Q&A: Athletes - Tiril Sjaastad Christiansen (NOR)
Winner of the X Games at just 17 years old, Norway's Tiril Sjaastad Christiansen has been a force in slopestyle for what seems like forever, even though the smooth technician is only just out of her teens. After a knee injury kept her out of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games - despite her best efforts at the Games to figure out a line she could perform on one leg - Tiril underwent surgery that kept her out of the game for another year. Now, back competing and with a win already under her belt this season at the Cardrona (NZL) World Cup in Augst, Tiril is back and hungry to make up for lost time.
FIS - Hi Tiril how are you?
Tiril - Hi, very good, thanks for asking.
FIS - You’ve been competing on the World Cup circuit since you were 15, you won the X Games at 17 and then you missed basically a year and a half of competition. Now you’re back and getting podiums again, and still you’re just 20 years old. Does it seem crazy to you sometimes, how much has already happened in your career?
Tiril - I haven’t really thought about it that much because there are so many young skiers in this sport and if you’re, like, let’s say 24-year-old, people call you old, so I think freesking is a little different to other disciplines as we retire being still pretty young. It’s hard to keep up with all the youngsters like Kelly SIldaru, who is only 13 and she’s just killing it. But you know it’s cool to see all those kids coming up. Among them however I kind of feel old already, even though I know that sounds a little bit crazy. I’m proud and happy of what have happened already in my career and yes wining X Games at 17 was crazy, but it feels so long ago…
FIS - As I just mentioned, you had basically a year and a half off from competing with your knee injury, but then you got back in the middle of last season and you've been ripping ever since. How hard was it to be on the sidelines for that time, and how good does it feel knowing that your surgery and rehab went well and you're able to compete at the top level again?
Tiril - It was a really tough year for me and especially since it was the Olympic year and tearing my ACL two months before the Olympics was the worst thing that happened to me. I worked really hard that season with a lot of traveling, X Games and the Olympics all in the same season. I also went twice to New Zealand, so it was really a hectic year for me. So when the injury happened I was super, super bumped and I thought everything was kind of over for me at that point.
I had to leave Sochi and got back home and have a surgery. After that it was a year of rehab which was really tough, because you know it’s all ups and downs and sometimes you just feel like you want to quit skiing and other times you just wish to put the skis back on, because you feel ready to go…
But yeah, finally November was there and I could ski again. I just started really slow, first on the slopes and then slowly started jumping after few weeks and hitting some rails and it worked out fine. Of course I had some pain, just like everyone else does coming back from an ACL injury. I wasn’t very sure about the knee but I figured I would go to USA and the first day on snow there felt just amazing. I believe that it was probably traveling and being with the team again, catching up with all the skiers, which made me really start feeling better. Then I did my first competition after the injury and finished in third place and I think that was the best comeback I could have had.
FIS - It wasn’t one of the stories that got talked about so much after the Olympics, but your attempt to ski even though you basically had no knee left was one of the gutsiest things that happened that day. Tell us about what was going through your head in Sochi?
Tiril - Sochi was such an incredible experience, first of all because I wasn’t even supposed to go there at all. Everyone said that’s impossible to go ski with no ACL just 2 months after the injury. I had some problems with my meniscus too. So it couldn’t really be worse than that, but I decided it had been my goal for so long and I didn’t really have anything to lose anyway. First I went to the Olympic Center in Oslo and I stayed there for a straight month working out three to four times a day. It was pretty crazy but I wanted to do everything I could to see if I could make the Olympics. Despite only 2 days on skis before the Olympics, I was actually good to go. First day in Sochi was amazing, and the feeling to be in the Olympic Village with all the athletes. And of course the slopestyle course was insane. I remember the day we went there just to watch it and the jumps were so big. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any jumps that size. That time I started to question if it’s really going to work for me…
The conditions at the beginning were also challenging. The course was just pure ice and I was really scared during the training. I tried to ski some rails the first day and then go over the jumps on the second day. I figured I wanted to wait with the last jump because it was the biggest one. I remember I told my coach that I would try to ski the whole course and that I won’t give up that easily. So after I tried the last jump, I just couldn’t stand after the landing, because the impact was just so big. It was really bad, my knee didn’t feel good at all and I lied down in the snow and cried. My coach was like, “Ok, this is over”. I packed my bags and left the next day.
FIS - How did it feel knowing that you had beaten all those girls in the past, but you just couldn't go that day at the Olympics?
Tiril - It was the worst day ever, especially when you know that the gold medal was within the reach. 2013 was the best year for me and I really progressed a lot that year. My tricks were there and I felt very good and strong with my skiing just before I tore my ACL. So of course it felt kind of like I lost a medal there. I think I’ve never cried that much in my whole life. Even after I got back home and had a surgery I felt really depressed and I didn’t even want to watch the Olympics.
FIS - Freeskiers don’t really roll with a team as much as some of the others freestyle athletes but you and Johanne Killi are pretty tight and it seems like most of the girls on the tour get along really, really well. How important is it to have a good crew around you when you are out on the road so much of the year.
Tiril - I think that is one of the most important things especially since we are traveling over 200 days a year together and I think that our team is one of the best. We are all good friends, we always travel together, we stay together, we have fun together, and we are just like a big family. Before Johanne get in here I didn’t really think of how it would be to have another girl on a team because I used to always ski with the guys. I didn’t know Johanne before that much but once she came to our team everything just clicked from the first day and we are like sisters. We are the best friends now and we appreciate each other very much. She just makes me a better skier and I try to push her as much as I can. There are a lot of things we can learn from each other. When we are competing we are competitors and of course everyone wants to win but when we get out of the slopes or when we are not skiing we’re just a group of big friends and we are having fun.
FIS - After taking home the win in Cadrona you are currently siting first on the slopstyle leaderboard. Next stops include Mammoth, PyeongChang, Boston (Big Air) and Silvaplana. What is your plan and expectation for the Freestyle World Cup?
Tiril - Of course I’m planning to go to all the World Cup stops. I got the second place now two years in a row. It was really a bummer in 2013 because I was leading at the World Cup but I didn’t go to the last event after I crashed in the finals at the European X Games. Last year of course I didn’t expect to get in the podiums but finishing second was a big win for me. This year I want it to be gold and I want to take home the World Cup Crystal Globe as well as the win at X Games and other big events. Getting first in Cadrona was really good for me and it was a perfect start and I feel confident going into the season. Going for the win is basically the only plan this year.
FIS - For the first time in the history FIS will host the Freeski Big Air World Cup in Boston, which will be held in the Fenway Park – the Boston Red Sox stadium. It’s going to be a huge event. What do you think of the whole idea of having city events like this?
Tiril - I think that is going to be a crazy event and I am also so happy that the girls are finally allowed to ski in those big air events. It’s been taking a long time and some city events had a few girls in, but it is finally the World Cup and a lot of girls will compete. I am really nervous but I am also really excited. I am looking forward to see if people are interested in watching and coming there and how the jump and the whole event is going to be like.
FIS - Do you already know what tricks you want to throw down?
Tiril - I have been thinking a bit but it is hard because it is so many competitions now and it is still a few comps before Boston and I feel like I just want to take one by one. It is hard to think about other events when you have a competition every single week. I try to work as hard as I can skiing and figuring out some of the tricks that I want to do. At the end I believe it all depends how the jump is and how confident I will be on the jump. But of course I am thinking about Boston but first of all I am focusing on Mammoth and I want to do good there.
FIS - Talking about the tricks, what is your favorite one?
Tiril - I think my favorite must be the 900 tail grab, but also this year at the Dew Tour I did the switch 1080 for the first time in two years, and I think I landed it 4 times already and it just feel so good to get that trick back in the bag. It’s been taking my a long time to get confident again doings big tricks and just trying to throw down again not thinking about my knee. I have to work really hard mentally to push myself there.
FIS - What is then the trick that gives you the goosebumps? The one that you’re actually scared of doing?
Tiril – I’m most scared of doing unnatural spins again, because this is exactly how I tore my ACL doing unnatural 900 and I haven’t done it since. So I’m just trying to get those spins back. The thing is that doing unnatural spins feels the worst when I land back seated or just a bit weird. It has been holding me back on that side so I’m just trying to get there slowly and get those tricks back.
FIS - It’s still quite a lot of time until the next Olympics but with the first test event in PyeongChang this year and taking into account your whole experience from Sochi, how does it feel to go there and check out the course, where in few years you will be probably competing for the medals? Is it more motivating or frightening?
Tirili - I think it’s both. I remember going to the test event in Sochi when I was skiing both pipe and slopestyle. It was kind of scary but it was also a good felling as you could already get to know the whole place, the area, the people, the local food, so it’s basically a good experience. At the same time I crashed and had to go to the hospital. For the big event like this I think it’s always a bit scary but also very exciting to see and experience all of those things. Plus I will be probably trying to figure out what tricks I could prepare for the Olympics. At the end I don’t feel like PyeongChang is that far away.
FIS - You get to travel to many different places. Which are the ones that you will always remember and why?
Tiril - It’s a hard question. We really do travel so much and see so many different countries, but I think going to New Zealand for the first time was such a great experience for me. I was really young and I was going to the other side of the globe. New Zealand is just so much different to what I was used to. It’s such a beautiful country, people are super nice and skiing was amazing. So that’s for sure one of the places I will always remember. It’s the same with Sochi. I remember going with the team to ski some powder there and the resort was so sick. I definitely want to go back there some day just to ski the mountains.
FIS - As a professional skier you basically ski the whole year round. Tell us what you do when you’re not skiing.
Tiril - I do a lot when I’m not skiing. I study architecture and design and I’m really into this so I draw a lot. When I’m back home I enjoy hanging out with my family and friends and spending some time in the mountains, biking, hiking, swimming and so on. There are plenty of thing I love to do when I’m not skiing, but it’s hard to get it all done, since we are skiing almost all the time. I’m always trying to do as much as I only can when I have the time off and try to just relax when I’m home and think about everything else but skiing.
FIS - That’s awesome stuff Tiril. Thanks again for your time and we wish you all good luck for Mammoth and Boston as well as the rest of the season.
Tiril - Thanks.