The final weekend of racing in Åre brought the season to a close – and what a winter it has been for me. I still can’t quite believe everything that has happened. Victory in the giant slalom in Åre was my 13th win of the season and a new record.
Rewind five months and I was spending my days thinking about questions like “Is the season already over even before it has begun?”, “Will I be able to compete at the Olympics?” and “Could this be the end of my career?”. Back then my team and I would never have dreamt of thinking this season could be as successful as it has been. When my recovery progressed as planned and I was able to complete my first turns on snow without any pain, we sat down and drew up our strategy for the winter ahead: push the limits every day, in every race, and take each result as it is.
This whatever-happens-happens mentality gave me the freedom to take as many risks as I wanted – and ended up producing my best ever season with 13 victories, two Olympic medals and three FIS World Cup titles. That was a dream which was made possible because I was able to go into every race with no pressure on my shoulders. Nobody expected anything from me this season – not the media, not the public, not the team and not even myself. That removed a lot of the pressure which I am sure would have been there after last winter. I am sure this year would have gone differently if I had not suffered my injury that threatened to derail the whole season. That might sound a little strange, but it is true. Breaking my ankle had a big positive effect on making my season such a success!
Another important factor this year was my battle with Henrik Kristoffersen. We pushed each other to even greater heights and both became better skiers as a result. He is most probably the skier of the future, though you always have to be careful with such predictions – before you know it the next fast guy comes along and is pushing hard for top spot.
There are so many good skiers in our sport. If I think back to the past few years, I always had competitors who pushed me to my limits and made me go all out for victory. One example is Ted Ligety. When he was in top form he was so fast through the gates and really hard for me to beat. Alexis Pinturault is another skier who demands absolute concentration and is one of the toughest opponents in giant slalom. When it comes to slalom, Henrik Kristoffersen and Felix Neureuther were two guys who were almost always up there at the top of the standings – that was a great motivation for me to push even harder and become better. No matter how many races I have won, I always go into every competition wanting to set the fastest time and end up on top of the podium.
Sure, at the start of the season not everything worked out as planned and I had to deal with a lot of setbacks. But when I finished fourth on the first run of the season-opening slalom in Levi, I could feel I was getting back into the flow. It was there that I saw I could be one of the fastest this season – that was a very important moment which I can still remember now.
Picking a best moment of the season is almost impossible. Every victory is special. In Kranjska Gora it was an incredible feeling to know I had secured first place in the overall standings of the FIS World Cup for the seventh time in a row. My two victories at the Olympics were also an experience I will never forget. Going into the Games there was a huge amount of pressure because everyone back in Austria was expecting me to come back with at least one medal.
We decided to tackle the challenge head-on and attack right from the start. Everyone, including myself, was surprised by gold in the combined event. Standing in the start house of the giant slalom was a great feeling – and it was even better when we managed to take first place. This winter has given us many, many beautiful moments – more than 15!
As far as the future is concerned, at the moment I don’t know how things will continue. There has been a lot of speculation about me focusing more on the speed disciplines. However, in order to be successful in downhill and Super-G you need a lot of time and experience – and those are two things I do not have. It would definitely take at least a year or two to develop the skills I need for these two disciplines, which are pretty much a totally different sport from slalom and giant slalom. All that work would by no means guarantee success – and even if it did, it would take me at least one full season to become good enough to mix it with the best.
Learning the courses, getting used to skiing on long skis and becoming accustomed to the high speeds sounds interesting and is something which does tempt me, but all in all it is a challenge which I no longer want to take on at this point in my life. Instead it’s about having fun skiing – that is enough of a challenge going forward. After an intense winter like this one I am looking forward to relaxing and taking it easy for a bit. Only once I have rested, recovered and recharged my batteries will I start building my fitness up again, get back on snow and see if I am still having fun. For me it’s not about looking for new goals and challenges – simply having fun on skis is enough for me. If I can still feel that fun factor, there is nothing standing in the way of another season competing.
On Thursday I will fly to Canada for a bit of heliskiing, and then I am hoping for warm weather and plenty of sunshine so I can get out my swimming shorts as soon as possible. My aim is to get away from it all for a bit and just chill. Let’s see how long I manage to do that for – normally I am a really active person who can’t stay still for too long!
Last but not least I would like to thank my fantastic team who have worked so hard all season and shown incredible dedication. Without these people I would not be where I am today – thank you! I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank Johann Strobl, who for many years was my number two service man and has now decided to take on a new professional challenge.
Thank you for an unforgettable season!