At seventh place in the final 2016 ranking for the Freeride World Tour, Felix Wiemers is among the absolute freeriding elite.
The 28-year-old only needed four years in competition to hold his ground in the top 10 of the freeriding world rankings. Felix Wiemers reveals in an interview the extent to which his experiences as a gymnast in Germany’s 1st national league helped him, what he plans to do for the new season, and why an increased media interest doesn’t automatically guarantee higher sponsor revenue.
ISPO.com: Your competitive skiing career began with slopestyle. How did that come about?
Felix Wiemers: I was 15 years old when I saw the first freestylers skiing in the funpark, and thought, ‘But you can do that as a gymnast, too!’ So I had to get a pair of twin-tip skis. I had a lot of fun freestyle skiing right away. I then came to freeriding through my parents, who always took me with them into the countryside.
Why didn’t you stick with slopestyle?
That’s a good question, especially since things went really well in competitions. But in January 2009, I tore my cruciate ligament and the season was over. Then in 2010 I took some time out from studying to spend a winter just skiing. After the injury break, I had lost some of my interest in slopestyle and went along to my first freeriding contest. I noticed that freeriding really suited me, too, and so little by little, I slid more and more into the freeriding scene.
Up until last season you were also active as a competitive gymnast in the 1st national league, with the KTV Obere Lahn in Biedenkopf, Germany. How did gymnastics align with your job as a freeriding pro?
Gymnastics and skiing balanced each other out for me for a long time. But since then the fact is that my life is more heavily aligned to freeriding. Nevertheless, I still try to spend as much time in the sports hall as possible and train when I’m home. I want to stay at my current level, and I definitely also benefit from the fitness and coordination in skiing.
Do you set specific goals for freeriding competitions?
When I do a hang in a contest, I plan my route very precisely. If I’m successful in riding this line exactly, then I’m satisfied. But I don’t set specific placements as a goal. If I do my run cleanly and still only get seventeenth, then the other guys were probably better that day. And of course I’m glad when it’s enough for a top placement. It’s my goal for next winter to ski more consistently.
Is the interest from mainstream media in Germany increasing with your successes at the Freeride World Tour?
Yes, that’s been happening for about three years. I had appearances on TV and interviews with major newspapers and magazines like “Kicker” and “Playboy.” Freeriding is definitely interesting, even for media outside of the scene. For me, as an athlete who lives off of it and markets himself, of course that’s a positive.
The interest from non-industry sponsors in a collaboration with freeriding athletes cautious, despite rising media interest. Why?
I believe that some industries still think that we’re a bunch of lunatics, and so many don’t have the nerve to enter into interesting collaborations.
What would have to change?
We need to try to shed light onto our sport for more people and thus dismantle some prejudices. Some people who rejoice over the action-packed shots in the movies still seem not to realize how exactly we plan each route and that we sometimes have to forego interesting runs due to dangerous conditions.
You’re currently able to make a living off of prize money and sponsor revenue. Among others, you’re supported by BMW. What does this cooperation look like in detail?
I think it’s an absolute win-win situation. BMW has been committing itself in winter sports for some time now, especially in freeriding. There are some interesting projects that they’re supporting, and I’m happy to be involved here as a known face in the scene. Overall, that naturally increases the media interest in my person, and draws people’s attention to the BMW events.
This year, professional freeriders Matilda Rapaport and Estelle Balet both suffered fatal accidents. How do you deal with these kinds of events?
It’s incredibly tragic when such young people are taken from us. It makes you very sad and reflective. Nevertheless, I never get the notion to stop freeriding after such disasters. But of course it does remind you what kind of dangers you face when freeriding.
What lessons do you take from these kinds of tragic events?
Something like that shows again that you can never be 100 percent safe in any hang. You have to assess and minimize the risk every time, evade danger spots, and choose your route as safely as possible. For me as a freerider, that means that I learn as much about the dangers as possible and have to gain lots of experience in judging avalanche situations. In the end, I myself am the one who makes the decision to set off – regardless of whether it’s at a contest or when filming. You’re responsible for yourself.
“Characters on Skis” is the title of your film project this year. What’s the film about?
The film documents how we riders go through the winter. The different characters are present and then accompanied with the camera through the whole season, from the pre-winter period up to the spring. One focus is on our two big trips to Japan and Norway. But we also filmed a lot of good sessions in the Alps.
Are there already plans for after your active freeriding career?
I studied to become a teacher. But I’m still not sure if I’ll be standing in front of a class one day, even though I find the job interesting. I still haven’t planned that far. I’m anxious to see what comes next, but first I’m still glad to be a skier for a few more years!
“Characters on Skis” with Felix Wiemers is playing in a short version at the 2016 Freeride Film Festival Tour and in full length at the Alp-Con CinemaTour. If the Freeride World Tour competition calendar permits, Felix Wiemers will also pay a visit to ISPO MUNICH between February 5 and 8.