Greta Small was just three years old when Zali Steggal won Australia’s first and only Olympic medal in women’s alpine skiing. Eighteen years later, Greta Small is aiming to emulate her hero, when she competes in her second Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in just 18 months time.
Despite her young years, Greta is no stranger to international competition. First competing at an international level in 2012, Small has gone on to become one of Australia’s most promising winter athletes. At the 2014 Sochi winter games, she represented Australian in all five (!) alpine skiing disciplines, finishing 15 in the Super Combined event – the best result for an Australian skiier in 12 years, despite being the second youngest in the field!
We caught up with Greta at her winter home, Mt Hotham, where she was busy training for the 2016-17 world cup season, after recovering from an earlier injury sustained in competition in late 2015. We started the interview by asking Greta about an odd geographic coincidence….
Snowriders WA: How is it that the family of one of Australia’s top alpine ski racers resides in Perth, Western Australia, better known for 40 degree temperatures, beaches and a distinct lack of snow?
Greta Small: I grew up in North Eastern Victoria and in Albury, on the NSW / Victoria border. When I was 12 years old, Mum moved to Perth to be closer to Family. I attended high school there through the Western Australian Distance Education School, SIDE, so I could train and compete in Europe for 7 months of the year. I finished High School in late 2013 a couple of months out from the Sochi 2014 Olympics and the following year I moved back to North East Victoria. I love visiting family in Perth and going to the beach, I have very fond childhood memories of days spent there. Although my heart will always lie in the mountains!
Snowriders WA: Your home mountain is Hotham, Victoria. When you’re not training, what’s your favourite run on the mountain?
Greta Small: My Favourite run at Hotham is Snake Gully, for training or for first tracks. The ridge dropping into Coles bowl is my first choice on powder days!
Snowriders WA: When I was growing up we had the option of cricket of footy. How does a young Australian became a ski racer?
Greta Small: I was lucky enough that both my parents were avid skiers and had been involved within the Australian Ski industry before I came along. Prior to becoming an athlete, I spent my Easters in Val d’Isere, France, and my winter school holidays at The Lodge, Mt Hotham. I eventually got into racing through the National Inter-schools competition and never looked back.
Snowriders WA: Competing on the world stage is clearly a huge commitment. What have you had to give up to make it to the top?
Greta Small: It all comes down to the choices you make! I have been in the Australian National Team since age 11 and because of that have never been to a school formal. Two months out from my first Olympic Games, I was busy training and my friends were enjoying ‘schoolies’. Even when injured for 9 months last year due to a knee reconstruction, I still did not resume “normal life”; instead I trained 8 hours a day so I could come back stronger than before!.
Snowriders WA: You’re one determined athlete then! What about summers? Do you miss them?
Greta Small: I haven’t experienced an Australian summer since 2004, although I am not too unhappy about that – I really don’t do well in the heat, ha ha! At the end of the days, its about choice, whether big or small. But the people who have made the biggest sacrifices for my dream have been my family, specifically my parents.
Snowriders WA: In the 2014 Sochi winter games you participated in 5 alpine disciplines. Which is the most difficult and do you have a favourite?
Greta Small: I have competed in 5 events at World Championships and Olympic Games. Each event is difficult with slightly different technical or tactical elements, depending on the run and the course set. I have always loved competing in the speed events Downhill and Super G from a young age. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush after coming down a downhill at 120km/h, but I still love laying down a fast and technical slalom run. At the moment I could not choose a favourite, I guess it’s like choosing children; you like one better depending on the day!
Snowriders WA: The Sochi games were marred by several problems. For example, the women’s downhill training was apparently stopped after the first three racers got too much air on one of the jumps! What was going on there? Is this a common problem in world cup, or was it just dodgy Sochi organisation?
Greta Small: The issue with the finish jump on first training day on the Women’s downhill course was that the “take off” point had a small kick in it which launched you into the air rather than gliding off the jump. They were extra cautious on safety, which was good and just shaved the “kick” out of the jump so that you had a better take off and flight. It was just normal snow and course issues that get ironed out on the training days. Things like that happen, that’s why we have Downhill training days.
Snowriders WA: Earlier this year you made a successful comeback to World Cup skiing after suffering a serious knee injury. Where to from here? What are your goals over the next few seasons?
Greta Small: This season just starting is my comeback season after a knee reconstruction last April. I suffered a torn ACL, MCL and Mencius and underwent two knee surgeries last year. My knee is fully rehabbed and feeling great. I am looking forward to racing again at Hotham in a couple of weeks for the opening Australian New Zealand Cup after not competing for over a year. Hopefully I will return to the World Cup tour later in the year when the Northern Hemisphere season starts. The main focus this season is on the World Championships in February held in St Moritz, Switzerland. With only 18 months out to the next Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea that is also a big goal.
Snowriders WA: Scenario: there’s 45 cm of fresh new powder on the ground and your coach wants you to lift weights in the gym. Do you (a) hit the gym or (b) skive off and ski powder all day?
Greta Small: Ha ha – Just the other day actually it snowed about 40cm so training got cancelled but we were already up the mountain and booted up, so we went off and skied powder for a few runs and then went straight to the gym after! Unfortunately I don’t own a pair of ‘fat boys’ so normally I would just hit the gym if that is the planned schedule.
Snowriders WA: Finally, Dry Snowsports WA intend to build Australia’s largest artificial dry ski slope near Perth, Western Australia. Is this just crazy, or is it inspired?
Greta Small: I think it is a wonderful idea to get people started out and interested in snow sports from a part of the country that doesn’t have access to the snow. That is how a lot of the British skiers get into skiing before trying it out on the real deal somewhere in Europe. I really hope this dry slope in WA will get some more families into recreational skiing in Australia. Although, I am disappointed there seems to be more interest in building dry slopes and moving carpets rather than an indoor ski slope. There are some great indoor places around the world, most famous probably being Dubai due to the media attention it has received. Although Wittenburg near Hamburg in Germany have World Cup teams come for slalom camps in summer. I have trained at three different indoor slopes in Germany and Belgium over the years. It would be cool to say you can ski all year round in Australia 🙂
Editors note: We agree with you Greta; though we’d also be happy with any kind of ski slope in Western Australia, whether it be indoors or outdoors. Thanks so much for talking with us, Greta. Snowriders Western Australia would like to wish you all the very best for the upcoming WC season and the approaching Olympic games.
Greta appears courtesy of Atomic, Hotham, Artech and Komperdell.
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