Alpine Young Guns: Joana Haehlen
By Michael Mastarciyan
Ask Joana Haehlen what she likes most about skiing and she’ll tell you – straight up – SPEED!
The talented 20-year-old, born and raised in Lenk, a picture postcard Swiss alpine resort high above the clouds in the Bernese Oberland, admits she’s more than comfortable making turns, but the true thrill of racing for her manifests itself most when she’s tucking and straight-lining down an icy slope at high velocity.
A silver medalist in super-G at the most recent FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships held in Roccaraso, Italy, Haehlen has also made it on the downhill podium on the Europa Cup tour.
Despite a penchant for going fast, Haehlen is no slouch when it comes to navigating gates. The winner of a bronze medal in combined at the 2011 Junior Worlds held in her native Switzerland, Haehlen has also finished 3rd two times in the Europa Cup.
We checked in with Haehlen recently for a quick chat about her ongoing love affair with speed and snow…
MM: Joana, what is it you love about ski racing the most – the speed?
JH: There are many factors there that come together. I am very fascinated by skiing at high speed, but I also like to master technical challenges. In addition, the fact that all this takes place in nature is like icing on the cake.
MM: What is it about downhill you like so much?
JH: The speed! I love the adrenaline kick from going fast – it’s a fantastic feeling to ski down a mountain at a high speed.
MM: Alpine ski racing at high speeds can also be scary – have you ever been intimidated before a run or scared during a run?
JH: Not really fear, but I always have respect for the hill before the first training run. Once I lost a ski while skiing at a high speed in training in Zermatt. I managed not to crash but just barely. That was a moment of fear, and a lot of luck!
MM: Are you as comfortable carving turns as you are in a downhill tuck at high speed?
JH: I feel comfortable in all events. All of them have special traits that I like.
MM: Would you say you were a speed junkie – addicted to going fast on skis?
JH: Definitely. There is nothing better than to speed down the slope.
MM: When did you discover your love of going fast?
JH: I was like that ever since I was little. As a kid I always preferred just skiing straight down the hill.
MM: Do you think you would have been a downhill skier if you grew up in a place that didn’t have mountains – do you think speed is part of your DNA or your body and soul?
JH: Perhaps, but the external circumstances would have been different. I believe you have to be a speed junkie to ski downhill, at least 50 % of your being; if it is not in your blood you’ll never be really good.
MM: What are you better at on a downhill course, gliding or flying – which do you like more?
JH: I like the jumps in a downhill, the gliding parts not so much. Gliding is not very exciting and with my weight I am slower.
MM: You’ve said you’d love to go surfing and sky-diving – can you tell us more about this?
JH: I would love to learn to surf, that’s got to be amazing. Unfortunately I haven’t found time for it yet – maybe next year.. Sky-diving has always been a dream for me. The Ski Club in Lenk gave me a gift certificate for sky-diving after my medal in the Junior Worlds. I’m going to redeem it soon. I can‘t wait!
MM: Do you do everything at high speed in your life off the hill – eating, drinking, walking, talking, shopping etc…?
JH: I don’t think so as normally I am actually rather a relaxed type. But I am impatient and am always itching to moving forward - and for someone from the Canton of Bern I talk fast (she says with a big smile).
MM: Lenk in Simmental where you grew up has some very lovely thermal hot springs and is also known as a spa town as well as a ski town – do you go to the spa much?
JH: I like to go to the spa a lot. I try to go as often as I can, also when I am on the road with team.
MM: Describe your perfect spa day?
JH: After a perfect day of skiing, a sauna and spa – and then it’s great to dip in the snow and then relax in the whirlpool.
MM: You also enjoy tennis I’m told, is this right?
JH: Yes I really like to play tennis but I don’t often have the time for it. When I was younger I even played in tournaments.
MM: You’ve said Roger Federer is one of your role models because of his mental fortitude – is this correct?
JH: For me Roger Federer is one of the best athletes ever. He has achieved so much but always remained down to earth. When it really counts he can play at the top of his game.
MM: Speaking of role models, you’ve said Didier Cuche is someone who inspires you as a skier, is this true?
JH: I admire him and his athletic achievements. He is a great role model for me and many other ski racers both on and off the race course.
MM: You won a super-G silver medal at Junior Worlds in Italy last season – what was that experience like for you?
JH: It was unbelievable, I was so excited. I had a great feeling even before the start. When I crossed the finish line and took the lead, I knew it could be enough for a medal. It was a crazy race, the top 5 were within 8 hundredths. I was simply thrilled.
MM: Did you have any friends or family at the hill in Roccaraso? Did you have a big celebration afterward?
JH: My parents and my uncle were on site in Roccaraso. It was great to have them there. When I returned home I had a big party with my friends over a raclette dinner.
MM: You also had a 3rd place in Downhill at a Europa Cup race last season – what did that feel like?
JH: I’m very proud of this result. I had not skied on long boards for over a year, due to my ACL tear the year before. I really liked the course in Sella Nevea. I was so happy to be able to ski downhill again and it went well.
MM: What’s the most important thing you learned last season?
JH: To really appreciate when you are healthy, to enjoy it all but also fight hard for it.
MM: Despite being a speed junkie, you seem to be quite proficient in the carving department as you won a bronze in Combined at the 2011 FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Crans Montana and two Europa Cup 3rd places in Super Combined that same season – how comfortable are you actually on the tech side?
JH: I’m currently training a lot of GS and a little bit of SL. I still need a lot of training but I have already improved. My goal is to be able to keep up in the tech events as well.
MM: Do you see yourself as an all-rounder or as a speed specialist?
JH: At the moment I still view myself as an all-rounder. I would like improve further in the tech events.
MM: Can you see yourself skiing in all events some day on the World Cup tour?
JH: Why not, but for that I will still need to train a lot more slalom (she says with a smile). All events would be a real tough program.
MM: You haven’t skied World Cup yet, any plans to race there next season?
JH: My focus will for sure be on skiing European Cup. The coaches decide which races we do.
MM: What’s the best ski racing advice you’ve ever been given?
JH: Difficult to say…to have fun at skiing and not to think too much on results and points.
MM: I heard you also enjoy cooking, is this true?
JH: Yes at home I like to cook.
MM: What is your best dish – in terms of cooking or baking?
JH: I prefer to make desserts. My mousse au chocolat or my chocolate cake are really tasty.
MM: Do you have any other hobbies?
JH: Besides biking, hiking, swimming in the lake and streams, reading, watching movies I love to enjoy my time with friends and family.
MM: I heard you have a twin…identical or fraternal?
JH: Yes Simona is an identical twim and then I have an older sister Gianna. Simona and I are very close – it is great to have a twin sister.
MM: Does your twin race also?
JH: She quit three years ago after racing FIS races, because she was no longer motivated to train hard.
MM: Have you taken any holidays in the off-season? Go anywhere warm?
JH: I enjoyed a few weeks off in Switzerland in April and did some short trips. In June I visited my good friend Ragnhild Mowinckel in Norway. We had a great time, but it was not that warm.
MM: How has off-season training been coming along?
JH: Physical training has been going well; we had a multi-faceted training camp in Mallorca and had a race bike camp there which was the highlight for me. On-snow training in Zermatt was good too with excellent good conditions. Then we flew to New Zealand. It was a great experience but unfortunately, after ten days of intensive training, I crashed in a GS run and broke the 4th metacarpal on my hand. So I had to return home early. I will have to have wear a cast for four weeks, but after that I hope to return to skiing quickly.
All photos private