A Crew Raising The Bar
“I’ve had a pretty golden year”, admits Sarah Hoefflin, 27. Starting with a last-minute invitation to X-Games where she finished with a gold medal in Big Air, putting down two different doubles for the first time in a competition. More podiums and medals followed, topped off by the biggest prize of all: a victory many miles away from home on the world’s biggest stage.
And Sarah was in good company. Mathilde Gremaud, 18, made it back in time from an injury to stand on top of the world right next to her Swiss compatriot and Faction team mate.
Sarah's journey with Faction began in 2015, ever since then she has risen through the ranks, staking claims at World Cups and reaching her highest levels yet with a bundle of medals this season.
Mathilde's story with Faction started in 2016 thanks to a growing relationship with Swiss Freeski. Soon after joining the team, she proved exactly what she was capable of against an established group of competitors at X Games Norway: “That competition was really special to me. It was my first X Games and I knew I wanted to leave with a medal. I landed a double in Big Air, which meant that I took home the Gold. That was my first really big success”.
VIDEO: Sarah Hoefflin wins X Games Aspen Big Air 2018
VIDEO: Mathilde Gremaud wins X Games Norway Big Air 2017
"It was my first X Games and I knew I wanted to leave with a medal."
This is just one example of an array of team successes many years in the making. Half a decade ago the team in Verbier decided to focus on young, talented riders with the potential to excel and give them the opportunity to grow. The first rider signed was Giulia Tanno before other additions in the following years: Devin Logan, Sarah Hoefflin, Mathilde Gremaud, Kea Kuhnel and Caroline Claire. This crew of ladies are now taking the slopestyle competition scene by storm at World Cups, Dew Tour, X Games and beyond.
Injuries and The Rehab Road
While this year has been a story of huge success for Sarah and Mathilde, it has also been a story of injury and heartbreak for Kelly Sildaru and Giulia Tanno in a season that represents the climax of a 4-year competition cycle. Kelly suffered a knee injury while training in New Zealand in September, meaning that this season was resigned to rehab and a focus on coming back stronger than before. While practicing at X Games, Giulia misjudged a feature and broke her left arm. This injury came at a particularly emotional time, just before the biggest competitions and meaning that she would not be able to represent her country on the biggest stage of all.
Despite the setbacks, Kelly and Giulia are both upbeat. Giulia explains what all top athletes accept: “injuries are just part of the game and will make me stronger for sure. I’m hungrier than ever to get back – it’s just hard to stay patient now”. At 16 and 19 years old respectively, there’s a lot to look forward to for both riders. “My full comeback competition-wise will be X Games Oslo”, Giulia tells us, another competition in what is set to be a very bright future.
Despite the setbacks, Kelly and Giulia are both upbeat. Giulia explains what all top athletes accept: “injuries are just part of the game and will make me stronger for sure. I’m hungrier than ever to get back – it’s just hard to stay patient now”. At 16 and 19 years old respectively, there’s a lot to look forward to for both riders. “My full comeback competition-wise will be X Games Oslo”, Giulia tells us, and if all goes well, Kelly will also be making her comeback at this competition, just another stop on what is set to be a bright future for both riders.
"Injuries are just part of the game and will make me stronger for sure.
Individual Sport, Collective Spirit
With so many top-level competitors, and even more like Caroline Claire coming through the ranks, it’s curious to think what the atmosphere must be like at competitions, just behind the start gate. Most of the girls prepare in the same way “I try to have a good breakfast, listen to some good music and mix competition nerves with a sense of fun” says Mathilde. Caroline’s routine goes as follows: “I bump some tunes in my ear and stay focused. I don’t get nervous anymore because I’m just so fortunate to be competing against the best”
Perhaps that’s what makes this group so special, the fact that each rider has progressed the sport in one way or another. From Kelly being the youngest ever Winter X Games competitor to win Gold, to Mathilde, Giulia and Sarah all landing the first variations of doubles ever seen in women’s competition, the ability to do what has never been done before makes each individual a pioneer in their own right.
"Another special podium was when Sarah, Mathilde and I had a full sweep in Quebec. Nothing better than standing on the podium with 2 good friends!"
It becomes clear that the key to this team’s success is in getting the balance right, “I always tell myself that the reason I’m here is to have the most amount of fun possible”, says Sarah, “the vibe is always good and the girls are always pushing the limits, which makes it such a pleasure to be part of”.
In a sport that rewards individual achievements, it seems that freeskiing’s collective spirit drives progression and could be the secret ingredient when it comes to stomping the most special moments when it matters most.