Interview with Freeski Athlete Hadley Hammer: To Compete or Not To Compete

Why I’m not Competing This Year
An interview with FreeSkier, Hadley Hammer
Ferried World Tour Photo
Freeride World Tour Photo

MA: You had a disappointing competition season last year, yet just last May, you said your goal for this year was to get back on the World FreeSki Tour and win a championship. I now understand you’ve decided not to compete. Why the change?

HH: I think that I can progress my skiing more outside of the competition format. The schedule of the competitions, the small women’s field make it so you can’t take a lot of risks during the comps. Without risks, you can’t progress.

MA: What do you mean, “risks?”

HH: I think the smart competitors have figured out that your never going to ski your hardest line in a competition, because you can ski at 75% of your potential and do well. Maybe, that’s not true. Maybe the risks are the same for filming and competing, but the consequences for competing are higher – because if you fall, that’s your score, whereas filming, you have the opportunity to try again.

MA: Isn’t that what defines the great athletes though? – The ability to perform at the highest level, when everything is on the line?

HH: Yes, but filming a line in Alaska can have just as much pressure as competing in a competition.

MA: How – if you get the chance to try again?

HH: Risk is the wrong word. Consequence is the right word. With filming, there’s still a risk of falling, but the consequence isn’t the same. With competitions, the consequences of falling are huge. On the world tour last year, I got three chances last year – just three. At some point, it comes down to luck that day. I’m just trying to increase my odds.

MA: For women, the most common path to filming is through competition success – Angel Collinson for example. How do you make the jump to filming without competition success?

HH: I think what leads to filming opportunities – a lot has to do with sponsors, and being in the right place at the right time. I think you can try to find a formula, but at the end of the day, I think good skiers with the right motivation, and are willing to do the work behind the scenes, are getting filmed.

MA: What defines a professional Big Mountain Skier?

HH: I don’t know there’s a definition for a “Big Mountain Skier” without a definition of what “Big Mountain Skiing” is as a sport.

MA: Please define Big Mountain Skiing as a sport.

HH: (Struggling ….) I don’t know.

MA: You can’t define your own sport?

HH: I guess it would just be skiing mountains without man-made features.

MA: That’s pretty squishy.

HH: This is the root of our continuing discussion and struggle. “Big Mountain Skiing” hasn’t been totally defined – which makes it hard to tell if competitions define it. The google definition of “extreme skiing” is that extreme skiing is performed on long steep slopes and mountainous terrain.

MA: What makes it different than ski mountaineering or randonee racing.

HH: With Big Mountain Skiing – the focus is on the way down, with ski mountaineering and randonee, the focus is on the way up.

MA: What did you learn from competing?

HH: How to create a pre-competition practice which helps you be in the right mind set. I’ve learned how to travel as a professional athlete. And I’m in the process of learning how to deal with success and defeat. It is also a great way to learn the hard skills of identifying features on the slope, learning how to ski a slope without any practice.

MA: We’ve heard from several skiers that sponsors no longer value competition participation or success. Is that what you’ve heard from your sponsors? If so – did this help you make your decision not to compete?

HH: I think there’s definitely a higher value placed on ski films than skiing competitions. It’s always been like that. Last year I competed without much success – and because of the competition schedule and difficult snow year, I didn’t have any film or media. Competing doesn’t bring instant career success or recognition. But my decision to compete or not to compete is from my own gut not based on outside interests.

MA: At least with competitions, you’re competition success is mostly dependent upon your own skiing performance. Mostly, your fate is in your own hands. Getting picked up for ski films can be as much a matter of luck, and personality, as ski ability. You’re a pretty straight shooter. Are you ready to play this game?

HH: I disagree. Competitions can be just as subjective whether it’s judging, snow quality, light, run order etc. In films, the good skiing is obvious. And I think you can play into the games in both venues, or you can play your own game and simply ski your best. I think, maybe naively, but I think working on my own skiing improvement and skiing to the best of my ability will get me to where I need to go.

MA: Really? Even Griffin Post acknowledges there are many great skiers out there – and how fortunate he has been to appear in many TGR films. Do the best skiers always make it to filming?

HH: I think the best skiers who want to be filmed, and are willing to put in the work, make it to filming. And there are a million good skiers, but not all want to put in the work. And most are probably happy just skiing?

MA: What do you mean – “put in the work” for filming?

HH: People don’t realize how much back of the house work is done by the top level athletes whether that’s being on top of their emails, working well with photographers, working on their skiing technique, analyzing their own footage. A lot of why you get picked to film has to do with what sponsors you have, and maintaining sponsorships is the same as being a employee to that company. You have to work hard and do your job well. It’s not just skiing around in a free jacket.

MA: What will you miss from competing?

HH: I’ll miss the people the most.

MA: You’re working on some of your own filming projects. Can you describe this effort?

HH: I’m trying to work on creating my own edit for the winter, which required hiring film crews, creating budgets, timelines, calendars … In a way competition is easy because all your logistics are set up for you. But this year it’s more scary because I’m responsible for the logistics, but I also will have the flexibility to take advantage of filming opportunities which come my way. And I can’t just say to my sponsors, “give me money – I want to work on being the best skier there ever was.” I have to have definitive goals and projects.

MA: The North Face is a major sponsor of the TGR ski films. You’re sponsored by The North Face. Are you guaranteed a slot filming with TGR this winter?

HH: I’m not guaranteed a spot.

MA: Do you know how TGR, Matchstick, etc. make their athlete decisions?

HH: It’s up to the producers and owners.

MA: Beyond filming, what are your goals for the coming winter?

HH: My main focus is taking the training I’ve been doing in Mt. Hood during the summers – tricks – and implementing them in my skiing more. It’s an area I think I can grow my skiing, and help grow womens’s skiing – and it also looks really fun!

MA: Any exotic travel plans?

HH: I’d like to head up to Canada – maybe that’s not super exotic, but the mountains up there have a lot of potential. It’s similar to Jackson where you can get to great terrain with a relatively easy approach, and don’t have the consequences a place like Chamonix does.

MA: You’ve been critical of women’s skiing in the past. Why?

HH: I think critical is a harsh word. “Frustrated” is a better word. To some degree I don’t want to talk about women’s skiing any more, because when you separate the genders you’re doing both of them a disservice. We are all skiers. When I do think about women’s skiing I’m frustrated because I think there should be more focus on the actual skiing. When I watch Angel’s skiing or Tatum Monod’s skiing, I’m inspired. But I think there’s just a lot of other noise out there about women’s skiing and I think a return to focus on the technical skills would benefit all female skiers.

MA: What do you mean “noise”?

HH: I think athletes should be able to embrace their own personalities and interests and portray those, but I think your athletic ability should have equal weight? I think the chatter about women skiing alone is a distraction.

MA: So you’re referring to sponsored female skiers who are more ski models than good skiers?

HH: I’m not ready to get into the ski model discussion. The ski model debate makes me angry for two reasons. First – it’s always attached to females which is tiring and unnecessary. Two – I don’t want to pass judgment on how people are living their lives. And when I get into that ski model debate, you’re passing judgment.

MA: Is it fair to say the female ski models out there diminish the overall respect – at least within the sport – of all female big mountain skiers? Is this the source of your concern – that regardless, you’ll be grouped or seen in the same way?

HH: No. I think my skiing will define my position within the industry. I think there’s a need for ski models and there’s a need for professional big mountain skiers. Even if the lines are being blurred at this point, all I can do is ski hard and not worry about it. It’s not worth worrying about. Let’s worry about kindness, and authenticity, and being good humans (call me cheesy and hallmarky).

Follow Hadley’s career:
Instagram: @hadhammer

Twitter: @hadhammer

Facebook: @hadley hammer

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