Free riding is widely considered to be a male preserve. There are no official statistics, but whether you watch ski movies, look at the list of participants in the Freeride World Tour or the people buying freeriding equipment you will find mostly men. Lorraine Huber was not willing to accept that it has to be this way: In 2008, after graduating from business school, Lorraine, a dual citizen of Austria and Australia, decided to turn her passion into a career - and became one of Austria’s first freeride pros.
Is it harder for women to be a pro in this sport?
Lorraine Huber: Absolutely yes. There are a lot less women in this sport, both active and following the sport, so the market is much smaller and there is a lot less money for new projects or sports contracts. As a woman in this sport you just don’t get the same recognition as your male colleagues, although you work just as hard and perform just as well. That’s interesting, because what I do not only speaks to women – 75 per cent of my Facebook friends, for example, are men. Still I am convinced that there is great potential in marketing this sport to women, and I really wish to inspire more women to try it.
To this end, Huber organises the Women’s Progression Days in Lech, a 3- or 4-day freeride camp - for ladies only. “In mixed groups, women’s biggest fears are not of falling or getting hurt, but of being too slow and thus holding back others in the group,” says Huber. While men often just want to “ski until the thighs burn”, the Women’s Progression Days are more about enjoying the sport and the company of other women, about having fun without pressure to perform. Participants usually ski at about the same level and support each other in learning and practicing new skills. It is a very relaxed, casual atmosphere, perfect for learning, and perfect for Lorraine Huber to pass on her knowledge, experience and passion for the sport.
Passion and talent – what else do you need to succeed on a professional level?
Lorraine Huber: If you want to freeride for a living you need to be more than a good skier. In a way, you are your own little marketing company, and your name is your brand. Very often, it is not so much about how well you perform as an athlete. As a professional freerider, you have to create value for your company with film projects or other activities. Return on Investment, that’s what it comes down to. You have to take the business side of the job very seriously and be pro-active – something you don’t see in athletes too often, unfortunately. I for one love this part of the job, and of course my business degree doesn’t hurt either in this respect. But still, money can’t be your main motivation in this business. As a woman freerider, you have to be willing to swim against the tide, and you can’t do that without passion and love for what you do. You really need that, for you don’t get to live a “normal” life with a safe job, a happy family and a nice financial cushion in the bank. My sister, for example, would have been much more talented in the sport than I am, but she couldn’t do my job because she needs this feeling of security, also financially. As a freerider, you have to live with a rather high rate of uncertainty.
The Women’s Progression Days also deal with aspects of security – not so much in the financial sense, but with regard to being safe in the mountains. It is very important to Lorraine Huber to pass on her knowledge in this field, especially because her films only highlight the most spectacular rides in the most breath-taking sceneries: “What I convey there inspires people to go off-piste. But they are only the most awesome part of it all,” she says. In her camps she also talks about the risks of the sport and trains her ladies to interpret avalanche warnings, to read different terrains, to be familiar with the emergency equipment and act self-reliant in case of emergency.
How dangerous is freeriding?
Lorrainer Huber: That’s difficult to answer because so much depends on the human factor. As a pro you are skilled enough to be rather safe in even a challenging terrain. A line that is safe for us, however, could be very dangerous for an amateur. And then there’s general dangers like avalanches – they can hit even the most experienced of riders. So, it is all relative – compared to being a football pro, it is extremely dangerous. There’s no denying that.
Besides all the training and learning at the Women’s Progression Days, there is also the socialising aspect. Participants live together and go to yoga or après-ski after skiing. After all, it is important to strengthen the community of women freeriders. The number of participants is limited to 30, and when she’s done as a pro rider, Lorraine Huber plans to offer the camp on several dates a year. There are enough ladies interested already now. Seems like freeriding doesn’t have to be a male preserve forever...
Sept. 6, 2017