Words: Miljan Milekić
Coline Ballet-Baz is a Vienne-raised, Grenoble-based French freestyle skier. Over the years she established herself as one of the best in the sport, picking quite a few trophies on the way, including wins at Nine Royals 2017 and World Cup stop in Milan that same year. Unfortunately, she missed the biggest part of the last season due to injury, but came back even stronger, earning her first X Games invitation. It was enough for us to get in touch, and bring you this interview. We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
First of all, congrats on your first X Games. How does it feel to be part of this event after so much hard work over the years? How does it feel to be surrounded by the best athletes in the world, and knowing you’re one of them?
Coline: Thanks a lot, I indeed got to go to X Games for the first time this year, and it has been such a great experience! You got to ski the best features and watch sick concerts, the atmosphere is great… It is for sure the biggest stage for freestyle disciplines as ours, so it was a great honor to be part of this. I hope there are gonna be many others.
These are your first X Games, but you’re no stranger to the other events, from World Cup stops to Dew Tour and Nine Royals. Which event would you single out as your favorite, and what do you see as your biggest success so far?
Coline: My favorite event will always be the Audi Nines, former Nine Queens, because it is the first international event I have taken part in. You got one week of skiing the best setup you could dream of, and the vibes are always really high. Most of all it’s shooting more than a competition, and I love this format. As for the biggest success, I couldn’t point one in particular, but having won Nine Royals in 2017, or taking World Cup wins and podiums are definitively some highlights.
Unfortunately, last season was cut short for you because of the injury, about a month after your win at the World Cup stop in Milan. How frustrating was it at the time, and how did you find the strength and motivation to overcome the setback and come back even stronger?
Coline: This injury has been particularly frustrating for two main reasons: first, it was at the beginning of the season, in December, and secondly, it has made me miss the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, which as you may know, only happens every fourth year. Missing out on the Olympics for the second time has for sure been the most difficult part of this injury. Other than that, injuries are part of our sport. I have been surrounded by an amazing medical staff, and the only thing to do was to stay positive, enjoy other things than skiing during these 6 months, and focus on the rehab. As for the motivation to come back on skis, it was not hard to find, I missed skiing so much these six months, and skiing again at 100% was the number one reason to do the best rehab I could.
You compete in both, slopestyle and big air. Which discipline is closer to your heart, and how hard is it to keep focus and make constant progress in both of them?
Coline: Slopestyle and big air are pretty complementary, I would say. For big air, you have to learn bigger tricks, but once you got them well, these tricks can also be linked up in a slopestyle run. I like big air for the atmosphere, City Big Air finals, for example, are one of the rare occasions we can ski in front of a big crowd, and the fact that you can show up your best tricks. But, landing a full slopestyle run is for sure harder in my opinion and one of the best feelings ever.
As an outsider and part of the crowd, I have a feeling that freestyle skiing is often in the shadow of both, freestyle snowboarding, and traditional ski disciplines. Even at the big events like the Olympics. Why do you think this is the case, and do you see a possibility for a change in the near future?
Coline: Historically speaking, the first freestyle skiers have been influenced by snowboarders, who created snowparks, and the freestyle disciplines we know today. That’s maybe one of the reasons. As for traditional ski disciplines, they exist for a much longer time and are more known by the mainstream audience than freestyle disciplines, whose first World Cup circuit and TV appearances only date from a few years ago. But, freestyle skiing disciplines such as slopestyle or big air always got a big audience and good feedback because they are spectacular and offer a great show. Once the public will know and understand them a little more, I see no reasons why it would stay in the shadow.
Speaking of the Olympics, after the X Games, do you feel like Bejing 2022 would be a logical next step to your career?
Coline: 2022 is three years away from now, so too long of a time for me to really know what I will be doing! That being said, the Olympics are now the biggest event in freestyle skiing, and the best occasion to showcase our sport to the world so I would love to take part in this event one day. But until 2022, I’d rather focus on every season’s project, I especially have some video projects in mind that I would love to bring to reality!
Apart from the contests, in 2016 you took the time to do an amazing street video – ‘Playground.’ How different and challenging was it to do something different, and can we expect more of the same in the future?
Coline: Thank you! Filming video segments is definitively more challenging than competing in some ways, in terms of organization, dealing with the weather, budgets, without speaking of the challenges of street skiing itself. But what I love in doing such projects is that you are free to express yourself and to do exactly what you have in mind. Or try at least. (laughs) Also, it is a team effort, the skier in a video is nothing without the team that surrounds him – filmers, photographers, other skiers… And I love teamwork, to me, it brings an extra motivation and perspective, compared to just skiing and competing for yourself. So you can definitively expect more of these kinds of projects in the future!
I know you’re a fan of skateboarding. Do you think your love for it had an influence on you to try riding street and explore skiing more as a lifestyle than a typical sport like any other?
Coline: I don’t skate as much myself, but my first steps in action sports were in my local skatepark, skating, mostly on blades, and having fun with friends, which is the root of our sport for me. Also, I have always loved watching skateboarding videos, it is an inspiration to see all the efforts they put in to land a trick, get one shot. In skateboarding, riding the streets and the lifestyle that surrounds it seems to be still a big part of the sport, whether it tends to disappear a bit in comp skiing sometimes. That’s why I still love watching skateboard videos, and anyway, there is some inspiration to be found in every sport, action or not.
Do you ever listen to music while riding, and what music would you associate with big jumps, and what to street riding?
Coline: I am a big fan of music, and I love listening to music before, and after going skiing. But I have a hard time listening to music just as a musical background, I like to be able to fully enjoy it. That’s why I never really listen to music when I ride. I tried, but it is hard for me to concentrate on both. (laughs) However, music is a big source of inspiration and motivation, often the music I listen to in the morning has a huge impact on my mindset during the day, or on my skiing. Both are definitively related, and the kind of music I associate the most with skiing is hiphop, for all aspects of skiing!
One for the end – along with pursuing a successful career in skiing, you invested a lot of time and energy in education, earning a diploma in political science. How hard was it? How do you see the connection between your education and skiing career, and how important that accomplishment is for you?
Coline: Actually, I started skiing thanks to my studies. Vienne, the city I grew up in, is pretty far from the mountains so we would go skiing only once a year. Then, at 17, I moved to Grenoble to start this political science degree, and luckily for me, Grenoble is close from the mountains, so I fell in love with freeskiing, and drove/hitchhiked to the mountains every time I could. It hasn’t been so hard to combine both: first of all, because at that time skiing did not take as much time as it takes now. I was missing class sometimes but did most of my skiing during free time, weekends and holidays. Secondly, I found a good balance between studying and skiing. Since I loved my studies, there was a good way to get some rest after skiing days or trips, to stay busy in case of injuries, and to keep your mind open to other things outside the skiing world. It just took some organizational skills and dedication sometimes, but as I liked both, it was not so hard. Without mentioning how fun student life was. (laughs) So for me, it was more than obvious to get my diploma before starting skiing full-time, I am still interested in what I learned, and I hope I will be able to use it one day.