NOV 10, 2018

Richie Berger Interview in Solden

Richard Berger and Tom Gellie in Solden

Tom Gellie and Richard Berger in Solden, Austria

Tom Gellie

Tom: Richard, can you tell me about your background? Did you start out as a race kid? What were you like as a skier?


Richard: I started probably skiing, like all young kids in Austria with parents. Then I started to ski in ski club and got introduced to racing. I started skiing and I was racing until until 18, 19 in international races, FIS European Cup. That first race is a long time ago. Technically, I was pretty good, but I was physically very skinny.


Tom: And did you always work at that, like, were you in the gym a lot?


Richard: No, I was much more a player and not a hard worker.    


Tom: Yeah. So that your technical ability got you to a certain point, but then other guys were just bigger and had better strength.


Richard: Yeah, they had 20, 30 kilos on me. There was no chance.


Tom: So was that when you decided to go down the road of becoming an instructor ?


Richard: Yup. I went straight to St. Christoph.


Tom: Do you remember having some people in involved your training that were really influential on how you ski or had you already built up your own style a bit before then?


Richard: We were a group of young racers. And the funniest thing was that nobody knew from each other that the other was going to St. Christoph. Okay. And walking down the stairs, going for breakfast, we met and I'm wondering, what are you doing here? We knew each other from racing. And then we met there again and there, we were pushing each other day by day and skiing together. Getting tired from racing and looking forward to having fun. More skiing, off-piste skiing, free-skiing.


Tom: So was there one aspect of skiing you really enjoyed?  Were mogul's your favourite kind of skiing or did you like everything?


Richard: I never practiced mogul skiing actually. It just came overnight. It was more powder skiing, steep skiing that was my favourite.


Tom: When did you become interested in technical skiing and demonstration skiing, because you're regarded as one of the best. When did that start?


Richard:  This wasn't actually planned. I didn't know what I should do after racing. And then my ski school director, which was also like a father figure for me and the other boys because we were 18, 19, 20 years old. He was also educating us a little bit, not just skiing. Helping with the girls and all those things that come as you become a young adul. He started to decide what we would do. He said, okay, now you are ready for the examination for national ski instructors. And now you're ready to move to Japan. Now you're ready to go. So we were sent to other places to train.


Tom: Okay. So he was very much a coach.


Richard: Yeah. It wasn't coming from us, he suggested to go to Japan.


Tom: When did that start happening? When did he decide to send you?


Richard: The first time was in 1989.


Tom: And so what did you do in that time? Were you just training?


Richard: No, it was kind of being ambassadors of Austrian ski technique. Because St Christoph  ski school was like a national ski school. All other ski schools around were private ski schools. But this was a national ski school, so we were employed by the government. And the government was sending us to different countries to introduce the Austrian skiing technique. And this was for a pretty long time. During this time I, I was able to make connections and create a network. Now this kind of ski school doesn't exist.


Tom: Did you compete in the technical competitions over there?


Richard: Competitions in Japan were actually not allowed for foreigners. They started  to allow it in provincial competitions like Hokkaido or other places, but not in the national ones. They did it sometimes and always the international racer was the winner. So they wanted to keep it a Japanese national competition. But then was the time when they started an international competition. This was after Interski in Nozawa Onsen in 1995. They did it two or three times in Nozawa Onsen. I know there was one or two international competitions in Korea, but then they stopped this kind of international competition.


Tom: Was there just not much interest ?


Richard: It was difficult. They had to invite all foreigners from Europe and other countries. It wasn't the big deal for the Koreans or Japanese because they were staying there anyway. Nobody was paying to compete. And that was probably the problem leading to them stopping.


Tom: I was going to ask you what you did as a young skier for physical training and preparation? Beginning as a racer and realizing skiing is your career, did you start training your body?


Richard: No, never.


Tom: What about now? Do you train now?


Richard: What I mean by saying this is as a kid you don't need a special training for skiing. What They need is a very broad, wide range of sports. So they have fun. They should learn to play tennis. They should play squash and all these things where you have all the motor and physical things like speed, power and resistance. They should train by doing sport, playing, and not by going to gym or doing a special training specific for skiing. That's my idea on it.


Tom: So that was your training. You would just go and you would play many other sports.


Richie Berger in a recent Projected Productions video

Richard: I have always focused on specific skiers. Not very powerful, not very big skiers. Like Ingemar Stenmark  wasn't a very big, heavy skier. He was skinny, but with very good skills or Michael Von Grunegin was also skinny but with good skills. Ted Ligety is also skinny with good skills. So yes, you don't need to have 90 or a hundred kilos to be a good, to be a good technical racer. Of course, in downhill you need to have weight, but not in technical races.


Tom: Interesting. So how has your technique changed Over the years? Do you think It's changed?


Richard: Of course. I'm pretty long in this business and I started skiing with long straight skis. When I was teaching down in San Christo, we skied with 207 to 210cm skis. Radius 45-50 meters. Nowadays ski length is almost 40, 50 centimeter shorter and with much more side cut. And of course this has influenced my ski technique.


Tom: So what are some things you remember, like stages you went through of working towards changing something like pressure control or early edge? What was the first major breakthrough you have?


Richard: One big change is in longer turns. Not that much in short turns. In short turns, edging becomes earlier and earlier. In the past, with long skis, edging was very much at the end of the turn and now we start to edge always earlier. On long carving turns, there is big change of establishing early edge. We did carving a long time ago even with our long skis, but it was much more on one ski, just on our outside ski. We couldn't use the inside ski that much. We were lifting up our inside ski making pressure just on our downhill ski. And this distribution on both legs and also using our inside edge. This was probably the biggest change with the carvings ski for me.


Tom: So what do you feel now yourself is the kind of distribution in a long turn? Where do you feel? If you were to just try and put a number on it?


Richard: That's a difficult question because I know that that all the racers and, and most people, they just tell people to weight on the outside ski, build up pressure on your outside ski. What I do is I try to focus on skiing on both legs equal with the same pressure. If you ski on the slope, your downhill ski is always lower than your uphill ski. By this reason, your downhill ski always carries much more weight. Automatically more weight than your inside ski. And that's why I think, I need to active build up pressure on my inside ski. So I tried to build up active pressure on my inside ski and get the pressure from the terrain and from the centrifugal force on my outside ski. And by this way, I'm able to be more even, and ski with both legs. So my outside ski gets pressure from external forces and my inside ski gets active pressure from my forces. 


Tom: Interesting. I've been playing with that a little bit more so in longer turns, and little bit in shorter turns. And it feels like I load up more of my body. So more of my body Is tensioned and strong to then control the pressure or direct energy out of the turn.


Richard: Yeah, of course you are much stronger. You're much more compact, much more stable. I feel that skiing just on one leg, just on my outside ski.


Tom: Interesting. And is it short turns, Do you feel the same?


Richard: 25 years ago, on short turns, we taught to weight on both skis equal because on short turns, you're not moving so far away from the fall line and on long turns, you move much closer to the fall line. And of course that's just skiing on both legs. No weight change from downhill ski to downhill ski.


Tom: Do you feel that, with the slalom skis now, you are able to ski a lot smoother compared to the way you used to ski. I have seen videos of you from when you're in older suits and then, more recent video of you in your new bright colored suits. It looks smoother to me the way you ski now. Is that a deliberate thing you're trying to do?


Richard: I think it has to do with the change of material because with the older ski your edging was much later. Then you get much more rebound. And then the heavy punch from the terrain and the pressure. Now with the shorter and stronger side cut skis, I tried to edge around the fall line. Then not much pressure is coming back. By this way, I'm able to balance much easier. The pressure build up is also much smoother. And it's much easier. There's not so much pressure change. If you edge very late, you have a lot more pressure, then you have no pressure. And if you edge earlier, it's easier to have all the time, almost the same pressure, then of course it's smoother.


Tom: Do you feel the same kind of thing in the moguls?


Richard: I try to build up pressure against the backside of the bump. To build up pressure and to unweight when the bump is coming.


Tom: Do you have any cues personally, you think about to do that on the backside? To get the ski pressured on the backside? Or does it more come from having good reactions to the bump coming towards you so you can push back against the backside of the next bump?


Richard: Well, I think it's a combination of rolling over with your center of mass and pulling back your skis, your legs.


Tom: So slowing down the feet, almost letting the body go faster.


Richard: Yeah. And that is a problem for most people because they're a bit scared they move back and then just Slap, slap, slap, slap.


Tom:  I have been playing with this idea that when you're steering with your leg,  most people would just talk about steering from the upper leg. So that's the thigh, there is separation there at the hip joint, but there's also some steering which you can do with the foot and the lower leg from below the knee joint. And my feeling on it is you use more of the upper part of the leg at the beginning because it's more of an edging movement and you actually relax the lower leg to allow the foot to roll out and the skis around the edge. And then more from the fall line, as you start to want to build the pressure more and direct the ski back, you use not so much the upper leg, but more the foot and the lower leg to bring the skis back under you.


Richard: Yeah, I agree to this.


Tom: Do you teach in that way or how do you get this idea across to people you ski with?


Richard: Yeah, of course. I explain it because too often we explain and we show them that you have to move your knees. Left and Right. But you can't move your knee sideways. There is only one way to be able to move your knees. And to move them sideway, you need to rotate your thigh, your leg. That's the reason why your knees are inside.


Tom: Ok. Today I was trying to explain to my group on the glacier  that they need to feel movement at the hip joint and the knee joint. To be aware of more than one area in their legs that rotation can occur. And then we played with being more active with one of these parts of the body at different parts of the turn.  


Richard: It’s like on golf, on tennis. You start teaching them to move your arm in your shoulder. Then if you become better and better, you also open your wrist for acceleration. And that's the key you give the ball its speed.


Tom: Yeah. You get this whip effect.


Richard: Yeah. That's also the acceleration out of the in turn.


Tom: Are you working on anything in your skiing at the moment?


Richard: Of course, yes. Everyday I try to practice and to improve. And to change. I tried to improve day by day my steering - Do not slide, do not carve, to find a combination of those. And of course, also to stay all the time with the same pressure. But it's a pretty easy on gentle slopes, intermediate slopes, but on steeper stuff it's very hard. And also try to ski with less movement. Always be in the same position.


Tom: So what do you mean by that? How would you explain that in another way?


Richard: Well, I always focus to keep my center   of mass in the same position, my head in the same position, the whole body in the same position. And not much bending and extending my legs. Or just let them run underneath my body. Do I have a good acceleration in a turn? Like shock absorbers. Hard shock absorbers when you carve allows you to accelerate at the end of the turn. And if those are too soft, you lose pressure, you lose speed.


Tom: That's very cool to think of. Do you do anything with your equipment, with your ski boots? For example in the fitting of them, do you have a pretty good foot or do you have to do a lot of work? Because you've spent hundreds and hundreds and thousands of days in ski boots.


Richard: I have one big right ankle. And here (pointing to his ankle) I grind out so I don't get pain.


Tom: Do you cant your boots?


Richard :No.


Tom: Do your leg comes up pretty straight when you stand in your shoes?  It's always been that way?


Richard: Yup.


Tom: With your guests, do you ever look at that as a component or something to look out for?


Richard:Yeah. I think material is very important. Very important. I'm a person who cares very much. The material is keys and I don't like it all to not have good material.


Tom: So how about in your skis, what do you look for? Something not too stiff, not too soft?


Richard: I don't have special skis. I have skis which you can buy in the shop. Of course, these are all skis from the race department, slalom skis from race department. I like actually pretty hard boots and also skis. I prefer harder skis because I think they give me much more rebound, much more trampoline effect than the soft ones. In soft skis or soft boots, I feel I lose pressure.


Tom: Like what you were talking about before you want to keep the body the same. So the ski can do more and you don't want to have the mushy suspension.


Richard: If I have stiff ski boots, pressure is going much more forward with the skis, downhill.


Tom: Cool. Interesting.


Tom: With last few questions, are there some principles you think are really essential, like simple kind of principles in skiing that you really make sure you get across when you teach people you ski with?


Richard: Well, the principles are of course basic technique. I think basic technique is most important and I've practiced everyday basic technique in the morning, in my first run first runs and this is the most important thing. And physically, that's why I was saying it's not important to make fitness training. Because for skiing, I think balance and coordination are the most important thing and not power. And if you are good in balance and in coordination, you can be a very good skier.


Tom: Cool. Well, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.