It is not often that I get to interview an Olympian. In fact the last time was Kriss Akabusi in about 1984 when he visited my primary school. Being 7 years old I asked ‘do you like cheese?’ before the teacher moved onto a more insightful interviewer. Thirty years later and rather than posing a single question, my interview with Maria Ramberger Olympic snowboard cross competitor has 10 questions, and none of them cheesy….
Maria says of herself “I am a city girl travelling the world with my snowboards”. She originates from Vienna which is pretty much Austria’s only city without a ski resort. But, in her words “a few lucky coincidences and a LOT of hard work had me end up on the Austrian World Cup Team for Snowboardcross”.
Maria once finished 4th at X-Games, has won a few EuropaCups, multiple Austrian Championships and still competes in the SBX World Cup. She competed in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and has recently competed in the Sochi Olympics in Russia.
Interview with Maria Ramberger
Well done for making it to the Sochi Olympics. What is your favourite memory of the winter Olympics in Russia?
Definitely the backcountry. It’s simply amazing. Steep and breathtaking. I don’t want to compare it to Alaska – but if you were given some Heli Time you could definitely do some damage. It’s really really cool.
Having competed at the the Sochi and Vancouver Olympics how did they differ?
It’s a completely different experience. In Vancouver the Cross course was situated down by the city and not up in the Mountains. This means that we stayed in the Main Olympic Village which was quite big and really comfortable. Nice apartments, gyms, lounges and so on – but definitely less breathtaking scenery.
In Sochi on the other hand us snowboardcrossers found ourselves up in a far smaller and quite modest mountain village. It was simple but sufficient rooms, no sight seeing in a nearby city or other non random activities for those who were already done with their competitions. But I genuinely loved it. We were lucky enough to get some fresh pow after our event and I looped the gondola until my legs were falling off.
For anyone that does not know about Boarder Cross (where have they been the last 2 weeks!) please explain what it is:
Super simple. Think motocross just on snow and downhill instead of round in a circle. It’s fast and fun. Six people run the course at a time and the fastest three keep advancing into the next round.
How do the equipment, skills and mindset of a SBX rider differ to that of other snowboarders?
Good question. Well the boards for once are definitely a bit longer and stiffer to help with the high speeds. The nose and tail are shorter to avoid vibrations. Boots and Bindings usually are the same models you can buy in the stores but we definitely tend to pick the high end stiffer soft-boot models.
The mindset of SBX riders definitely sets us apart from most freestyle snowboarders. Style is much appreciated, but in the end faster and not prettier wins. If you want to go down looking like a complete fool no one will care as long as you’re the first to finish. I think that’s a good thing as it keeps the sport a lot less stuck up and narrow minded. Boardercrossers are a really eclectic bunch of different people doing the same thing. It’s pretty cool.
What kind of training did you do and sacrifices did you make to get to the Olympics?
I train a lot whether in the gym, outdoors doing other sports or on the snow. It’s tough to make the separation between ‘I’m doing this for fun’ and ‘this is serious training’. I have the mindset where I feel every skill I pick up will help me down the line. I try to learn as many new things as I can and be as fit as possible. For example I love to surf. Will it make me a better snowboarder? Obviously. But is it training? Let’s be real – labelling it one way or another really doesn’t matter.
Having competed in Snowboarder Cross at two Olympics how has the sport evolved and improved in the last 4 years?
It’s amazing how much and how quickly the sport has improved. I am so proud to be a part of this. These days every feature is huge and the speed is so high. It’s a constant challenge just to keep up.
Unfortunately you crashed, while in a very strong position, quite early in your quarter final. How did you feel about it straight after? and has that changed now you have had time to reflect on it?
I was really really disappointed. You know there are so many people that helped you along the way that cheer you on. I really wished I could have shown them my best and given it a good fight, whatever place that might have gotten me into at the end. Crashing is always the worst as you feel like you missed out on the race. There is a lot of ‘what ifs’ running through your head when you fall, but there is just no way to avoid it. Looking back on it I am happy I was there, I am happy I tried and next time it will work out.
During your qualifier the BBC commentary mentioned you have been working on a movie project for the last 2 years. Please tell us about it:
Yeah! Snowboard cross is such an underrated and under appreciated sport but everyone that watches a race loves it! But so many people don’t even know we exist and that’s what we wanted to change. So two years ago we started to organize a project called ‘SBXtheMovie’. It’s going to be a feature length documentary coming out this autumn, you can check out the trailer here:
It is about the sport, the athletes and everything else that matters in our world. Documentarian Brett Wiese Saunders followed us from race to race for the better part of a year and a half leading into the Olympics. He visited athletes at home and researched the roots of boardercross with a lot of big names. It’ll be a great movie and we’re really happy the way everything has worked out.
What is next for you?
I’m going home for a few days. And then I’ll finish my world cup season. There is still some races left to do.
What is your number one tip for going fast on a snowboard?
Don’t be scared. Once you figure out that speed is your friend and will make things easier it’s all good.
A huge thanks to Maria for spending the time answering my questions, and for providing all of the images in this article. If you want to follow the rest of her season check out the Maria Ramberber facebook page.