The Best is yet to come!
- an interview with Marcel Hirscher
This text is part of one of the best interviews ever made with Marcel. It was made for Red Bull Bulletin some 16 months after he announced his retirement from ski racing.
For 16 months you’ve known what it feels like to have an amazing career that's behind you...
No. I have no sense at all that, ‘Shit, the best part of my life is behind me!’ In my case the very opposite is true. The best is still to come! That’s my motto and that’s the way I live now.
The best is still to come! Is that the answer to the classic sports reporter question that no interview should do without, namely: ‘How are you enjoying your skiing retirement?
Ha ha ha, no. The answer to that question is, ‘Mate, I’ve just turned 32. I haven’t retired, and I certainly haven’t retired from skiing. I’m only just getting started!’
Did you find the perfect line right from the off as you made the transition from that insane era as a skiing superstar to your new life as a private individual?
No, of course not. There have been a few good gate straddles along the way. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ski racing, on a motorbike or moving from one chapter of your life to the next, it’s fine not to hit the perfect line straight away as you make a complex transition: fall, get back up, do better next time. And don’t lose sight of rule number one…
‘Mate, I’ve just turned 32. I haven’t retired, and I certainly haven’t retired from skiing. I’m only just getting started!’
What’s rule number one?
Always examine things closely! (He laughs.) The most important thing for me really was to process my career mentally, to note, reflect upon and sort all my impressions and experiences. There had never been time for that. Self-employed people will know what I mean. It’s not like you’re working on your own stuff round the clock, more that your brain is constantly buzzing for the stuff that’s so dear to you. That’s exactly how it was with me. I was never, ever not a ski racer, not even in summer, lying on the beach in my trunks.
We tend to think you must really miss that constant kick, the adrenaline, everything that makes a sportsman’s life what it is, mustn’t you?
No! Why? I’ve got more of all that now than I did back then. I’ve thought it over a lot now, what the crux of top-level sport is for me and decided that, when broken down, moments of success in sport are like passing tests. You take a lot on board for those magic moments. And, yes, of course, there were plenty of those in ski racing, every time I reached the finish line with a new course record, every trophy, every medal and a million other little milestones in between.
The difference is now I can get those magic moments wherever and as often as I like. If I scroll through my mobile now, the gallery is full of experiences and people laughing. No two weeks are alike. And in most cases it’s things that I very consciously neglected for skiing. There’s no void after your career. There’s a variety and richness which give me the fulfilment I was yearning for, but which I couldn’t have even imagined 16 months ago.
That sounds like the story of the schoolmaster who became a pupil again…
That’s exactly it! For instance, I can ski, obviously. But when I go freeriding, I am, to a certain extent, a beginner again, though, because there’s so much I still can’t do and still don’t know about. And I learn something new every time I do it. The correct preparation to evaluate safety and risks before a turn I have to make, so that you get to see me on video too and not just a huge cloud of snow.
Or worse still when endurance racing. A landowner let Hiasi Walkner and I ride on this wild slope where we wouldn’t disturb man or beast. There’s no way you could get up there on foot without using your hands. The challenge is to ride up there on a motorbike. I’ve been riding bikes since I was a little boy, but this is totally new territory for me, a couple of millimetres making all the difference as to whether you can muster those two, three extra kph of speed to really make it up there or your bike getting stuck in the mud every few metres. I can barely imagine more of a rush, more adrenaline. I drink three litres of liquids on those occasions and that all then streams out from inside my helmet. I’m at my absolute limit, mentally and physically, when it’s all over, but I’m happy too. I don’t need to go on a round-the-world trip or anything like that. I can stock up on these magic moments here. It’s the good life I’ve always dreamed of. Now I can finally realise my full potential, and the best is still to come.
One of your best friends says, ‘Marcel is a new man because he’s totally the old one he used to be again’. Do you know what he means?
Absolutely! An important part of my personal development after retiring was to be more like the person I had been both before and at the start of my career once again. Bringing back to the forefront qualities which had taken a back seat – sometimes had had to take a back seat – but qualities which make me the person I am.
‘But now I feel much more like the young guy from the mountains again. A bit older, more mature, more relaxed and no doubt more open too.’
And are you bringing all those personality traits back out again now? Are you your complete former self again?
Others will have to be the judge of that. But now I feel much more like the young guy from the mountains again. A bit older, more mature, more relaxed and no doubt more open too. I appreciate how lucky I am in life and I also know that most of that isn’t earned on merit. Because you can’t exactly deserve to have the essential things in life: a great wife, a wonderful family, cool friends, amazing hobbies, no worries and, on top of all that, no real aches and pains, despite 15 years as a professional sportsman.
A spontaneous question, seeing as you mentioned this earlier. When did you last get to be truly spontaneous?
Ha! Our little boy is now a huge fan of snowmen, the bigger the better. One evening two weeks ago I thought to myself, you know what, I’m going to build him a real giant in the garden! I got a friend involved and then the two of us were out there scrambling about with ladders and shovels and head-torches on, like two little boys ourselves, until 1.30 in the morning. But the mega-snowman ended up about eight metres tall!
Does your son already ski? He’s almost as old as you were in your first videos…
He dashes around a bit by the house, but he’s not all that interested. He’ll let me know when the time comes. And if it doesn’t come, that’s fine.
You’ll be a national hero and celebrity for the rest of your life. Does pride or concern prevail on that front?
Well, there’s nothing I can really do about being a celebrity. I’m proud to have achieved something in sport and that it has value. But concern? No. I left that on the merry-go-round when I get off. (He laughs.)
‘I like working in creative processes and as part of a team and I’m having great fun again creating content for social media. We’re a small group of friends. We have the same passions.’
Falco once said, ‘Get to no. 1 in the US and you’re good for three generations’. How many generations are you good for when you’ve been no. 1 on the international ski charts for eight years in a row?
That depends on inflation. No, but seriously, I don’t think about that sort of thing. We’re doing well. Very well. Not having to worry about money is a luxury. Anything beyond that doesn’t make that much of a difference for a good life, at least not in our case.
You said you’re not retired. What’s your daily working life like, then?
The partnerships with Red Bull and Audi, have a different feel because it’s no longer about top-level sport, but specific projects and common visions. I like working in creative processes and as part of a team and I’m having great fun again creating content for social media. We’re a small group of friends. We have the same passions. I get the most from the little adventures I have close to home.
‘My enthusiasm for the white stuff is still the same but my approach is much more relaxed.’
So we mustn’t think of your freelancing life as you going to your desk after breakfast and spending the day in a neverending loop of video conference calls?
Partly, but I do prefer real meetings. As a matter of principle I aim to be out on the slopes in the morning. At the moment I’m mostly doing ski tours as long as the weather is half-way decent.
The former ski racer is now a mountaineer. Has anything changed in the way you approach things?
My enthusiasm for the white stuff is still the same but my approach is much more relaxed. I’m a rookie when it comes to mountaineering, so I never go out there alone. I always go with a professional who knows about the weather and the risk of avalanche. I take things easy on the way up: no checking my heart rate, no stopwatch, no stress. I usually go for it more on the way down. I go up to come down, not to go up. Of course I also fiddle around with the material. Three or four hours of touring is enough for me. I’m not trying to turn this into top-level sport. I’m back home again by lunchtime. Then I go out with my kid and the dog, doss around the house or sit at my desk and work on my projects. My work-life balance suits me. It’s nothing special...
‘The funny thing is I often drove people mad when I was racing with my obsession for fiddling with things and my perfectionism and now those exact things are my job!’
Nothing special? You’re currently launching an international start-up for an outdoor label: The <Mountain> Studio. How’s that coming along?
It’s totally my thing. This way of passing on expertise suits me down to the ground. With The <Mountain> Studio it’s for the skiwear. The funny thing is I often drove people mad when I was racing with my obsession for fiddling with things and my perfectionism and now those exact things are my job! I don’t know how many times we’ve changed the collection prototypes already. Every seam, every zip, every functional layer. The plan wasn’t to be that intense but I got so into it that it’s become my main job. I’m out there whatever the weather. The worse the weather is, the better. I test things, give feedback, test new stuff, give more feedback.
Your partner is Stefan Engström, from Sweden, who has already turned brands such as Peak Performance and J.Lindeberg into global success stories…
Yes, Stefan knows the business. I’ve known him for 12 years and absolutely wanted to be part of this project because I’m fascinated by the philosophy behind it.
What is the philosophy behind it? A new label, a stylish outdoor collection and a big name from sport who thinks it’s all absolutely fabulous?
Precisely not that! Look. If, in the past, I talked about my winter jacket, it covered all bases, from school to ski racing. One man, one jacket. When I grew out of it, my brother got it. That’s the idea of simplicity we’re going for with The <Mountain> Studio: a compact collection, reduced to the essentials, with no short cuts in terms of quality and timeless design. For people like me who spend 70, 80 days out on the mountain and want ONE functional jacket for all conditions and any occasion. That’s the philosophy behind it.
That’s a cool approach and very much in the spirit of the age. What’s your role in it all? Making sure there are no short cuts when it comes to the material?
You could put it that way, yes. I’m not part of the project because I won a lot of World Cup trophies, but because part of the reason why I won them was me refusing to compromise on materials. The reality of the industry is partly that outfits are specially produced in such a way that their functionality in terms of heat and moisture regulation doesn’t last for more than a maximum of two seasons. It’s called ski fashion because it constantly changes and it constantly changes because there’s an industry dependent on it. That bothered me even back when I was a ski racer. So much stuff every year that I could barely close the boot of the car. But, I ask you, who needs a different jacket for every damned thing? Just ask yourself. We all have one favourite jacket. You have wardrobes full of stuff you feel nothing and have no use for. That’s why we’re aiming for the exact opposite with The Studio. Buy wisely once and you’ll have it for ever! If you want something new, bring your used stuff back. We’ll recycle it and someone else will be happy to have it at a lower price.
I’m not part of the project because I won a lot of World Cup trophies, but because part of the reason why I won them was me refusing to compromise on materials.
Really? You have a recycling system for your outdoor collection?
Yes. Materials, workmanship, design. We create less, but it’s high-quality and geared towards longevity. A solid wooden table provides a lot more joy than some chipboard that’s been glued together.
That all makes it sound like sustainability – I can’t think of another word off the top of my head – is very important to you?
A sense of proportion? Common sense? Prudence? The term sustainability is overused and I’m the wrong person to advocate for the environment. I’ve flown to the US with 500kg of kit in the past. I’d never particularly thought that much about it. That’s changed now. I go shopping with a tote bag. And I read the fine print on food. Because one thing we know for sure: we all have to develop new awareness for the way we use our resources.