Q&A with NORTHFACE ATHLETE - Anna Segal
Hailing from Melbourne, Anna Segal started competitive skiing at the age of 17 and is renowned for her freestyle skills and tricks. She is an ambassador for women’s skiing, and has recently turned her attention to film-making. We asked The North Face Athlete how she manages fear on the big days, and what she loves most about skiing down under.
How has the sport evolved since you took it up and where do you see skiing headed for women in the future?
There are many subsections to skiing; downhill racing, nordic, moguls, aerials etc. My skiing career has revolved around ‘slopestyle’ (think of a downhill skate park made out of snow, with skiers doing tricks all the way down the run) and backcountry skiing. Many classify both as ‘extreme skiing’ or action sports. Female representation in action sports is a lot lower in comparison to other, more traditional sports. However, I have seen a massive increase in women getting involved. When I started skiing in the terrain park, I would only ski with a big rat pack of guys – not because I didn’t like skiing with girls – but because there weren’t many other females doing the same thing. Towards the end of my competitive slopestyle career, I almost solely skied with other females. I think participation in skiing and other action sports has a domino effect: other ladies see their friends doing it and they’re more inclined to join in.
In 2014 you placed fourth in slopestyle at the Winter Olympics and became the first Australian to have ever taken 4th place. Do you remember how you felt on that day?
I felt utterly relieved! Three weeks earlier, I had discovered I’d torn a ligament in my knee. Usually, this injury requires surgery and an 8-12 month rehabilitation period. I thought my Olympic dreams were down the drain. But, with the amazing support of my coach, physiotherapist, sports psyche and the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, I somehow powered through. My knee felt extremely unstable, but I had been working on my mental game a lot in the lead up and was able to block out the ‘what ifs’. I was so anxious about the event I wasn’t sleeping, and I was pushing through exhaustion and pain. So, to finish my final run, see my family in the stands and all my support team on the ground – it was seriously one of the best moments of my life. That was my last slopestyle competition and I feel like I ended on an absolute high. If you told me I would place fourth one year out from the Olympics, I would’ve been disappointed. But, given the circumstances, and the struggles I went through to even get my skis back on my feet, I was extremely proud of myself. It was a real change in perspective.
After the 2014 Olympics you left competitive skiing AND your day job to go to Iceland and film Face of Winter. You worked with Warren Miller, a well-known ski and snowboarding filmmaker, what was that like for you?
Well…The opportunity didn’t come directly after the Olympics – it was a good four years later. Between the Olympics and Warren Miller, I finished the last year and a half of my university degree, I moved to Whistler and I spent a lot of time working on my skiing and backcountry skills. Getting the call-up to film with this famous ski/snowboard production company was pretty exciting! Warren Miller actually passed away early last year, so the film we were shooting was a tribute to him. I travelled to Iceland with my friend Amie Engerbretson and there we met freestyle ski legend Jonny Moseley. It was one of the plusher ski shoots I’ve been on.
You have recently been promoting your own feature documentary Finding The Line which stars you and your big mountain skiing sister Nat. What was the catalyst for this project?
We both wanted to get involved with ski films, but at the time, nothing was being offered to us, so we decided to join forces and create our own project. Initially, we didn’t have a theme or objective and we kept fighting over what we actually wanted to create. And when I say fight… I mean we were in tears shouting at each other. This led to us realising we both had some deep-seated insecurities about our skiing careers, which, in different ways, were steeped in fear. So we started exploring the subject and how it had affected both of us, and that is what Finding The Line is based around.
What was it like making your own film? Did anything go awry?
Nat and I got into film making by diving in headfirst, there was little preparation. Neither of us had any experience in the film industry, so we were making rookie mistakes left, right and centre. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But that’s how you learn. I took away a few lessons including:
Create a SOLID budget before you begin, make sure you have figured out finances to cover this budget, and have everything in writing and signed off by all parties you are contracting or working with.
You tackle some pretty big mountains and put your body on the line to do a sport that you love. What goes through your mind when you are faced with a new challenge? How do you decide what’s worth the risk?
When new challenges present themselves, there’s often a little battle going on in my head: the negative thoughts telling me I can’t, and the positive thoughts telling me I can. I try to focus on the positive to best prepare for the task at hand. Once I have decided I can do something, I try to calm myself (controlled breathing helps), approach it with a settled mind and make sure I can clearly visualise myself performing. If I can’t visualise myself doing it, I know that I’m not ready. In terms of risk management, that’s something I still struggle with. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in adrenaline and wanting to prove to myself that I can do things, my evaluation of whether it is ‘worth it’ goes out the window.
What do you value about honing your skills in the Australian snow scene?
What I value is not so much related to the skills I developed, but more linked to the community. I think it was the tight-knit ski and snowboard community that made me fall in love with skiing in the first place. It connected me with like-minded people, who were passionate about the mountains and outside the scope of who I would have met at school and university. From as young as seven, what fired me up most about skiing were the friends I’d get to ski with.
What is unique about the Australian landscape in which you grew up?
It has to be skiing amongst the gum trees. Also, the odd sighting of a wombat or echidna wandering through the snow. You won’t see that anywhere else in the world!
Can you reveal any of your secret spots?
My favourite place to ski would have to be in and around Whistler. It’s not really a secret, but there is a good reason it’s so popular. The resort access to backcountry skiing is amazing, and on a pow day, the ‘in-bounds’ trees are hard to beat.
You have been doing some speaking gigs of late. What advice do you tend to give to other women based on your experiences?
Most of my speaking has been in relation to Finding The Line, which prompts a lot of questions about fear and how I deal with it. My advice is to first identify what exactly you’re afraid of, then to analyse whether it is a situation that you are truly not ready for, or whether it is a situation that you have the skills to work through. I think women, in particular, often underestimate their skill set and therefore let fear get in the way of their potential. But, this is not always the case. Sometimes fear rears its head for a very good reason and there are times when we need to listen to it.
What personal qualities are most important to you?
Honesty, humour and work ethic. Honesty, because I really dislike fake people. I’d rather someone be blunt and potentially offensive, rather than sugar coat things. Honesty is so important for communication and the better people communicate, the more we can progress as individuals and as communities. Humour is also really important to me, because there are times that we all take ourselves too seriously and it’s good to be able to laugh at life. Finally, good work ethic is something I strive for and that I hope the people I work with also regard highly. When you’re part of a team that trusts each to work their hardest, it keeps the vibe high and is a motivating force.
What’s on the cards for 2019?
I’m most looking forward to coming back down south for some spring skiing in September. I will stop off in New Zealand to meet up with The North Face team for the launch of their new fabric, Futurelight. Then I’ll be heading to the Main Range in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains to do a backcountry trip, with The North Face. The aim is to show our Kiwi team-mates how awesome the Aussie backcountry can be. I’m crossing my fingers for good snow otherwise I know we’ll be the butt-end of their jokes for the next couple years.