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First Person

This is what it’s like to ski the half pipe

Olympic skier Annalisa Drew walks us through her routine, flips and all.

A member of the inaugural Olympic halfpipe skiing team in 2014, Annalisa Drew scored a fourth place finish at the 2018 games in PyeongChang. She wore a GoPro camera during a training run and narrated the experience.

When I start a run, my coaches are usually a few steps behind me. Sometimes they’re saying something — depending on how I’m feeling, or skiing that day. (During contests, they let you do your thing unless you want their help.)

As I’m jumping off the podium, I’m wrapping my poles around my wrists, so they stay on my hands. I take that quick second before I drop in, and I take a deep breath and drop, shaking off the nerves. It’s an exciting relief — freeing, in a way.

And then I start dropping in. It’s kind of exciting, but nervewracking at the same time. It’s adrenaline.

My first trick is the scariest trick I do. The first hit is a “right 900” — a spin to the right, 900 degrees, and two and a half rotations to the right. I’ve probably done it between 75 and 100 times, for the last three years competitively. I have to focus for that one particular trick, to really pop off the balls of my feet. It’s still really scary, so I’m relieved I landed it.

After that first trick, I almost black out, because my body knows what to do. It’s a kind of autopilot. The next hit is a left 900 — which is my natural spinning direction, so it’s easier. (I have a natural way of spinning; you would too. If you stand on the ground and jump a full 360, there’s a way you would automatically jump.) 

Coming into the next hit is my first flip. It’s going up the pipe, which is not the gravitational way. It’s also a blind trick; you don’t know you’re landing it until you bring your feet around. You just need to trust your body. It took me a long time to get my brain to trust that my body would do the right thing.

The rest of my run is pretty easy. A left five — that’s a 540 degree spin and and a half to the left. This is a style trick, not really a hard, technical trick. It’s one of the first tricks you learn in a halfpipe. It’s really fun when you get a good grab with it. (A grab is when I’m grabbing my ski.)

After the 540, I do a straight air— this is just training run, so i was warming up. Then comes a 720; you switch directions when you land so you ski out of the halfpipe backwards.

It seems a lot slower when you’re doing it than when you’re watching it!

As told to Megan Johnson. Interview was edited and condensed.

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