Paddy Graham will be fighting for one of just two places awarded in the Qualification round for the Red Bull Linecatcher backcountry freeskiing contest, starting on January 15 in Vars–La Forêt, France.
Testing his mettle among a field of 15 equally determined rivals for his place in the Final, Paddy isn’t letting the pressure get to him as he prepares to do battle, but, as the Briton tells Kirsten Corrigan, it’ll be all or nothing on the mountain.
With 16 riders eager to impress the judges in Qualification, who could make life difficult for you this weekend?
“Probably my housemate Thomas Hlawitschka! He’s one of the best competitors in the group, so there will be some rivalry there. Also, there are some of the older French guys – the legends I suppose – the ones you look up to when you’re younger. The main one is Fab Maierhoffer. He’s been around since I started skiing. He was the pro, really good at everything… and I aspired to be like him. When you end up competing against someone like that, you can’t go easy at all. They’ve got a lot more experience, and of course everyone is watching you, but in your head you’ve got to believe you can do it and just go for it.”
Is it just the ‘legends’ you need to watch out for or is the biggest threat from the up-and-coming stars of the future?
“There are also a lot of young kids that are coming up. I’m [only] 22, but there are 18-year-olds out there who are amazing. People say you’re past it by the time you’re 25, but I don’t believe it! Sean Pettit is amazing and it’s crazy to see how good he is considering he’s so young; he’s one of the best skiers in the world.”
Who do you consider the all-time great competitor?
“Candide Thovex from France [2010 winner] is probably the best skier out there. Tanner Hall [USA] is definitely up there too, but he’s just come back from an injury. Pep Fujas could be another really good contender if he’s competing and it’s always really fun to see him skiing. He was definitely another one I looked up to when I was younger.”
'You always learn something new, no matter how good you are'
Do you have any new tricks up your sleeve to wow the judges?
“It tends to be the standard and classic tricks rather than the new double corks and stuff like that, because you only get to look at the jumps and face where you’re going in this style of competition. You’re just at the top, and you’ve got to try it and see how you go. You can’t have a day of practice, so it’s all in and there’s no margin for error.”
So, what’s your gameplan for the weekend?
“I think you’ll just need to have a strong style and stay in control. I’ll just try and go big on jumps and on the cliff. Maybe you’ll just have to do one more little extra thing than everyone else does and you’ll be through.”
Why didn’t you compete in the 2010 Linecatcher event?
“I had the chance to go last year, but I broke my back just before the event. I was out in Breckenridge in America doing pre-season training where they have a huge facility called Woodward. It’s got loads of trampolines and foam pits, stuff like that. I had a compression fracture in one of my vertebrae from one of the trampolines and that stopped me skiing for about six weeks. Both my housemates [Bene Mayr and Thomas Hlawitschka] were doing the competition, so I was just watching and was pretty jealous.”
How have you moved on from that setback?
“Injury is always in the back of your mind whatever you’re doing, as it’s a pretty dangerous sport and you’re always doing big jumps or falling over. I think you’ve just got to be really confident, believe in yourself and train, and once you overcome that you can do anything.”
What is the big appeal for you with this type of skiing?
“You always learn something new, no matter how good you are. The freedom of it is also a big factor – you can go anywhere in the mountains, on the jumps, in the halfpipe… You can be skiing on powder, jumping off cliffs… you’re never going to get bored. With the lifestyle, you get to travel a lot and everyone you meet is so friendly, it’s like a big family vibe. You find that all over the world."