When skier Hailey Schiff joined the Massif team last August, she discovered a lot of imbalances. Like most elite skiers, she relied on her quad strength, which dominated over her hamstrings and glutes. As a result, she experienced chronic knee pain. Her Massif design sought to improve her structural balance and increase her physical resilience in preparation for the Subaru Freeride Series, the domestic big mountain competition series that qualifies skiers and snowboarders for the Freeride World Tour.
“I spent a lot of time training at Massif going into the season,” Schiff explains. “I struggled with wanting being outside more, and trying to find the balance between being in the gym and being outside. It was kind of hard, but you have remember what you want to do. Gym time is mentally challenging--I love and hate it. But I also see results.”
The SFS features two events at Snowbird and Telluride. Two events, at Aleyeska and Big Sky, were cancelled this year due to low snowpack. Each venue is steep, cliff-lined, and high-consequence. A big mountain skier like Hailey needs to not only be powerful, she needs to be exceptional balance in the air and on the snow.
Big mountain skiing always requires a unique mental skillset. Schiff needs to know what her strengths are, how plan out her line, and how execute it with precision despite a high risk of injury.
“I can confidently ski down anything that doesn’t require an air. Dropping cliffs is tough for me mentally. My back and neck’s going to hurt. I don’t know if that’s a strength thing to work on, or if I haven’t learned correct form. I’m pretty good at going off stuff when it’s fluffy. When I don’t think about it, it’s fine, but landing big stuff on hard pack has freaked me out a little bit.”
At the first Subaru Freeride Series event at Snowbird, Schiff dropped into a chute on East Baldy that no other female competitor had hit. As she prepared to air off a cliff, she caught a rock and tumbled down the chute. She got up and skied away, with a few cracked ribs.
“I could see how I still had a lot of my strength, because I was able to recover after the fall,” she explains.
Schiff had to take time off snow in order to let her ribs heal. Despite coping with one of the worst injuries she’s had in her skiing career, she returned to compete at the Telluride event in early March with the goal of skiing cleanly and conservatively.
“The venue was pretty simple and straight-forward: stick to one feature and ski the rest of the venue clean and in control,” Schiff explains about Telluride. “I chose a straight-line through a little sneak around chute, all I had to do was ski clean up top, cruise through the chute, hold on at the bottom, shut some speed down and then ski clean to the bottom.”
“Mission accomplished, I wasn't able to shut down my speed fast enough, such that I ended up cruising for a little while before I was able to make a turn. But I made it to the bottom,” she adds.
“A lot of girls fell or got bucked on the straight line such that I thought I may actually have a chance but I didn't make it through,” she says. “I definitely got caught up in what I could've done better and got pretty down on myself in the afternoon. I know I needed to ski faster, more fluid and shut down my speed. Cam reminded me that I've only skied three times since my crash at Snowbird, and skiing so little definitely makes a difference in how I ski at a competition.”
“I was definitely a little intimidated watching some of the big girls go and crush,” she adds, “but it’s big reminder and motivator to get out and push myself more.”