how comfortable you are in its presence these days?
Injuries have played an important role in how I deal with fear. I find that when I am coming back from an injury I question my actions a lot more. In doing so I become more confident in the things that I am willing to do
And do you utilize any mental training techniques to assist you with this?
I use a combination of yoga, meditation (I try but I find it hard to keep up), visualization (when skiing bigger lines or jumping), breathing exercises (I use deep breathing when I am scared by less so on skis – more so when I am flying!
Do you feel that nutrition plays a role in keeping you at your best? What have you found works best to keep you fuelled for long days filming in the back country?
I think nutrition is integral to keep your body and mind healthy for skiing and your best possible performance. I find it very difficult to ski without breakfast, so a good breakfast (eggs, smoothie or porridge) is essential. On snow I usually take snacks and eat lunch later in the day but if we are doing a big ski touring day, I will bring 2 energy bars (ProBar/ Larabar) and a sandwich/ wrap. I cook most of my own food and usually prefer to cook vegetarian. For example:
You spend much of the year living in some of the best outdoor playgrounds in the world (Chamonix, Wanaka... to name a few). Do you spend much time working on formal strength training in the gym? Or do you prefer to be out and about in nature for your cross training? Can you outline your typical off snow training program?
In the past I have mainly focused on my pre-season training and have done sporadic gym sessions during winter. This year I am trying to continue gym training through the season, even if it is just body weight exercises working on keeping the small muscles firing, stretching and strengthening weak points. I think ski touring is a great way to also keep fit during the season, especially if backcountry skiing is part of your repertoire.
With the knowledge and wisdom you have now, if you could go back and give advice your younger self, what would you say?
Do more Pilates, don’t over train, and enjoy!
What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
That is a hard one!!! :/ I get a lot of advice, I think the idea about training better not harder has been repeated multiple times and it is an important factor in staying healthy.
If you owned a fortune cookie company, what words of wisdom would you choose to impart on the world, one cookie at a time?
No standing, only dancing :D
Finally, having become at home both competing and filming in the back country, if you had to choose, would it be a day of filming pow, or a successful day on the competition scene that would make you smile the most?
So difficult, I think a day of filming big mountain and jumping off cliffs and skiing cool terrain would make me smile the most. Competition is amazing and does make me smile but in the end, you are only ever competing against yourself and I think I can do that without the waiting around and crowds.
Author - Jess Cunningham
After years of having the privilege of partaking in long candid talks during treatment and rehab with many amazing athletes and clients around the globe, I realised I've taken for granted the interesting insights I've been lucky enough to have into what makes these inspiring people tick.