Jet lag doesn’t faze the 21-year-old New Zealand World Cup alpine skier. Fresh from a long-haul flight from New Zealand to Germany, Alice Robinson shrugs off the notion that jumping back in time has startled her circadian rhythm. The Australian born, New Zealand raised ripper is a Zen mixture of spry and chill.
Considering she competes in super-G and giant slalom alpine skiing disciplines, which require speed, precision turning, the ability to adapt to track conditions on the fly, as well as a reliable mental recall, her chillness is awe inspiring.
Where does that chillness come from?
Alice never set any performance expectations of herself in her teenage years. And with North American and European skiers crowding the international circuit podiums, the New Zealander was left to mature on the slopes at her own pace. “I was real young, that was a real advantage. You didn’t have any pressure on you.” Says Alice, talking about herself. “It was a side thing.” Her main thing was school.
And if you reminisce with Alice on some of her earliest memories on the slopes in Queenstown, a mountainous area in New Zealand, it’s not as though her parents pushed her into competitive skiing. In fact, if her family stayed In Sydney, where she was born, she admits she probably would’ve taken to surfing.
But once she clipped into her first set of skis, she fell in love with the mountains – although it wasn’t the medals which attracted her to alpine skiing, but something else.
Turns out Alice was also a natural racer
A few years after joining the fast lane of skiers, she won the Whistler Cup for the under 14 athletes in a town north of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
And that’s when Alice thought, “Oh, maybe this is something I could actually do as a job.”
She continued to have moderate success when she jumped into the more competitive open age group at 15 years old. And then when she made her debut at the International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine Ski World Cup competition, during the year of her sweet 16, she had trouble cracking into a podium place. “I wasn’t really expecting to break out right away,” Alice recalls, but now her chillness was at odds with new rules, regulations, and a steeper level of competition.
“The level was a lot higher when you get to open age group. A lot of things change. The way the courses are set – the courses are a lot bigger distances. You wear longer skis, which are the regulation-sized skis, much bigger than kids skis. The structure of how races work, and world rankings is new.” Says Alice.
Carving out her own path on the competitive slopes
The International Ski Federation circuit was a new frontier of competition for Alice, and she was competing against nations where alpine skiing is a part of their cultural identity. Countries like Austria and the USA, for example, have longstanding racing lineages, with medalists and federations backing and guiding their up-and-coming skiing talents.
Meanwhile, Alice was on her own, on the other side of the world, competing against skiers who might’ve only had to drive down their street to get to a competition.
Avalanched by all the new stimuli and nerves that come from competing on the world’s stage with her heroes now alongside her — and feeling like she didn’t belong on the circuit — she dug deep and reframed her plight into motivation.
“Being from New Zealand, all these people who have infinite more resources and are a part of these big federations. I don’t need that,” Alice says of how she managed to corral her nerves to put them to good use. “My motivator was I’m going to beat them anyway.”
Putting New Zealand back on the World Cup map with a win!
Her motivation and her attitude of keeping cool as a kiwi paid off. On October 26, 2019, in Sölden, Austria, Alice edged out Mikaela Shiffrin by 0.06 seconds to win New Zealand its first giant slalom World Cup race since 1997. She celebrated her big win by hopping on a plane the very next day to fly back to New Zealand – to get back in time for her high school graduation.
Talking about the heady list of momentous milestones that came in such quick succession, Alice recalls,
When she rolled up to her school graduation, the boys serenaded her with a Haka dance to welcome their World Cup winner back with pizzazz. Alice tells me that her school was supportive and gave her leeway to complete her work while she flew off to all edges of the world to compete and train.
She also had her friends who stuck by her side and gave her a reprieve from feeling lost – or at a disadvantage – amongst the towering federations. And it turned out, it was these moments back home she really needed to hone and strengthen her chillness.
“It was really good for me. Having my friends and that balance outside of skiing. [It was] quite removed from skiing, my school. I would go home, and I would come back from being overseas and they’d be like, ‘good job with the race, what’s next?’” Alice says, since ski-related topics were typically not on the conversational menu among her hometown friends.
The major downer came from the federations
Alice knows what it feels like to be treated like the stepchild of the mountains. In the days leading up to competitions, she says, “All the teams would train at a certain venue except us.”
Her small New Zealand team struggled to get the course accreditations and passes for everyone, which made it even easier for the big federations to push them around. And with limited options to practice for a race, Alice put it this way: “It’s not like, let’s practice on any tennis court.”
One secret weapon that Alice had by her side was her guardian angel on skis, former New Zealand alpine racer, Claudia Riegler, who helped her maintain her chill in the face of these federations. Claudia is New Zealand’s most decorated World Cup trophy winner – with 4 wins.
“She [Claudia] always reached out to tell me about her experiences,” Alice tells me of her rapport with Claudia. And that camaraderie played a role in Alice finding familiarity and sure footing within the sport, so she could relax enough to do her best.
Then again, if the other skiers on the circuit had a chance encounter with Alice on a ski lift, their first impression would be the same as mine: Her unwavering chilled out disposition wasn’t going to let these pushy federations get the better of her. “It’s kinda of a kiwi thing, you get on with it. You do your best. I was always motivated in being the underdog.” Alice says.
Carving a path for others to follow and leave their own mark
New Zealand might be a days’ worth of connecting flights away from some parts of North America and Europe, but once you get there during the northern hemisphere’s summertime, there’s the added bonus that you’ll have no problem finding snow – thanks to the topsy turvy seasonal shift. July, August, and September are peak skiing seasons for the locals.
And while New Zealand has been a popular skiing destination for tourists and competitive freestyle skiers alike, alpine skiing, as a sport, has grown much more in popularity in recent years, according to Alice.
One of the country’s crowning achievements in the last 10 years is that they now have another racer in Alice who makes it a point to offer support, encouragement, and guidance to the incoming class of alpine kiddos.
“Growing up, I didn’t have role models in ski racing. It would have been a lot easier,” says Alice, who frequently visits her local ski club to role model what’s possible.
The sport continues to grow, and Alice is helping shape young attitudes of chillness
Knowing that kids are riding down the same New Zealand slopes where she began her alpine career nowadays gives her flashbacks and another reason to keep shredding that fresh pow (pow = freshly fallen snow).
Referring to the kids at her local ski club, she says, “This literally was me. They went to the same high school. The club is the biggest it’s ever been. It motivates me to see these kids saying, ‘it’s so cool what you’re doing, I want to do that.’ [It’s] cool to see young people so excited. It’s important to help some other people.”
Throughout our chat, Alice never yawned once. Jetlag’s got nothing on her. She is a credit to her chill kiwi mates, and she even dropped positive mood enhancers during our conversation that would make the Dalai Lama blush.
And so, to the aspiring alpine skiers amongst our readers, Alice has these words of wisdom to steer your underdog narrative in the face of well-financed academies and big federations: “Focus on yourself, focus on the craft you’re doing. Focus on trying to do the best you can and try to block out any noise that you don’t belong there. Keep working hard. Results speak for themselves.”