Best in the world

Eleven times world champion, 34 crystal globes and 133 World Cup victories - Amélie Reymond, the Telemark skier from Valais, is in a class of her own.

Amélie Reymond says she finds snowboarding “casse-pied” – which translates roughly as “dead boring”. But isn’t that a bit much coming from someone into Telemark, a sport some would say is for old fogies?  Amélie is too polite and charming to laugh at the idea. Instead she points out what Telemark skiing requires: strength, stamina and highly developed skills of coordination and balance. World Cup competitors have to master three disciplines in total – which all sound similar to Alpine or Nordic disciplines, but which incorporate extra challenges. Giant Slalom, for example, also features a jump of about 25 metres, which is marked by judges. A Classic race includes a giant slalom, a skate section, a jump and a 360-degree banking turn. A course like this takes about three minutes, Amélie says. “It’s very demanding mentally as well as physically: especially in the banked turn, you feel as if you’re in a washing machine.” In a Parallel Sprint, which is shorter, two racers compete side-by-side. “For the spectators, it’s really spectacular. And for us racers it isn’t easy, because we have to compete in up to six rounds against different opponents.”

The Telemark style was developed in Norway in the 1860s and marked the beginnings of skiing as a sport. For nearly 100 years, this was the only way to get down a snowy slope on skis. The skis were planks of wood, cut straight, which required a special technique: the graceful lunging or “free heel” turn. The perception – among some skiers – of Telemark as old-fashioned simply derives from the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s, older skiers still favoured the technique. Now it is back in fashion, in big style: a modern discipline with new challenges, its own FIS race calendar and an 11-strong team with Swiss-Ski.

Telemark skis have special bindings that allow the heel of the boot to lift. World Cup races also feature skating sections and jumps. Skiing in Valais. Switzerland
Telemark skis have special bindings that allow the heel of the boot to lift. World Cup races also feature skating sections and jumps.

Amélie Reymond has been a member of the national team for 10 years. Of the 11 members (four women and seven men), she is by far the most successful racer. When she joined, she devoted herself entirely to Telemark and since then has won one title after another. Now 30 years old, she has dominated the World Cup since 2009 – except for the year 2013, when she lost to a Norwegian. The discipline requires a great deal of training, she says. A graduate of ETH Zurich with a masters in biomechanics, Amélie works nearly full-time (80%) for the health service of the canton of Valais and still trains nearly every day. Mornings on the piste, gym at lunchtime and fitness training in the evening. “I’ve been doing top-level sports for years, but I have never got tired of it,” she says. “That’s very lucky, it means I’m still really motivated.”   
It’s obviously true, otherwise she could never have become a top gymnast as well, at a time when her Telemark career was already flourishing: she even became number two in Switzerland on the bars. “Gymnastics complements the skills I need in Telemark: strength, mobility and precision in execution. And in Telemark, just like in gymnastics, judges assess your stance and technical execution.”

Amélie Reymond was born in Basel and grew up in Sion. Her parents took her skiing from an early age. Her talent was soon spotted, and she began training with a ski club. At the age of 13 she was already competing in Alpine ski races, before discovering Telemark at 17. At the ski club she met Françoise Besse-Matter, Telemark world champion, who recognised her exceptional talent and pushed her. “I had to learn to ski all over again,” says Amélie, but the effort paid off. “Thanks to sport, I have been able to travel all over the world. That’s a great privilege.” She also treasures the fact that with skiing she’s always out in nature. “Dealing with the weather, the different kinds of snow and temperatures is all part of racing. I find that fascinating.” Snow and mountains are “vital” for her, she says. She needs to be outdoors – hiking, biking, roller-skating, mountaineering, skiing. “In my free time, too, I try to develop as many different skills as possible and train.”

Amélie Reymond takes a short break on the Ethérolla chairlift. The sweeping view extends from the Rhône valley to the Grande Dixence dam. Skiing in Valais. Switzerland
A short break on the Ethérolla chairlift. The sweeping view extends from the Rhône valley to the Grande Dixence dam

She regularly goes jogging, too – and for some time now she has had company on her runs. When she was in Zurich, studying and preparing for the ski season, she met Christoph Wenger. The couple married in July: Amélie wore an elegant white wedding dress, which didn’t stop her from climbing on a mountain bike and launching herself down a steep run. Can anything stop this sports fanatic? “Well, for once I’m going to skip at least the coming World Cup season. We’re expecting our first child,” she says, beaming.
After giving birth, however, she plans to get right up to speed again. “Many world-class athletes show it’s possible,” she says. And besides, she has a major goal ahead with the Olympic project Sion 2026. “First of all we need to bid successfully to host the games – and then of course I want to be there, in my home region.” She is convinced that the Olympic Games would give a big boost to winter sports in Switzerland. “It’ll motivate the entire population, experiencing it first-hand with the world’s best athletes. That’s good for up-and-coming talent and for all the children who develop a love for sport as a result.”
From the 2018/19 season, then, she’ll be back on the pistes of ski areas across the world. This winter, however, she’s saying in Valais. “After all, we have the loveliest ski areas here and, thanks to the altitude, plenty of snow.” She particularly enjoys skiing in fresh powder and on freeride runs. From Sion, where she lives with Christoph, it’s just a short hop up to the pistes. “We’re so lucky to live in a region where I have mountains and snow right on the doorstep.”

Text: Monique Ryser
Photos: David Carlier

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