Russ Henshaw, one of Australia's baddest (in the best way) competitive freestyle skiers is our newest Yakima ambassador, and we couldn't be happier to have him in the Yakima family. Russ calls Jindabyne, NSW home and chucks his skis on the top of his car using our range of hard wearing Yakima Fat Cat ski roof racks to head up to his favourite ski fields in the world- Perisher. He's got some great videos up on YouTube, and while the ski season is still in full swing, we wanted to get some insider tips from his best clips. Considering that Russ has won medals in the New Zealand Winter Games, the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships, and the Winter X Games, we reckon he might be on to something...
Rail slides are a fundamental trick in freestyle skiing. When Russ first started skiing when he was just a little tacker, he was mainly focused on ski racing, where he wasn’t usually trying out these kind of manoeuvres. Soon enough, by the time he was 12 or 13, he’d switched over to freestyle, where he began working on moves like this. This kind of skiing came pretty naturally to Russ, and considering he’s been on skis since he was just four years old, it’s no surprise he feels like he’s been doing it for ever. But no matter how old you are, Russ says it always feels amazing to land a new trick.
Henshaw has skied all over the world, but says that skiing at home in the local ski fields of Perisher is unreal. Lately, he says, he’s been having to get up there super early if he wants the freshest snow before the school holiday crowds arrive. The ski fields open up the lifts early for the athletes this time of year so they can get the most out of the best conditions.
GAME OF SKI
‘Game of Ski’ is a new concept that has taken off in a big way over the last couple of years with top freestyle skiers on YouTube. Russ said he was pretty surprised that he was able to beat Øystein in this game, and isn’t quite sure how he pulled it off. The last trick that put him over the line, called the Back Three Swap Pretzel Two (say that five times fast!) is a pretty tricky one, where you spin your skis one way, stop your rotation using your skis, then spin back the other way. When this video was filmed, Russ had nailed it before, but not consistently. He says he gets it about once in every 10 or 20 tries- it’s pretty hard.
Russ told us that it always feels like a surprise when you land a trick like this on the first go. He’ll have days when he tries for hours to land something and still not get it, then days when you land it as soon as you try. When that happens, it’s a crazy feeling, but he says it can make you feel like an idiot for trying for so long other times.
2 DAYS IN COLORADO
As you can see from some of the massive moves Russ is pulling off in this Colorado video, he needs to make sure he stays pretty flexible. He aims to stretch every day for about 45 minutes, but it can be hard to stay on top of it. He does make sure he stretches after skiing, though, to avoid injuries. There’s also the work he does in the gym, and on the trampoline. He also finds that his other passion, skateboarding, really helps build up the core strength and flexibility he needs to stay at the top of his skiing game. Sometimes there’s not enough hours in the day to get through all the training and exercises he’d like to do. Just being out on the snow and feeling comfortable in your skis is a massive help for building up the confidence it takes to pull off some of these moves. Even as a professional skier, Russ says that building up confidence is key.
When we asked Russ what was a better feeling, getting more air, or nailing a really technical trick, he said that the feeling is actually the same. That sense of achievement and thrill when you hit a big jump or do a massive trick and you land it- the feeling is amazing either way.
MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, CALIFORNIA
We wanted to know if Russ had any fears he needed to conquer to complete these tricks, and he assured us that even after being a freestyle skier for over half his life, he absolutely does. He told us he spends so much time thinking about certain moves, working on the tramp and learning the setup, it can be easy to slip into mind games and even psych yourself out. Training the body and the mind are equally important for professional athletes. He says the only way to conquer those thoughts is to believe in yourself.
In this clip Russ talks about letting loose on the mountain and just relaxing a little. He told us that relaxing for him still usually means skiing, just not working on tricks for a competition. He says you have to be careful not to slip into a funk by practicing the same tricks over and over again too much. He likes to practice smaller, fun tricks that he wouldn’t usually do in competitions, as they don’t get as many points, and just rip around the mountain as much as possible.
In this clip, Russ talks about figuring out the first rail feature of this trick, so we wanted to know what that process is like for a skier as talented and as experienced as him. He told us that at major events, the rail features are a lot bigger than most public parks, and it can be quite scary. With rails and drops that big there’s no warm up, you just have to go for it. When he hits the course at an event before the competition starts, he spends a fair bit of time figuring out how the rails slide, as they can get quite sticky, depending on the temperature and other factors. He then has to understand the configuration of the rails, so he can plan how he’s going to flow between features. It’s about figuring out how he’s going to come off one feature and go into the next one with tricks that are going to both score well and work well for him.
When it comes to being a public figure in the skiing world, Russ says that he gets love as well as hate. He has a great attitude towards it though, because he knows you can’t please everyone. Not everyone is going to like what you do, he says, and if you don’t have haters, you’re not doing it right. Russ equates skiing style with music- there are heaps of different styles of music, and no one really likes all types, everyone has a different tastes. He says he’s never going to change the way he skis just to please other people, because he just has too much fun doing it the way he’s doing it now.
Russ has never been one to get very nervous for competitions, including events on the world stage, like X Games finals. Over his years of being a competitive freestyle skier, he’s learnt to just relax, because you can’t worry about what other people think. If the judges like what he does, he’ll end up on the podium. If not, Russ says, then it’s “tough titties”.
Elias Ambhül, a Swiss freestyle skier, has referred to the way Russ Henshaw skis as “machine style”. We asked Russ what he thought of this, and he said he understood why Elias said it. Some people like to get a million runs in when they’re training for a competition, but not Russ. He prefers to get enough practice to make sure he can really nail it, but not push it too far. He stressed that he doesn’t work this way because he’s too good, but actually so he can avoid developing bad habits and psyching himself out.
Russ skis with a lot of people from Europe, Canada and America, but he says that no matter where they’re from, freestyle skiers are a pretty laid back, easy going bunch. Before freestyle was included in the Olympics, there weren’t any teams, so they have all been hanging out and skiing together for a long time. All the Northern Hemisphere skiers tend to just ski for their Winter, and not as much for the rest of the year, whereas Russ spends the Northern hemisphere Summer shredding up Australian ski fields, so he gets even more practice every year. Some of the Europeans and North American’s think he’s nuts, because by the end of Winter, they’re looking forward to the warmer months, but Russ thinks he’s lucky he gets to ski almost year-round.
2015 MAMMOTH GRAND PRIX TRAINING
Even though it looks like Russ must work like a mad man to be able to do a lot of the tricks you see in his videos, he assures us he doesn’t train as much as you’d think. Most of his training happens in the Northern hemisphere in December, then he’s just on the road going from event to event, and the actual competition and the warm up is actually as much training as he needs for the rest of the season.
Russ is self coached, and has pretty much taught himself everything. Even though you’d think this would take an incredible amount of discipline and self motivation, he says it comes pretty naturally. He develops a schedule and his main objectives for the season, and just sticks to it.
After competing all around the world, Iceland is one of the places that he still hasn’t hit up that he’d like to ski. Russ reckons there’s no where better than skiing at home in Perisher, where he gets to ski with mates and sleep in his own bed. Well, we’re happy you still call Australia home, Russ!