Alpine Young Guns: Ralph Weber
By Michael Mastarciyan
He’s the latest model from a country with a production line that’s been cranking out alpine speedsters for years - and yes, he knows he’s got big ski boots to fill.
The “he” I’m referring to is Ralph Weber, a 19-year-old fastback from Gossau, a small Swiss town tucked in the heart of the canton of St. Gallen, who made big waves when he won gold in Super G, and silver in Downhill at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships at Roccaraso, Italy this past March.
The gold and silver medals from Junior Worlds, a second place finish in Downhill at a Europa Cup race in Sarntal, Italy last February, and second and fourth place results in Super-Combined and Downhill at this year’s Swiss Nationals have bumped Weber up the chain from Switzerland’s C-squad to the country’s B-squad.
An all-rounder, who’s as comfortable flying and gliding as he is bashing through gates, Weber is, for now, focused on speed – both on and off the slopes!
“I love to go fast, and got a chance to go really fast in a Lamborghini Gallardo when my hometown of Gossau through a big victory party for me at the end of last season. The Lambo is owned by a local garage, and I got to drive it for about 20 minutes. Let’s just say it was very, very cool because it had 570 horsepower! There was group of about 64 motorcycles there with me, and one of them was a policeman so I wasn’t too worried about a speeding ticket! They blocked all the streets, and there were no other cars allowed, so I got to test the engine,” Weber says with a big grin.
“I was already at 120 km/h in second gear, and I could still accelerate! My own car is a VW T4 bus with 291,000 kms on it, so you can say it was quite a big difference from my usual ride!”
Weber slowed down recently, and parked himself for a quick chat about his recent successes and his plans for the upcoming season...
MM: Ralph, you tore it up on back-to-back days with a silver in Downhill and then a gold the very next day in Super G at Junior Worlds in Roccaraso, what did that feel like?
RW: It felt bumpy! Before Junior Worlds I was hoping to win a medal in one of the two speed disciplines. I thought Downhill was my best shot, but I was nervous on race day after finishing in 9th and 3rd in the training runs. It was really warm at 8-o’clock in the morning, and they had salted the piste. During the run I had a bad feeling because the track was really bumpy, and I couldn’t ski the line I had planned. In the finish I shook my head because I thought it was a terrible run, but when I looked up, I saw I was in second and couldn’t believe my eyes! My parents and two good friends from Gossau were there watching so I was happy the 1000km drive they made was worth it! I was also really proud of the service job I did on my own skis as I’m my own service man (he smiles).
For the Super G I started in 25th because of my FIS points. When I was in the start, my teammate Nils Mani was sitting in first so I thought I’d probably end up shaking his hand as he’d be the winner. Again, the course was soft, and it was really warm, so conditions were tough again. When I crossed the finish line I looked up and saw that I was in first place! I couldn’t believe it. I was really proud that it was two very successful days for me, and for Switzerland! It took me a little while though, to realize what a milestone it was for me in my career.
MM: Your medals at Junior Worlds were your most impressive results to date on a major world stage - does this give you a little extra confidence going into bigger races in the near future?
RW: Yeah I think so. There was a lot of pressure before Junior Worlds, and with the win I got to race at the World Cup finals in Schladming. A lot of fans from Flums and Gossau came to watch me, but I didn’t really feel much pressure, as just being there felt like a victory to me. It was very cool to be there, and if I have any tough times in the future, I’ll think back to Junior Worlds with a good feeling. But in the end you have to ski fast - that’s the most important thing.
MM: Speaking of the near future, you are currently on Switzerland’s B-Team...where will you be doing most of your racing next year, Europa Cup, maybe a little more World Cup too?
RW: I’ll be racing Europa Cup next year. If that goes well, and I ski fast, I’ll move up to World Cup. Right now I’m focused on Europa Cup though because I’m still young and have a lot of time to move up. I know it’s a step by step process to get to the top.
MM: You raced in the Super G at World Cup Finals in Schladming this past March and finished in 22nd, what was that experience like?
RW: It was great! At the Junior Worlds there were maybe 50 people watching the race - in Schladming 20,000 just in the finish! It was cool because it was my first World Cup race and I was racing with the top-25 racers in the world, and I was the youngest. It was also cool because it was Didier Cuche’s last true race and that was history. It was sunny the whole time I was there, and I got to meet some important people was able to network. I hope to be there again next year (he says with a smile)!
MM: Your fellow countrymen, Silvan Zurbriggen, Didier Defago, Beat Feuz and Didier Cuche were also in that race, what was that like for you?
RW: I got to spend time with all of them in training and got to know them a bit. They were all very kind to me and really made me feel like I was part of the World Cup team. I had an embarrassing, but very funny moment too. I went free skiing with Silvan with my Super G skis one day and the coaches told us we had to go under the race course through a tunnel. The tunnel turned out to be very long, and because it was also uphill, I decided to get some speed going into it – unfortunately no one told me the tunnel was full of rocks instead of snow! Let’s just say my skis didn’t appreciate the tunnel and the rocks! The entire Swiss Team heard about it and they’re still cracking jokes about the incident (he smiles)!
MM: The Super G in Schladming was Didier Cuche’s final truly competitve career race...what was it like to be there with him, did he give you any parting words of advice?
RW: It was a very special day. I talked with him a lot, and was able to ask him tons of questions about his ski and boot set-up because we are both with HEAD. He’s a very good guy and very easy going. At the Super G there were a lot of emotions for everyone in the entire skiing family. All the athletes applauded and I noticed there was a lot of respect for him. It was extra special for me because it was his last race, and my first in the World Cup.
MM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your young career?
RW: To be realistic. It’s easy to look at rankings and to think you are good, but the reality is that 99.9% of the other racers are probably better than you. Also, being the best in your country’s age group isn’t everything, you have to look at world rankings, and even look at the racers a year or two older to get a better perspective. It’s also a good idea not to get too focused on how others are doing – the best idea is to focus on your own training and to make sure you are doing the right things that work best for you.
MM: Can you see yourself competing in all disciplines on the World Cup tour someday or will you focus primarily on speed events?
RW: I want to ski in all the disciplines as long as possible. Last year I was good in the speed disciplines, so for right now I’ll spend more time on speed. I think I’ll be able to compete in all events in the future, but I’m not going to be disappointed if I don’t because I’m not going to count on it as a 100% eventuality.
MM: Did you have any ski racing idols growing up?
RW: I’ve always admired a lot of skiers, but I never really had any ski racing idols.
MM: If you could have dinner with any ski racer, living or dead, who would that be, and what would you ask that person?
RW: Oh, tough question. I think it would be Bode Miller because he’s a little bit different from other racers. I know I’d want to ask him about his summertime training and what kind things he does to stay fit. How well I understand him is a whole other question as my English is not perfect (he says with a smile).
MM: What do you like to do for fun outside of skiing at 150 km/h or driving Lamborghinis even faster?
RW: Fun for me is fresh air and nature so I can think about what going on in my life and what I’m going to do next. I’m so used to spending my time going fast, and all the adrenaline that goes with that, that it’s nice to slow down and not worry about being faster than the next guy or thinking about how may points are involved etc...
MM: Have you had any vacation time this off season, go anywhere special, do anything exciting?
RW: I go to Italy every spring during our break with my best friends. One of my friends has a little house there, and it’s a great place to chill out after the season ends. I also like to go mountain biking down some pretty difficult trails in the off-season. I also went skydiving and paragliding this summer, which I have to say, was very exciting!
MM: How has off-season training been going?
RW: So far lots of biking, jogging, inline and time in the weight room. After our summer break we’ll be on the glaciers in Zermatt or Saas Fee back on snow – a lot of hard work but a great way to build a base for the long season ahead.