Freeriding as an art form: interview with Sybille Blanjean

Sybille Blanjean, needless to say, began skiing at a very young age, in Valais, her home, which soon also became a favorite playground for mind-blowing freeride descents. Drawing line after line, in 2022 he succeeded in the first shot, to win “The Xtreme,” the world’s most legendary freeride race.

Sybille tell us who you are, taboo words ski and snow

I am a positive and energetic person. I am also a perfectionist: I like to do things well, and when I know I would not succeed in my endeavor, I prefer to abstain altogether.

How did your career on the Freeride World Tour start and develop?

At first I did alpine skiing, but then at the age of 12, when I had to choose whether or not to join the regional team, I decided I preferred to be freer and have fun together with friends. So I started freeriding, but at that time it was just to enjoy skiing. Only later did I start competing, when I was fourteen years old. Soon I started getting good results, and I was happy: freeriding was really giving me good satisfaction! So I continued, and when I was eighteen years old I started to participate in the qualifiers to compete in the Freeride World Tour. So it started very naturally, just having fun, and getting good results. Having grown up in Verbier, it has always been a dream to participate in the Freeride World Tour: this is where “The Xtreme,” the world’s most legendary freeride competition, is held. For the first year on the Freeride World Tour, I had carefree fun, but I only really realized I was competing on the circuit when I found myself competing in “The Xtreme”-in 2022, I won the competition, on my first try. The dream had come true! It was an unexpected goal: I clearly would have liked to achieve it, but I really didn’t think I would make it the first time! In general, it’s nice to take part in the circuit, I’m comfortable with the other athletes, there’s a good atmosphere, and we enjoy traveling around the world together meeting new places and people.

Tell us about your latest project in the higher alpine regions of Valais?

It was a project I had been planning for a long time: I had a desire to explore the more mountaineering side related to skiing, which was unfamiliar to me, having always skied close to the slopes and ski resorts. In addition, I wanted to learn more about the peaks in my area: we have some really beautiful mountains in Valais that are inaccessible by ski lifts, and I wanted to ski them while learning to do some mountaineering. I decided to rely on mountain guides, mountain professionals to accompany me on these adventures, and I wanted them to be women: there are few female mountain guides in the Valais, and they are rarely talked about, and it seemed appropriate to give them more visibility. Moreover, we share the same passion even though we experience it differently, and I wanted to share this experience with them. Mountain Guides were in charge of organizing climbs, choosing mountains that had special meaning for them. I climbed Le Catogne, a mountain in the Mont Blanc Alps with Alpine Guide Caroline George, and Grisighorn, one of the most iconic mountains in Valais, and Pollux, a mountain in the Rosa massif in the Pennine Alps on the border between the Aosta Valley and Valais, both with Alpine Guide Ramona Volken. We climbed these peaks with picks and crampons, and on the way down we skied. I learned a lot from these experiences: first of all, how to use crampons! The most important lesson I received was that the mountains are stronger than we are. Several times during the ascents we encountered unfavorable conditions-often it was too hot due to the warming climate-and we had to turn back. I understood the importance of knowing how to be patient and of renunciation when safety requires it. At the end of the day, the most important thing is always to return home safely. Although many times we failed to reach the top, we still had incredible times together sharing the same strong passion. What matters is not skiing stylistic lines or how high you go up: what matters is being with beautiful people, having fun. These experiences led to the creation of a film about discovering the highest peaks of the area in which I grew up and sharing passions and ideas. I also reflect on how I feel deeply comfortable in the mountains and the experience of fear during high-altitude adventures.

What does Valais, your homeland, represent to you, and what does it mean instead to step out of one’s comfort zone, and discover what is unfamiliar to us?

It is something that fascinates and frightens at the same time. When you’re up there, you realize how high up you are and how many other incredible mountains there are to ski-this feeling inspires me and makes me want to discover them all!

There are still many misconceptions about women going to the mountains alone. What is the role of women in the mountains and how important is it to have fun only among women?

We can do exactly the same things as humans: it is wrong to think that a peak is too high or difficult to be climbed. We should learn to take less notice of people’s judgment, whether men or women. You can have fun with men too, that’s all right, but being in the mountains only with women is something different: you have more in common and personally, it’s often only with other women that I feel really protected and safe, I know I don’t have to prove anything and I won’t be judged if I say I’m afraid. This makes everything easier and makes me feel comfortable. It is also good to have fun and motivate each other!

Do you ever get scared before a descent, perhaps when the slope is particularly steep? How do you deal with fear?

I am often very scared before a descent, but I try to analyze this feeling and figure out if it is dictated by real danger or just apprehension or stress. I also have more experience now, so I can interpret the mountains better, understand what the actual conditions are, know if there is really a risk and thus make wiser decisions.

Who makes you take all these risks?

The intense emotions I feel when I ski down a line, and at the end of it I know I skied it relying only on my legs-an adrenaline rush I don’t feel any other way. Freeriding, in the end, like a drug.

Are you a crazy person or a heroine?

No, I’m not a heroine, I’m just a person who likes to do what she likes. Maybe for some people I am a little crazy, but it is always calculated craziness: I pay a lot of attention to safety, it is important to have fun, but it is even more important not to get hurt.

In the end, snow is nothing but water at a different state, and you are also a lover of water sports. What do these sports have in common, and what different emotions do these two elements of nature convey to you?

Both are sports that make you ‘glide’ over natural elements, allowing you to experience very special sensations. It is also nice to be in the cold, and then enjoy the warmth of more temperate climates.

How did the inspiration to design your line on snow come about?

When I look at a mountain, firstly I try to find a line that I think will be fun to ski, and secondly I think about the aesthetic aspect, which I think is very important: a line has to be beautiful and smooth to see even for people watching from below, who in this way can also see how much fun I am having!

How important is aesthetics in freeriding?

I think that’s one of the most important things-I think freeriding is an art form.

What is the line you dream of skiing? Where is it located?

Any line skiing in Alaska would be the realization of a dream!

What do you do when you are not playing sports?

I study physical therapy, which I love very much, it goes well with sports and my passion: I like taking care of others, plus it helps me understand my body better during workouts and when I don’t feel fit.

What projects are simmering in the pot?

This season the most important goal is to continue competing in the Freeride World Tour, I don’t have any big film-related projects but I would like this activity to continue to occupy an important part of my life.

Who would you like to be in the next hypothetical life?

I don’t know, right now I’m having a hard time even knowing what I’m going to do next year! I would like to become a mom, and share my passion for snow with my children. Already this would be wonderful! I think you can be a great skier and a good mom. I am inspired by a super freerider who is also a mom: Jackie Paaso.