Alpine Young Guns: Jessica Depauli
By Michael Mastarciyan
For decades now, the good people of the tiny Austrian village of Kirchberg in Tirol have been watching their neighbors just up the road in glitzy Kitzbühel grab all the big headlines in the sport they all live and breathe for – alpine ski racing
Not only is Kitzbühel – a mere six kilometers from their doorsteps– the home of the most famous alpine ski race in the world, The Hahnenkamm, it’s also the birthplace of two of the tiny alpine nation’s most famous ski racing heroes – Toni Sailer “The Blitz from Kitz” and Christl Haas.
Sailer and Haas, both Olympic and World Championship gold medalists, brought glory home to Kitzbühel on countless occasions during their spectacular alpine ski racing careers that spanned the 1950s and 1960s. All the while, the good people of Kirchberg watched and applauded on the sidelines; quietly yearning for a champion they could call their own.
Kirchberg, if you’ve not heard of it before, is a town of about 5,000 souls known for its welcoming arms and huge civic heart. For more than a few seasons now, it’s been the European home base for the Canadian and American World Cup and Europa Cup race squads and many village resident consider the Canucks and Yankees living in their midst during race season to be locals – so much so that when three of them (Lindsey Vonn, John Kucera and Mike Janyk) won medals at the 2009 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships they were feted with a parade down the main street and a public celebration that was televised.
But Fortuna, it seems, has begun smiling on Kirchberg as the town finally has its very own bona fide alpine ski star – and this one is homegrown!
19-year-old Jessica Depauli, born and raised in the town known for its beautiful church (“kirche” means church in German) first began making headlines nationally in January 2010 when she won gold medals in super-G and giant slalom and a bronze in slalom at Austria’s National Junior Championships. A week later she went “international” when she captured silver and bronze at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in France in downhill and combined.
Then, last season, she exploded winning 10 Europa Cup races with at least one victory in every event – good enough to take the overall Europa Cup crown in dominating fashion with nearly two times the points of her closest competitor.
But it didn’t stop there.
While trashing the field at the Europa Cup, Depauli also made time in her busy race schedule to capture gold in slalom at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships held at Crans Montana, Switzerland last February – and then at the end of the season won gold in downhill and super combined at Austria’s National Championships.
The good folk of Kirchberg are, suffice it to say, quite pleased with their homegrown ski racing pearl.
Now after a season full of civic celebrations thrown by her friends and neighbors, Depauli, the pride of Kirchberg, is working hard to prepare for the upcoming race season. We caught up with her recently and she agreed to answer a few questions.
MM: Jessica, you've become a very well known ski racing figure in Austria - do people in your hometown ever stop you for autographs or for pictures?
JD: When I am invited to various events, it does happen that I am asked for autograph cards or some would like to have me to pose for a photo with them.
MM: Kirchberg had a special victory parade for John Kucera, Mike Janyk and Lindsey Vonn in 2009 after they won medals at the World Championships. Have they had a parade for you yet? If yes, what was it like for you?
JD: The Kirchberg Ski Club, together with the tourism organization and the town of Kirchberg, organized a big reception for me too. There were a lot of people there and an orchestra playing music – and I even got to direct them. It was a cool feeling – that is when I really understood what my successes meant.
MM: Kucera, Janyk and Vonn were given rodels and a Vonn also got a goat from Kirchberg at the parade...has the town given you any interesting gifts yet?
JD: I did receive some presents, but luckily no cow or goat – there is no space for anything like that in my room! I received a nice Dirndl (editor’s note: traditional costume), a candle holder (my mom always lights a candle when I am racing) and many Brixentaler (no those are not guys but coins that can be redeemed in local shops) - and of course many congratulations and well-wishes.
MM: Kirchberg is quickly becoming a very famous place because of your success - where would you send a tourist for a good Austrian meal in town - do you have a favorite restaurant? And if yes, what should they order off the menu?
JD: There are some good places in Kirchberg but when I go out to eat, I go to Asados (a steakhouse) and almost always order a good rump steak.
MM: You've won multiple medals at World Jr Championships, Austrian Nationals and just last season alone 10 Europa Cup events, where do you keep all your trophies?
JD: My trophies and medals are all in my house. The most recent ones stand or hang in the living room. For the nicest trophies I have a special place!
MM: What is the most important thing you learned last season?
JD: That the most important thing is to not get injured – which requires good training and preparation. From my World Cup races I learned that there is no room for tactics or trying out things – you have to go all out.
MM: You are a very talented skier in all events, is there one you prefer over the others?
JD: I like slalom the best because of the fast motions – something is going on all the time – and the giant slalom. The speed events are a bit too fast for me!
MM: How would you describe your ski racing style?
JD: Sensitive, with great feeling on tracks that are not too icy and probably best on drier Scandinavian snow.
MM: Who was your first ski instructor?
JD: My father, he's a ski club coach.
MM: Did you have any ski racing role models when you were younger?
JD: When I was younger it was Lindsey Vonn. Now I’d have to say it’s Bode Miller and Lizz Goergl.
MM: Transferring success from the junior ranks into World Cup can be difficult, what do you think you need to do to continue winning once you begin full-time on the World Cup tour?
JD: The most important will be good preparation and that I do not put any pressure on myself or let others do that. My ease in racing is what could become my advantage at the World Cup level too, or help me collect a few points.
MM: Will you be skiing in all the events during the upcoming World Cup season or will you be focusing on only some?
JD: I will mostly concentrate on slalom and giant slalom.
MM: If you were asked to describe yourself in a few words, what would they be?
JD: Relaxed, helpful, crazy (only sometimes…hahaha!), goal-oriented.
MM: Other than family and friends, is there something that means a lot to you?
JD: The stuffed animal that I sleep with at night.
MM: If you hadn’t become a ski racer, what do you think you would have become?
JD: Hmmmm…I never planned on becoming a racer, it just kind of happened – haha!
MM: Have you had some time off this off-season? Did you have any holidays?
JD: I spent a week in the Canary Islands to relax – I really enjoyed that. I also really allow myself relax on the days off at home with the family between the training camps.