'Alice can be number one in the world' (2024)

Resilience was a word that never garnered too much attention from Alice Robinson. But it’s an area the Kiwi alpine skier has put plenty of focus on, landing her in a good space in her sport – and a place back on the World Cup podium.

The giant slalom and Super G skier who burst onto the World Cup circuit as a teenager – known for her power out of the gates and her chill personality – admits she’s been in survival mode in recent seasons, losing her spark for the sport.

So she’s been forced to look at skiing through a different lens.

With the work she’s done off the slopes – coupled with a new team around her – Robinson is enjoying her best results since her early years.

“I’ve learned a lot about resilience – a lot,” says the 22-year-old, who’s been working with a mental skills coach. “I always used to be like ‘yeah, whatever’ when people talked about resilience, but I’ve learned that things can be really brutal, and you just have to keep pushing through it.

“Every day is a new day, which I know is cliché, but I think I’ve learned a lot about that.”

And the hard work has paid off.

Second place in the giant slalom in Killington in the United States in November was the first time in two years Robinson had claimed a podium place.

She backed it up almost immediately with bronze in Jasna, Slovakia, in January and was second in Kronplatz, Italy, in the next round.

She admits she’s come a long way from the 17-year-old who stunned the ski world with her first World Cup win in 2019 – a victory that hit the headlines back home as the first Kiwi in over 20 years to climb atop the circuit podium.

Robinson added her second cup win the following season and with a third under her belt in 2021 she found herself just one shy of one of New Zealand’s most successful alpine skiers, Claudia Riegler.

In between, she also became New Zealand’s youngest Winter Olympian when selected to race as a 16-year-old, at PyeongChang in 2018, and had her second Olympic experience in Beijing four years later.

But announcing herself on the world circuit in such a fashion was both a blessing and a barrier for the youngster, who was still finding her feet on the competitive World Cup schedule – away from her home and family in Queenstown.

“It’s almost like ignorance is bliss when you’re younger, you don’t have to think about anything else other than just skiing,” she says.

“But sometimes when you have a lot of success, if I wasn’t winning all of the time, it felt like I was failing.”

It wasn’t a pleasant place for Robinson to be as she had to contend with a new “head noise” that had never bothered her before. She found herself in survival mode.

'Alice can be number one in the world' (1)

“A big goal of mine for this year was to rebuild my relationship with the sport because I feel like the last couple of years, every race has been kind of a battle that I was surviving and not really taking it as an opportunity,” she says.

“It was more like ‘Oh my God, I made it through’ whereas now I’m feeling comfortable and confident enough to do what I can do and have fun with it.”

Her work with a mental skills coach has given Robinson a few “tricks and tips” to deal with the ups and downs of life as a professional ski racer and she has worked just as hard on that aspect of her performance as she has in the gym and on the European slopes.

“There’s no real margin of error in our sport, so the mental side is a really big factor. Just because you make one mistake on one turn, that millisecond doesn’t mean you’re not skiing well,” Robinson says.

“You have a bad race one week, but you don’t need to carry that negative energy with you to the next week. I’ve got a deeper, higher level of understanding of the sport than I’ve ever had before. But I’m also learning to move on a lot faster than I used to.

“Yes, it’s that word resilience but I think I’ve also just matured a lot and that comes with time.”

It’s taken some time to find all the right pieces for this season’s puzzle and a change in coaching staff has played its part. She now has the full-time coaching of Nils Coberger – brother of New Zealand’s first winter Olympic medallist, Annelise, and who has over 30 years coaching at the highest level with five Olympic campaigns and nine world ski championships – and Tim Café, a 2010 Winter Olympian.

Both have known Robinson since she first clipped into her competitive skis.

She’s also had her good friend and physiotherapist Alex Hull in camp for this World Cup season to complete her close-knit circle. The changes have been a good fit for what is her fifth year at the elite level, giving her the confidence to aim for a top five spot in the giant slalom.

“A change of environment has been really good for me – it’s just a fresh energy which has been really nice,” Robinson says.

'Alice can be number one in the world' (2)

“It’s been really great having Tim and Nils. We’re all from Queenstown so we’re all on the same wavelength I suppose and we’re all doing the same thing. We’re all away from home and all living out of bags. We all know what the drill is and we’re all battling it on the road together.

“It doesn’t feel like they’re just coaches – they know how to get the best out of me.”

Coberger says that “family first” philosophy has been key in the way they have approached Robinson’s campaign and believes the Kiwi is leading the vanguard of young skiers who are set to make a real impact on the sport.

“Alice can be number one in the world, there’s no question, and I’ve said that since she was 14 years old. I’ve always believed in her talent and ability – she’s only 22 years old and most of her competitors are 30,” he says.

“There’s going to be this big generational change and Alice has a great opportunity over the next few years to make the changes and establish herself as one of the top skiers in the world.

“That’s our goal and I truly believe she can achieve it.”

Her team will continue to test boundaries and aren’t afraid to do things differently to the European powerhouses.

“We’re in quite a unique environment and that importance of being family-first is something different, that can set us apart,” Coberger says.

Coberger says Robinson is very much a part of the team planning, and meetings around the dinner table provide some robust conversations and collaboration. “It’s not just about telling her what to do.”

And the process is working which Coberger says is down to Robinson’s ability to be open to change following her early success and subsequent dip in form.

“You’d probably class Alice as a phenom – she won a lot of World Cups so young. But one of the downsides of that is the process happens very naturally and you don’t spend much time reflecting on it.”

'Alice can be number one in the world' (3)

The class had always been there, Coberger explains, but the high-performance details needed had been missing – the note-taking, diary keeping, daily planning and mental skills.

Coberger’s experiences in the All Blacks environment – opportunities he took up through former manager Darren Shand – also shaped how they tackled this cup campaign with having no base one of the major differences to many of the other skiers on the circuit.

“One of my high-performance learnings with the All Blacks is that routine is a killer. You’ve got to make every day different where you fully have to concentrate on something new, because if you keep turning up to the same training slope you don’t focus on the details. That’s been a big change for us and so far, so good.”

It also means they can chase the best conditions to make the most of training days.

“It takes a lot of organising being fully on the road – we’ve got two vans; we’re a small team and we’ve worked out some good systems,” Coberger says.

It’s a hectic ski schedule – the last few weeks have seen her shift from France to Austria, to Italy and back to Austria, then Slovakia and Italy. Next she heads to Germany, Andorra and then Austria for the final round of the World Cup.

Living out of her suitcase for more than six months of the year, Robinson admits it can take a toll on her bearings.

“A few times I’ve woken up and gone ‘Oh my God, where am I?’ because we’re always in different motel rooms and don’t have a base. There’s a lot of packing and different beds and different venues,” she says. “It’s super busy but I love it.”

Despite the need to refine her bag packing system – “every time I pack it’s like I’ve never done it before, I should be way better at it” – Robinson can’t imagine life any other way. Although having been born in Sydney before moving to New Zealand as a four-year-old, she does wonder what different road she may have travelled.

“If we’d never moved to New Zealand maybe I would have been a surfer,” she says. “I don’t think I would have been a ski racer.”

She will return home in April for a Kiwi winter following the final round of the World Cup and having completed some equipment testing with her team.

It will be an opportunity to “reset” in Queenstown and spend time with her family while reflecting on what worked well for her this season and also ponder what is next.

Robinson says another Olympic campaign is always in the back of her mind, but her primary focus is the World Cup circuit and next year’s World Championships in Austria.

She will also take time to consolidate on what she has learned over the past 12 months – an opportunity she now knows is key in her performances going forward.

“I thought I knew a lot – and I’ll probably say this again in two years time – I thought I knew so much when I was younger, but I had no idea. There’s always something new.

“I’m still learning – and there’s still a lot to learn.”

'Alice can be number one in the world' (2024)


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