Ski cross Jean-Christophe Pachoud

Fanny Smith, ski cross world champion at the age of 21

Ski cross is a type of skiing and was inspired by the equivalent snowboarding discipline – snowboard cross. Unlike downhill skiing races, in which each participant takes part individually in the race, four ski cross racers are timed over the same stretch, which includes jumps, banked corners and bumps. The discipline is a combination of freestyle and speed.
Each race takes place over four days, with the first day being a tracking race, while the qualifications are made over the following two days and the final on the fourth and last day.


Born in 1992, Fanny spent her childhood on the Villars-Gryon plateau until she turned 15, when she left for Brig to join a sports school after being selected by the Centre National de performance en ski alpin (National Alpine Downhill Training Centre) due to her excellent slalom results. She discovered ski cross at the age of 13 during a competition in Villars organised by the local ski and snowboard club. This initial experience was not simply a discovery – it was the moment that she realised that this would be her future career path.
At the age of 14, her father asked her if she would like to take part in the ski cross trials leading up to the Vancouver Olympic Games a few years later. As Fanny agreed and there was then no structure in place to prepare her accordingly, her father began to look for a trainer and who he found in the shape of Guillaume Nantermod, world boarder cross champion in 2001. Guillaume retired from competing in 2007 to devote
himself exclusively to training Fanny.
Thus, at age 16, while Fanny was still training for downhill skiing, Guillaume became her trainer and in October, they began ski cross training sessions, a discipline about which Fanny knew strictly nothing. The first season’s races served as a training ground and the results were mixed, including some good followed by injuries and then a number of results which made it possible for her to finish her first season ranking 46 worldwide.
At the age of 17, Fanny competed in her first complete season (2009/2010), with the Vancouver Olympic Games lined up in February 2010. In December 2009, after the first two races of the season, she had already fulfilled the selection criteria for the Vancouver Olympic Games (four Swiss girls were selected). These three races resulted in her winning sixth place worldwide.

In January 2010, Fanny took part in the X-Games and won fourth place. This race was excellent training leading up to the Games, given the level of difficulty and the length of the course. She subsequently took part in the Vancouver Olympic Games and came seventh.
Her third season (winter 10/11) took place without any injuries and Fanny came third at the X-Games and finished tenth in the World Championships. At the end of this third season, she was number five in the world.

During the first race in the 11/12 winter season, Fanny had an accident in December and injured her knee, ending the season for her. She started training again in April 2012 and a year of re-education and intensive training followed, which enabled her to start racing again in December 2012. The training for the first races was tough. Fanny couldn’t finish the courses and lost confidence. But her indomitable spirit made up for it and soon afterwards won the qualification events and the first three races.
On March 10, 2013, Fanny won the World Championships in Voss (Norway) and won the overall World Cup ranking. At the end of the 2012/13 season she had four victories and two third places.


We asked Fanny a few questions:

What is the average age for girls in ski cross? In the beginning I was the youngest.
Currently, two competitors are younger but the average age is between 25-30 years old.
How many girls are there on the circuit? Around 40-50 girls. Currently there are more girls than boys with six girls and three or four boys on the Swiss ski cross team.
How many pairs of skis do you use in a season? Around eight pairs. She still has other pairs in case something gets broken. She uses Stöckli skis, the brand that has sponsored her since she won seventh place at the Vancouver Olympic Games. She pays for her skis like this and was lucky to have been given skis by a sports shop in Villars when she did not yet have sponsors.
What does she think about in the starter gates? In the starter gates she is in her own world and is unaware of the girls beside her. She doesn’t look at the starter lists and tells herself simply that she is ahead and she will win. During a particularly important race, in which she has to do even better than usual, she thinks about her mother who is watching and who experiences things so intensely that Fanny is afraid she will pass out.

Her personality traits: Fanny is very positive and has enormous will power. She has a very strong character and knows only too well what she does and doesn’t want. She doesn’t like routine, is not superstitious and doesn’t wear a lucky charm during races. She learnt a lot from her knee injury in 2010 which made her grow, and to improve both her technique and her patience. With her fighting spirit and positive streak, she knew that she would only come back to achieve the level she enjoyed prior to her accident.
Is she afraid? Yes, sometimes, because men and women ski on the same ski cross courses.
But when she is in the starter gates, even if she knows no other girl has done the course, she isn’t afraid because she is in her own race. The fact that the courses are the same for both men and women is very positive because it pushes the girls ahead.

The number of races in a season? Ten on average. Every ski cross race takes place over four days (two days of training, one qualification day and one race day), so you must be in peak condition on ten days a year. But the three days before the race are already very physically taxing. Unlike a downhill skier who does one downhill slope, a ski cross racer has to do several and therefore has to recover faster.
Do you manage to take a break from training? Yes, at the end of April/May, Fanny rests completely and does nothing. From the beginning of June, physical training starts again with seven training sessions spread over the course of a week, so that she can also enjoy rest days which are equally important. Every training session lasts two hours. At the end of July, Fanny starts skiing again (Zermatt, Saas-Fee, New Zealand and Austria) and in winter, training starts again every day. Ski cross is like a job. Even if it represents a passion, there are also times when one has the blues.

Does she have a chance to ski or snowboard outside training sessions? Yes, every winter, she tries to snowboard a bit but she loves freeride. There is always a pair of freeride skis in her bag. As soon as she arrives somewhere and it starts snowing, she spends odd days
freeriding with her trainer who is also a fan.

Does she have time to see her friends? Yes, but it’s harder in winter. Her friends know her rhythm and know that even if she doesn’t always answer messages, she will be back after the winter because Villars is her resting place with her friends and her family.

Are there a lot of obligations to her sponsors? No, you just have to remember not to forget anything during photo shoots, so that everything that needs to be seen remains visible. The collaboration with sponsors, marketing and advertising are also part of the things that she enjoys in her activities.

Does she feel different compared to her early years? No, she hasn’t changed, she has grown. She was brought up in a positive family which is always good-tempered and natural. On the other hand, the girls with her have changed over the years. 

Has she made friends in ski cross? Yes, Ophélie David, a 38 year old French skier is her big buddy. She was the youngest on the circuit when she started ski cross and she thinks she was lucky to start right in the very early days of ski cross competitions, because they were able to “create” the discipline. Only Fanny and Ophélie are left from these beginnings. They learnt the basic rules here: fair play and no below the belt hits. Just great skiing with the aim of winning – but with fair play.

Why does she train alone rather than with the national team? The national team was created when Fanny was already involved with the discipline and already had her own trainer, because when she started, there was no junior structure in Switzerland for this discipline. She didn’t often see the other Swiss competitors, but because ski cross is not an individual sport, they needed each other to train, because it takes four to race. Her individual training sessions are therefore mainly in the half-pipe, the snow park and doing giant slalom. The other training sessions take place together with the other Swiss racers.

Why did you choose ski cross instead of downhill skiing? Because her older brother Thibaud did freestyle she always wanted to do what he did. But there is not enough competition in freestyle. In downhill skiing, there is competition but it is too individual a sport. Ski cross is a combination of freestyle and speed and it is a big family. When you’re racing, what counts is being the first one to reach the bottom – which is pure competition.