Feature | Alpine Skiing

Alice Robinson - the Kiwi schoolgirl taking on the world's best

The 17-year-old Olympian took second in the final World Cup giant slalom of last season and now works with two of Lindsey Vonn's former coaches

By Rory Jiwani ·

Teen sensation Alice Robinson is set for big things in alpine skiing this season.

The 17-year-old has already been to an Olympic Games, representing New Zealand at PyeongChang 2018, but last season saw her make a stunning breakthrough.

Just a month after winning giant slalom gold at the World Junior Championships, Robinson finished second behind Mikaela Shiffrin in the last World Cup giant slalom of the season in Soldeu, Andorra.

This will be her second full World Cup campaign and, with no World Championships or Olympic Games to build towards, the teenager has the chance to add to her experience and perhaps earn a first victory in the senior ranks.

Olympic Channel caught up with Robinson before the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.

Soldeu giant slalom podium (L-R): runner-up Alice Robinson, winner Mikaela Shiffrin, third-placed Petra Vlhova

Olympic Channel: It's been seven months since the end of last season. What have you been up to?

Alice Robinson: I've just been at home pretty much the whole time in New Zealand, just finishing school, doing a lot of gym work. And then in May, I went on a camp to America for a couple of weeks to train in Mammoth and then I did like six weeks at home in Queenstown training there as well, just skiing.

OC: What's happening with high school?

AR: I'm nearly done. I've got one week when I get back. After this race, I'm flying home on Sunday and then I'll have the last week of school.

Then we'll go to America mid-November again before the next World Cup at the end of November.

OC: Wow, how are you feeling about that?

AR: Yeah, I'm so excited. Yeah, it's just... I feel like the last year always drags on especially when you're trying to do something else full pace as well. It continues to drag on.

OC: What's it been like juggling schoolwork with being an athlete? Have you had much support or advice?

AR: Whenever someone asks me that I actually have no idea how I've managed to do it. It's a bit of a miracle.

I don't know, my school has been really good and really lenient with me, which has been super nice. So I never really had strict deadlines of handing something in, because I prefer to do things like one thing at a time. So when I'm skiing, I'm fully focused on skiing. And then when I'm doing school, I'm really into it and will just bang it out. So that's kind of what I try to do. That's kind of how I managed it.

Alice Robinson during a news conference at PyeongChang 2018

OC: Last season ended really well for you. What are your expectations this term?

AR: I don't want to go in with massive expectations. It's not like, 'I've got one podium so now I'm expecting to be winning or on the podium every race.' I know that's probably not how it's gonna go.

Idealistically, I want to be punching for top five at most races and then kind of seeing how that goes. And then obviously I want to just kind of gauge where I'm at after this race and then make more goals after that. But yeah, at the moment I'm kind of wanting to be top five, top 10.

I kind of want to take every race as it comes. But obviously, down the line, I want to get Olympic medals and World Championship medals going forward.

If I was out of the top 10, I probably wouldn't be that happy.

OC: This isn't an Olympic year and there have been so many high-profile retirements too. Do you feel like it's a bit of a changing of the guard?

AR: Yeah, it's almost like a new era. With all these like big names gone, it's kind of like a building year because there’s no big events that everyone's thinking about. So it's kind of a good time to just focus on like the World Cup and just try and get more consistent.

OC: Did anything change for you last year after your success in terms of sponsors and life in general?

AR: Yeah, I got a little bit more busy just with more sponsors, more opportunities and more obligations which has been great. Having more sponsors is awesome for me because I really need it!

Yeah, it's just been more busy but I've been really enjoying it. But it's not like ski racing is a massive sport in New Zealand so it's not right in my face all the time which is quite nice.

OC: Obviously rugby is massive in New Zealand, and netball. But do you think attitudes in the country are changing towards winter sports after your success and medals at PyeongChang for freestyle skier Nico Porteous and snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott?

AR: I feel like where we all live down in Queenstown and Wanaka, there already is a big culture and we all grew up skiing and doing that in like our backyards. But obviously it's different for the rest of New Zealand.

So I think Nico and Zoi getting medals at the Olympics definitely raised the bar and awareness for snow sports which was really great. If we keep doing well in our different events we can really raise the bar and hopefully get more people out there accessing the mountains because it's great what we've got.

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OC: It's funny because you get people like Chloe Kim and Shaun White competing in New Zealand and enjoying the conditions. Maybe a lot of New Zealanders don't realise how good it is.

AR: No, especially because there's obviously not as many options in the Southern Hemisphere. I know for the free ski side of things, Cardrona is like the main hub for that. And then for alpine it's a bit different because we do get a lot of teams coming down to Coronet and Queenstown, which is great. And some go to South America and some go to glaciers. But yeah, we still get a lot of people coming down here to ski and train because it is really good what we've got.

Chloe Kim competing at the Winter Games NZ in Cardrona in September 2017

OC: Tell us about your experience of competing at PyeongChang 2018 as a 16-year-old. That must have been pretty gnarly.

AR: Yeah, it was very tough. I only found out I was going a week before I left, so it was pretty hectic. I went from under-16, little kid races to all of a sudden doing World Cups and then going to the Olympics. And I'd just come off a month of trying to qualify and then I qualified and I got to the Olympics.

It was an amazing experience but I was pretty burnt by the time I got there. The kind of whole lead-up to it wasn't ideal. But I mean, the opportunity to get selected and be able to go there and represent New Zealand was great. And especially for next time. I've already got the first-time experience out of the way and I can just focus on my events and I'll be 20 and a bit more experienced, not just for the Olympics but the whole sport itself.

I always wanted to go to the Olympics when I was little. I was always super competitive and I kind of did everything.

I was really into running for ages. and into hockey and netball. Then I started skiing and that's just kind of where I ended up.

Alice Robinson competing in the giant slalom at PyeongChang 2018

OC: How different is competing against juniors to going up against seniors and the Olympics?

AR: It's a massive step up and tough being from New Zealand because you're kind of doing it on your own. There are no older people to guide you on what you should be doing or look up to really. There's no who's been there and done it or knows how to facilitate it for you. Whereas the other big nations have it.

It can be pretty daunting being from New Zealand and showing up at these races where you kind of don't feel like you should be there. I think that was the toughest thing for me. And then you feel like you have to prove yourself to be there.

Obviously once you do punch in there, then it's great because the races are awesome and so well organised. And then you start to kind of realise all the good things about it and start to appreciate it. But yeah the first steps are the toughest part for sure.

OC: Has anyone given you some advice on being on the World Cup circuit?

AR: I got some quite good advice from Claudia Riegler, the ex-ski racer from New Zealand. We kind of sat down before last season, but she's like a European (born in Austria) so she knew the ropes and we had a good chat about some stuff.

But no one from the other countries has given me advice. It's just not really how it goes, I guess.

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OC: What do you think you need to do to challenge the likes of Mikaela Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova?

AR: I think I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and trying to push the boundaries a bit and keep trying to push them. Hopefully that'll be enough to challenge them. We'll see.

OC: What is it like competing with those racers? Is it intimidating or more inspiring?

AR: It's pretty intimidating to start with because obviously they're amazing athletes and they've done some amazing things. But it's also kind of motivating. If you think you can compete with them, you're like, 'I'm doing OK!'

OC: If there was a quality you could steal from Shiffrin, what would it be?

AR: Probably her consistency. She's very consistent.

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OC: Did you have an inspiration growing up or someone who inspired you in skiing?

AR: I definitely looked up a lot to Lindsey Vonn. And Julia Mancuso. Because I used to train at Coronet with the US guys, that's who we saw growing up and that was really the only access we had to these athletes.

And Bode Miller. We used to watch Bode all the time because of all the crazy stuff he used to do and that kind of inspired me. And I know we used to watch all the other kids like, 'We can go for it' and that gave me the, 'Send it!' kind of vibe. And then Lindsey, you know, just kind of, 'Go for it' and so that's what we grew up thinking.

Lindsey obviously overcame a lot of obstacles, and we saw them training all the time. She was just a good figure for the sport as well.

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OC: And you're now training under her former coaches Chris Knight and Jeff Fergus. How's that going?

AR: It's going really well. They've done it all before which makes it quite easy and they have the experience and they know a lot. So it's going really well at the moment.

Chris is a Kiwi and Jeff's the only American so it's kind of him versus us two!

OC: Alpine skiing is a sport where you have to try and keep calm. How do you cope with the nerves?

AR: I try and just keep really bubbly and happy the whole day and just try to always have a smile on my face and keep laughing. Because if I'm not doing that, what's the point?

When you're doing a training run, you're kind of thinking about what you're doing the whole way down. But when you're racing, you're not really thinking about what you're doing. It's just all instinct, so you've just got to kind of trust yourself.

When you're actually in the start gate on your own, that's when you get the nerves. But I don't feel like I need to work myself up before the race or anything. I try and just keep calm as possible because I know I'm going to ski my best if I'm calm and not stressed out or nervous.

OC: Is there any music you like to listen to before a race to get you going?

AR: Yeah, I always listen to drum and bass. Sometimes I'll listen to really heavy drum and bass because it kind of makes me laugh but also gets me pumped up at the same time. And then sometimes I like chilled drum and bass or chilled house music, but just kind of stuff that's upbeat and happy.