Ski cross is not for the faint hearted, mixing high speed with an almost no-holds barred shared course format. sure seems to suit the aussie skiing style though – 22 year old Anton Grimus being the latest to make a world cup podium, plus consolation finals at both the sochi pre-olympic event and the world championships in Norway. SnowAction caught up with him studying hard for his masters in engineering – which most of us would struggle to achieve period, never mind while skiing the World Cup circuit at the same time.
How do you go studying post grad engineering with a full season on World Cup?
It sort of works well, I miss a couple of weeks in March of uni usually, but we get off in November so thats good.
You started out really well with a podium finish in Nakiska in December, how was your build up to that?
It was an awesome start. I didn’t expect it. I came off a few injuries. In mid September I had an orthoscope on my knee for meniscus and didn’t get back on snow till early November, but it felt fine in training and Nakiska came along and went really well.
Your qualifying speeds have been right up there for a while, but this past season you seem to have stepped it up in competition – an 8th at Sochi and 7th at the last World Cup in Norway, you made successive consolation finals.
I started out 3 years ago going quite fast in qualifying but struggled with the head to head. With Ski Cross you’ve not only got to be able to ski fast like Alpine and be able to turn really well, but be able to attack features, it’s a tactical game. That’s what I’ve been working on the past couple of years. Making the small finals and going through 4 rounds a day you get a lot more experience than 1 or 2.
Once you do that you’re only a ‘Bradbury’ moment away from winning the thing.
Exactly, if you put yourself in the position you never know what’s going to happen.
Also more seriously it means you’re right on the pace. Do you feel now that you’re not far from the top guys?
I’ve still got a lot to learn. The top guys up there just do small things, but they’re hard to do, little high end technical things that make the difference. But it’s good to see that it’s within reach.
Is it like downhill, are the top guys actually a bit older, like around early 30s?
There are some older guys, like Thomas Krause, who’s been around since the beginning in 2003, but it’s a developing sport. The guys who’ve been doing it since then certainly know what’s going on, but I think the younger guys have a bit more flare and fire in the oven, which you need in Skier Cross. You’ve gotta go for it and put everything on the line, which is the attitude the younger guys have. But the older guys have got a bit more maturity for rational decison making.
At times it looks like a Chinese Downhill, but there must be some rules right? How much leeway have you got, do people push those barriers?
That’s a line that’s got blurred over the last few years. Obviously you can’t push people and push them over, or have intentional physical contact. There’s times where you can’t avoid that. There have been some disqualifications. But the main unwritten rule is you can’t touch or push anyone that can potentially injur someone. You learn it over time, sometimes you get the short end of the straw, and sometimes you get off lucky with it, so it’s part of the game.
Just with things like flailing poles in those shots from Sochi, there’s plenty of scope to put other competitors off.
That’s part of ski cross. Sometimes you get hit, sometimes you don’t. As long as it’s not intentional you can’t do much about it. I think that’s what is interesting about the sport, it’s a bit rough, it’s a bit different.
Which brings us to the beard question – a couple of your mates who shall remain nameless – were suggesting you’re going for a chainsaw sponsor with that, and intimidating the opposition into the bargain.
No offers there yet, but really it’s a bit of fun, there’s a lot of other guys with some facial hair on the circuit, we have a bit of competition with it. It keeps me warm, I’m not sure how good it is for the drag factor. I enjoy a beard, not sure about my girlfriend though.
Growing up at Buller the big thing there the last few years has been the freestyle and park, you never got tempted to go down that route?
I guess my Austrian background has always been go as fast as you can, see how quick you can get around the gates, I was never really exposed to park and that side of skiing. I don’t regret it, it would have been fun to do. But I think skier cross is about a bit of mix between the two, you jump around, but you still get to go fast.
What are the speeds like?
The speeds generally average about 55 – 70kmh, so not as quick as Downhill, but we’ve got to worry about jumps and all that. The jumps range up to 110 – 120 foot, there’s definitely some big ones.
How was Sochi, what did you think of the venue and the whole set up in Russia?
It’s interesting. Everything is pretty much being built whilst we were there, it’s going to be exciting to go back. I’m sure once it’s set up the whole resort is going to be amazing. The skiing is definitely some of the best I have seen off piste, and on slope, it’s steep, it’s fast, it’s wide, everything you could want and all off one gondola.
Did you have time to get out and have a ski around?
We freeskied in bounds, there wasn’t that much snow this time round, so the off-piste wasn’t as good as it can be. Last year there was too much snow apparently. I guess because it’s close to the Black Sea it varies a lot, you never know what the weather is going to be like.
Was it expensive?
It wasn’t as bad as somewhere like Norway, or the more expensive European cities, but it’s not cheap. It’s similar to most of Europe I guess.
Ski Cross is pretty big in Europe right, they get good TV exposure?
In Germany it’s on the national network every event, they get a big following, it’s definitely growing. It’s a more exciting format to watch with the four skier format than just racing the clock. It ties into the whole freestyle growth in Australia, I think the sport’s got a good future.
It sure does have a future if our skiers can get up there with Buller’s Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin, who won his 2nd overall World Cup Snowboard Cross title earlier this year.