“I remember the day I took my driving test. I was only a beginner driver, but I had no trouble. As soon as we got moving the examiner said: ‘You ski, don’t you?’” Manuela Moelgg, fourteen World Cup trophies (almost all in the Giant Slalom) over the course of a long career that closed at the end of last season, tells this anecdote illustrating what skiing and driving have in common. Because skiers develop an instinct for curves, for the best trajectories, for speed. The two disciplines are much more closely related than you might think. Whether it’s on snow or asphalt, the track inspires the athlete to form a unique bond with the equipment that has to be controlled. We met Manuela at the Alpine World Ski Championships in Åre, Sweden, which Pirelli is sponsoring for the second time.
Is skiing like driving?
“They’re not exactly the same, of course, but we skiers are like drivers of our own kind of car. Like race car drivers, we need to plan every little detail of our trajectory, set-up and speed. Everything about our vehicle has to work perfectly. And then, all athletes, whether they are racing drivers or skiers, have a very personal bond with the equipment they use, and they know exactly what is best for it.”
History, even recent history, demonstrates that there are top skiers who are also talented drivers (and the reverse is also true). This confirms that the two disciplines have a lot in common.
“Let’s say that if you learn to measure spaces while racing, to go into the curves and come out of them the right way, to dominate your trajectory properly, in theory it should work whether you’re on skis or in a car. I’ve been test driving some cars in Mugello and in Monza lately, and I’ve seen that all this is true. It’s a bit like riding a bicycle, when you get used to following the best line on your route.”
Technology is having a growing influence on sports, including skiing. How important is it to be able to get used to new developments and be flexible?
“I started out in the World Cup in 2000, and so I’ve seen a lot of these changes myself. I started out with long, narrow skis, and now I have short, wide carving skis. And then of course the hardness and materials have changed, as well as an infinite number of components. They’re actually built differently, so you can’t stay stuck in the past, because the new versions always work better. But I think it’s right that technology should develop in response to skiers.”
“Yes, because everyone has their own preferences and needs.”
The first consequence of the improvement of technology is improvement of performance, in terms of times and top speeds, which are becoming more and more extreme. How do you relate to the changes in this continually evolving sport?
“We might see that as the tools change, the skier must be able to move forward and improve. It may seem like an obsession that makes you want to keep breaking your own records. Because you mustn’t be afraid to go farther; you have to be determined and always know how to take a step further. Because fear won’t get you far; the most it will do is make you roll over and over in bed before you get to sleep.”
Then there’s the physical aspect, training, sweating to prepare for competitions. Giant Slalom, your discipline, is a combination of power and control. How do you balance these components?
“Training is very important, to avoid injury first of all (Manuela Moelgg has never skipped a season due to injury - ed.). Then there’s diet, which, if we go back to our analogy, is like fuel for a car: you won’t go anywhere without food, but it has to be the right food for you. If my car is fuelled on petrol, I can’t fill it with diesel. Between May and July, for example, I train by riding my bike with my brother Manfred (using P Zero Velo™ tyres), so it’s mainly resistance training. Then, as the season approaches, I transform it all into what I really need. In my case, for giant slalom, I need speed, coordination, stability, explosiveness. And of course the more you train, the better, because you have to internalise it all and make it all automatic.”
Your nickname is “the tiger”, because nothing will stop you when your prey, your goal, is in sight. How important is the mental component when you're on skis?
“There are plenty of top-level athletes in this sport, and the psychological aspect is what allows you to stand out from the others. When I put on my pinny, it’s as if I have an extra gear; I don’t look anybody in the eye when I’m facing a challenge. I’m a completely different person off the slopes.”