Triple Threat: The Anna Gasser Interview
By Anke Eberhardt
The first double cork. The first triple. The first Olympic gold medal in big air. There have been so many firsts in Anna Gasser’s career that it’s hard to believe that she only started snowboarding when she was eighteen. Back then, haters blamed her for being a gymnast who just traded the rubber mat for a board. Today it’s clear: the now 29-year-old from a little village in Austria has changed the snowboard world. The addition, “for a girl” doesn’t need to be qualified anymore. Sure, it’s pretty obvious that the blond curls and contagious laughter belong to a woman, but Anna has pushed the glass ceiling of progression so high that no female snowboarder needs to worry anymore about hitting her head when hitting jumps. Besides being a badass athlete, there’s also a completely different side to Anna’s personality. She can be so dreamy, so sil-ly, and such a mess. It’s almost like her brain is too busy handling complex body movements on a snowboard that there’s no more space on the hard drive for daily life. This makes Anna even more awesome, because her supernatural powers on snow combined with off snow imperfection make her human and an overall, rad person. So, it’s about time for her very first SNOW-BOARDER interview, to hear how Miss Sketchy turned into one of snowboarding’s most influential characters, why the US Open feels like a wellness experience after filming in the backcountry, and why she doesn’t like when different kinds of food are mixed on her dinner plate. Servus, Anna!
So, throwing it back to 2011, the first thing I ever heard about you was that you were a gymnast who accidentally strapped on a snowboard.
Ha, fair enough. I didn’t even know how to do proper turns back then, but I was already hitting jumps and rails. It was my first season, and people used to call me, Miss Sketchy.
You’d barely make it through the in-run, but then you’d do a backflip.
I’ve been jumping and flipping ever since I was a little girl because I competed in gymnastics. I’ve always felt comfortable with airtime. So getting to the jump was tough, but everything in the air was easy.
You started snowboarding when you were 18, quite late. Most people at that age already have a couple of years on the board and identify as snowboarders in terms of their attitude toward life. Coming into snowboarding at that age, with a completely different background, did you feel like you had to grow into the snowboard community or was it like coming home where you belonged?
I was always fascinated by the boardsports lifestyle. When I first watched snowboard movies, I was instantly hooked. My friends were skaters and snowboarders. We shared the same mindset. I went to the same parties and I didn’t want to be a plus-one anymore. I wanted to ride myself.
What was different about snowboarding after having competed in another serious sport your whole life?
I loved that nobody told me what to do. It was a huge feeling of freedom! In gymnastics, everything was regulated. I was used to having people giving me orders and making decisions for me. I really enjoyed the sport itself, but I was never able to do what I wanted. On a snowboard, I suddenly was my own master.
You started riding in contests straight away. Are you simply a competitive person? How important is winning to you?
Yeah, I guess I’m quite competitive, even when it comes to playing games, for example. But who doesn’t like to win? In a snowboard competition, it’s not so much about winning, for me, though. It’s more about showing what I’ve got. There have been competitions where I got fourth and I was prouder than in other comps where I won. I need to be happy with my riding; the actual result is secondary. Overall, I’m not a very good contest rider anyway.
Excuse me?! A half-dozen X Games medals, Olympic gold, World Champion—you probably don’t have shelf space anymore with all your trophies!
Haha. Sure, but I’m not strategic in a competition! I always want to show everything I have. I never play it safe. I always go all in. So if it all works out, I’m on the podium. But if it doesn’t, I’m last.
Is the Olympic gold medal a win that you’re proud of?
Of course. The Olympics are a big deal. But I’m especially proud of it because the riding level was so high and I was able to show my two hardest tricks at the time—and because the expectations were so high. Before the event, an Austrian newspaper wrote, “Anything else than a gold medal would be a disappointment.”
Totally! The pressure was extreme. After the first two runs, I was in second. When I landed my third run and won, it was one of the happiest moments in my life because I was able to handle the stress, because the overall riding level was so high, and because I was able to show what I was capable of. I knew I had tricks that nobody else did. If the next Olympics were today, I wouldn’t be as disappointed if I didn’t win because the girls got so much better. Any of the top ten female riders could get on the podium now.
A few years ago, there was an accusation that in women’s snowboarding the contest riders had stayed in their comfort zone for too long and the competitive discipline needed somebody to push the limits so everyone would have to step up their game. Are you too humble to admit it, or can we agree that this somebody was you?
There’s definitely a dynamic that if one woman does something new, the others see what’s possible and try it, as well. When I did the first double, it was a huge deal and now almost every top girl does it. That’s also why I’m a bad contest rider. I could have held back a couple of my tricks to keep the lead and prevent others from catching up, ha, but that’s not me.
Do we even need to talk about the fact that you don’t have a penis? I mean, as important as the whole gender discussion is overall, how relevant is it to you as an athlete?
To be honest, even when I did the first triple, I didn’t think about the fact that it was the first triple cork landed by a woman. I simply wanted to do it for myself. And that applies to everything I do. Of course, I care about women’s snowboarding a lot! But for me, the goal is that the phrase “good for a girl” doesn’t exist anymore. Something should simply be good, no matter who did it. It’s awesome to see how fearless the new generation of girls is. They don’t hold back because that’s not how they learned to do things. 12-year-old girls don’t think, “Well, it was a guy who did that.” They think ,“Well, it’s me who’s going to do this.” It’s amazing!
Ten years ago, you were pretty fearless in other aspects, too. After you finished school, you went to the US, even though you didn’t even speak English properly. Why did you leave the idyllic lake in Millstatt, Austria to go to Mammoth?
I wanted to become a snowboard pro! I didn’t dare to speak it out loud because it was so unrealistic. I mean, it was my senior year in high school, I had just done one season on a snowboard, and I wanted to become pro. People thought I was crazy.
Well, it does sound quite crazy. You really believed you would make it, right from the start?
I was so hooked that I didn’t care about any-thing else other than snowboarding. I just figured I needed to get good enough to be able to afford to ride all winter. So, I started babysitting, saved all my money, and told my parents that I wanted to go the U.S. to learn the language and experience the culture, while I really just wanted to shred.
It’s pretty hard to imagine that Anna Gasser was a ski bum, living in the staff houses in Mammoth.
At first it was a shock. I come from a little Austrian village and this was my first time away from home, all alone across the ocean in a different country where I didn’t even speak the language. I was quite homesick in the beginning, but I loved snowboarding so much, so I fought through it and extended my stay.
Knowing that it all worked out, it’s always easy to tell such a story, but back then, you had to switch off your brain and just go for it. Is that how you learn new tricks, too? Stop thinking and send it?
That’s one of the reasons why I love snowboarding, because I can switch off my brain. When I ride, I don’t think of anything else. All of my problems are gone. I’m completely in the moment and forget about the rest. When it comes to tricks, there’s a lot of thinking in advance, though. I did the triple in my head a thousand times before I did it on a snowboard. I imagined every single movement, and because my head had done it over and over again, my body knew what to do.
The double cork in 2013 was when people really started noticing you. Did you anticipate how much the big tricks would change your life?
Not at all! Before the double, nobody took me seriously! Nobody knew me outside of Austria. I didn’t have sponsors. Then I did the double and suddenly my email inbox exploded. I was totally overstrained.
With this experience, you must have known how crazy it would be after the triple, no?
Not in this dimension. I knew that it would be a big deal, but I never imagined that it would end up in the news in Australia, in Romania, on CNN. Suddenly, I was everywhere!
Now you’re a celebrity outside of the snowboard world, also. You’ve been Athlete of the Year in Austria twice, you’re been invited to fancy TV gala events. How real is that for you?
Pretty surreal, sometimes. Everything happened so fast! Nobody in Austria cared about snowboarding before, and suddenly I’m all over mainstream media. But I think one reason why everything worked out was because I never cared about the coverage, the attention, or the money. I always just wanted to snowboard.
How do you feel when you’re in a fancy dress, surrounded celebrities, and with a television camera pointed at you?
Events like these are the part of snowboarding that feels like work to me. Going to galas, doing photo shoots, giving interviews—that’s what I have to do. But I don’t like to be the center of attention; it makes me feel awkward when I have a camera pointed at me. Of course, it’s nice to see a portrait of myself and think, Hey, that didn’t suck that much this time! But if I could choose, I’d skip all of the media work and just ride.
With your blond curls and the blue eyes, you sell well as a glamour girl, though. Almost 400,000 followers on Instagram would agree. But you once said that you don’t like the social media game, either?
Instagram is both a blessing and a curse. I like the fact that I’m in control of how I portray myself. In mainstream media, you never know what they’ll write in the end. Once, there was a rather sexy picture of me used for an athlete of the month voting and I had to deal with a shitstorm, even though I had nothing to do with it. On Instagram, I can control how I want to be seen. When I posted about Black Lives Matter, I lost almost 5,000 followers, but that’s fine. When I was younger, I was much more worried about what people might think. Now I don’t care, if that’s who I am.
You’re also a little weird. You travel the world, you stay in fancy hotels, and then we go for dinner and you order chicken wings and fries because you don’t like your food to touch.
I know, ha! I have some strange habits. Ever since I was little, I didn’t like when food was mixed. I don’t want it to touch and I order it on separate plates, which is, of course, tough when you travel as much as I do. People always wonder what’s wrong with me. But it’s getting better. I just started eating burritos!
No way, congrats!
Rice on the side, though! Ha. Maybe it’s because I always want to be in control and that also extends to my food. I don’t know.
Which is funny, because you don’t seem to be in control of where your phone or your passport are. You lose things all the time! It’s almost like a split personality, you’re so focused on the board and such a mess off snow.
I have always loved focusing on just one thing. It’s almost like I’m in a different world and it makes me forget everything else. Last week we were on the hill and I was so into riding, but when we got down, I was tired and suddenly my wallet was gone. I had no idea where I left it. Maybe it’s because I need ultimate control in snowboarding, so I have to let go at other times and have my head in the clouds. I really need both.
Nowadays, you like both contests and backcountry. You started filming for the new Burton movie and also have been working on your own video project.
This year was my first season filming and I was completely out of my comfort zone! Beforehand, I had planned to do this trick or that trick in powder, but ha, that’s really not how it works! Shooting with Danny Davis, Mark McMorris, Red Gerard, and Brock Crouch in Jackson Hole was so humbling. My respect for everybody who’s filming a video part grew even more. Fourteen hours out in the back-country, minus 30 degrees, sledding, hiking, shoveling—all for five seconds in the movie. And if you don’t land, you worked a whole day for nothing. I went to the US Open afterward and it was wellness compared to sledding! Filming is a completely new challenge for me.
Maybe that’s only fair, considering that all the jumping and flipping in the park was so easy for you.
True! I enjoy it because I love learning new things. So I hope I can film more, because that’s how I got into snowboarding in the first place, watching video parts. Back then I thought, Wow, that’s what I want to do–not a contest run. I didn’t think about podiums and medals, but contests were the only way to afford snowboarding full time for a woman—which is hopefully changing now.
You had so many “wow” moments in your career. Do you think you’ll ever get to the point where you make yourself a cup of tea and you’re done? Or are you thinking about the quad cork already?
I actually thought about quitting contests a while ago, but I still enjoy it, so I keep doing it. In the future, I see myself filming more. You can have all kinds of different wow moments. It doesn’t need to be a big jump. It can be a big pow turn, too. One of the coolest things in snowboarding is that it’s so diverse. There’s always something that you can progress in. So for me, I don’t think that is ever going to stop.