Maëlle Ricker: Not Your Average Olympian

How do you differentiate between an athlete and someone who only participates in a sport? Do you need to be a professional to earn the athlete title? My sport of choice is snowboarding. I competed briefly and taught at a local ski hill. When I wasn’t chasing my students, I was spending my spare time hunting for powder on the icy East Coast and destroying my body in the snow park. It was a badge of honour to show up hung over or bounce right back from a concussion and crank big turns. Snowboarders, back when I started in the late 90′s, were almost like the hip hop alternate to skiers – we weren’t jocks, we were the stylish outcasts. We wore our pants low and our heads were covered in oversized goggles, headphones and tall toques. It was about style and speed, not athletics.

Recently, Gatorade contacted me about speaking with one their marquee athletes to launch the G Series line here in Canada. I was surprised that the athlete in question was Olympics gold medalist and World Cup snowboard cross athlete, Maëlle Ricker. Maëlle captured the country’s heart when she was the first woman to win gold on home soil. A Vancouver local, she grew up in the mountains, with parents who “eat, breath and speak skiing”. She started snowboarding after her following her old brother’s lead and was instantly hooked. For Maëlle, snowboard cross made sense because she was able to combine all of her snow skills. “I have my background in ski racing when I started snowboarding I was all about freestyle, I wanted to jump and do the half-pipe and all that. When I tried snowboard cross, all my different sporting backgrounds, […] kind of combined into an event that I excelled at. I had the freestyle skills from riding and sort of the race skills from ski racing”.

Snowboarding has gone from a fringe sport that many mountains outlawed to a marketable, professional and perhaps most importantly, an Olympic sport. Maëlle agrees that snowboarders don’t necessarily like the athlete title that comes along with the professional designation, “there is this misconception that snowboarders aren’t working out, they’re not trying”. Maëlle said at the High Road Communications office in downtown Toronto. She was wearing jeans, a Gatorade zip up and a pair of practical platform, waterproof knee-high boots. “…That’s just the image we like to give off. We actually are working our butts off. We’re out on the hill everyday, all day. We are in the gym in the afternoons and in the offseason”. I remember powder days where we would go out for hours on end without food, water and sometimes, not even an iPod. But times have changed and Maëlle is endorsing Gatorade, one of the most recognized brands in sports and an icon in athlete branding. She’s one of over four hundred athletes, including Dwyane Wade, Usain Bolt and Georges St. Pierre, that Gatorade collaborated with in developing the new G-Series. Their goal with the G-Series, which launches March 21st in Canada, is to move the brand from purely a sports drink company to a sport nutrition innovator.

But how do these three steps of Gatorade: prime, perform and recover, help Maëlle? She competes in a sport where not only do milliseconds matter when crossing the finish line, but she needs explosive strong muscles when banking turns and going over big air jumps. She likes the series because she’s able to use it on and off the hill in riding and work outs, “When I’m on the hill, like for example when I’m at a race, I make sure 15 minutes before I drop in for my heats, I’m taking the Prime, I’m getting the right carbs, vitamins and electrolytes into my system so that I’m at my maximum energy for when I’m riding. Or when I’m riding or when I’m at the gym, it’s so important to keep hydrated. Even if you’re just slightly dehydrated, like two percent, you’re going to be off your game, you’re not going to be able to re-act as well, your muscles are not going to respond as quickly as you need them […] When I’m done my race or I’m done my workout, then right away you’re beating your muscles down all work out, basically breaking them down and now you have a really short window to recover and to get the right nutrients in so that you’re building your muscles back up to be stronger and ready for the next day. So that’s when you’re going to be your protein and your carbs and that’s the recover part of the line of the G Series”.

Maëlle is more than just a snowboarder but also an avid student of the sport. She admits that she’s not always paid attention to the training aspect of professional snowboarding. It wasn’t until an injury forced her to hit the gym diligently. Tearing an ACL is a common but devastating injury to a snowboarding as all day on the hill, they’re flexing and extending their knees for turns, jumps – they’re like human shock absorbers.”That’s the first time I was really serious about making sure I was fit and ready on my board […] the last few years working a lot with board technology and […] today working with sports nutrition. We’ve had nutritionists in the past with the team and they’ve been awesome but just being a part of this Gatorade family and testing this new G Series line and having that integrated into my personal program, it’s really cool”.

I had to ask Maelle more about the style aspect of snowboarding, being someone who’s into the fashion as much as the frontside spins. Snowboard cross may not ooze swagger like other events, but Maelle recognizes rider’s signatures just as easily on the course as the half-pipe “…Everyone has their own style on the course. I mean, you know your competitor, you can see them from a mile away, you know who it is just from the way they ride […] I don’t know how people describe my style […] I hope nothing negative!”. When it comes to her on snow apparel, she always choses comfort over fashion, favouring baggy pants, long jackets and more basic colours like blues, greens and reds. Besides her own Olympic gear, which she called “super tech […] and ready for the miserable weather”, she liked the faux jean outfits that the American team was wearing. She’s had a chance to work on the more performance area of apparel as well as board technology but hasn’t designed any of her own gear.

Maëlle snowboards for the love it, her eyes light up when she talks about free riding and mountaineering to further her exploration of the beloved backcountry. The training, along with World Cup events last all year round, which suits her just fine as she’s never been one to sit still. When it came to preparation for the Olympics, Maëlle had a very no non-sense approach, “the thing with the Olympics, even in my hometown, I still treated it like another World Cup. I didn’t drive my car [...] I went on the bus with the team. I made sure before I competed that nothing was drastically different from when I competed with the team in the rest of the season. Obviously, after the event, things got kind of crazy […] I was really happy to be back with my team in Europe and racing again, I felt like I was back in my skin and at my comfort level”.

Winning the Olympic gold medal has afforded opportunities but also a few challenges, “It’s forced me to learn a different side of snowboarding – the business side. I’ve probably matured a lot in the last year. But, I’ve had some amazing opportunities with ACT Now BC and Kid Sport Canada and then I get the chance to align myself with companies I believe in”. Where does she go from here? Olympic Gold medalist, Winter X-Games gold medalist, Gatorade endorser – what more can she do? “I’m still progressing and still moving on an upward slope in boarder cross and I’m looking forward to keep pushing myself in the next few years. And I’m also really passionate about free riding and being out in the backcountry – I have the mountain right at my doorstep”.

Maëlle’s honesty and laid back love of the sport is inspiring. She may not ooze style through what she wears but her riding and patronage of the sport is contagious. She’s not your typical athlete but she proves that you don’t have to be a typical jock or fit the image of the stereotypical snowboarder to succeed – she walks the fine line, all for the love the powder turn and the going for the gold.

For more on Maëlle, you can click below to read the transcript of our interview below. Special thanks to Laura from High Road Communications and Gatorade Canada Team.

Megan Wilson: How did you start snowboarding?

Maëlle Ricker: I kinda grew up in the mountains, my parents sorta live, eat, breath, speak skiing. So when I was younger I was ski racing, I followed big brother and started snowboarding and I kind of got hooked on that.

MW: Did it make you more competitive, learning from your brother?

MR: He definitely pushed me. When you’re out riding with all the older guys and you’re only girl, you don’t want to be holding up the crew, you don’t want to be a pain in the butt. You want to be part of it.

MW: How did you end up doing snowboard cross?

MR: It’s kinda bad, but I’ve never even tried racing…never been in hard boots. I think I have my background in ski racing when I started snowboarding I was all about freestyle, I wanted to jump and do the half-pipe and all that. When I tried snowboard cross, all my different sporting backgrounds, all of that experience from that, kind of combined into an event that I excelled at. I had the freestyle skills from riding and sort of the race skills from ski racing.

MW: It just kind of made sense?

MR: It’s neat. To be a snowboard cross rider you have to be an all-around rider because you’re getting a little bit of everything. Which is really neat because I think it’s the one race that really combines like all elements of snowboarding.

MW: Do you still get a chance to do more free riding? Do you find you can bring your style to snowboard cross?

MR: For sure. I love free riding. I love getting out on my split board and going out in the back country. And, snowboard cross is becoming more and more specific, you really do need to train and work hard at snowboard cross but at the same time, but at the same time, everyone has their own style on the course. I mean, you know your competitor, you can see them from a mile away, you know who it is just from the way they ride.

MW: How would you describe your style? How could someone watching a snowboard cross event pick out Maëlle on the hill?

MR: I don’t know how people describe my style. Hopefully nothing negative. (laugh) I’m not sure, I definitely come from the freestyle side of the sport.

MW: Talking about training. When did you have to start focussing on the off snow training?

MR: That’s a good question because there is this misconception that snowboarders aren’t working out, they’re not trying. I think that’s just the image we like to give off. We actually are working our butts off. We’re out on the hill everyday, all day. We are in the gym in the afternoons and in the offseason. We’re on the bikes training and getting our cardio up. I think one of the big turnarounds for me was the first time I tore my ACL and I got back into the gym to rehab properly and really put in the hours. And that’s the first time I was really serious about making sure I was fit and ready on my board. And things have just kind of progressed from there, you’re learning more about the sport science of everything and the last few years working a lot with board technology and that kinda thing and now being here in Toronto today working with sports nutrition. We’ve had nutritionists in the past with the team and they’ve been awesome but just being a part of this Gatorade family and testing this new G Series line and having that integrated into my personal program, it’s really cool.

MW: Ever since you tore your ACL, did it re-motivate you and make you see the sport in a different way?

MR: I think it just made me a little more serious. If I want to last as long as I want in my snowboard career and be able to do the things that I want to do and your body has to be able to take a hit and stand up afterwards and get up and try it again. If you’re not falling in a day, it means that maybe you’re not trying hard enough or that you’re that good.

MW: Now, how goes Gatorade and the G-Series factor into your nutrition and training both in the off-season and when you’re on the circuit competing?

MR: Well I use it off and on season. With the series that’s coming out, there’s pre, during and post exercise items so you can incorporate that into my gym training, as well as when I’m on the hill. When I’m on the hill, like for example when I’m at a race, I make sure 15 minutes before I drop in for my heats, I’m taking the Prime, I’m getting the right carbs, vitamins and electrolytes into my system so that I’m at my maximum energy for when I’m riding. Or when I’m riding or when I’m at the gym, it’s so important to keep hydrated. Even if you’re just slightly dehydrated, like two percent, you’re going to be off your game, you’re not going to be able to re-act as well, your muscles are not going to respond as quickly as you need them to so that’s pretty huge, so that’s where the perform comes in which is the Gatorade or the G2. And then as well after when I’m done my race or I’m done my workout, then right away you’re beating your muscles down all work out, basically breaking them down and now you have a really short window to recover and to get the right nutrients in so that you’re building your muscles back up to be stronger and ready for the next day. So that’s when you’re going to be your protein and your carbs and that’s the recover part of the line of the G Series. And so, I could use that on a long free ride day. If I’m doing peak to creeks in Whistler all day. In the past, I’d go up there and ride for six hours and not even stop for water – how stupid is that? How easy is it to have Gatorade with you. And now water isn’t enough, you need to be replacing the sodium and potassium and all those things are going to allow you ride day after day. I mean you could have six powder days in a row, you gotta maximize!

MW: Do you feel a lot better physically than in the past now that you know how to train and what to eat and drink?

MR: For sure. When I’m on it and when I’m using the product and we’ve been testing it for about six months – ya it’s not much easier. I think it’s the repetitiveness, when you’re out there constantly pushing your body and you’re not fuelling your body properly, your body can only do so much, you gotta keep on top of those kinds of things.

MW:  Is your training a lot different from when you’re in season than during your off-season?

MR: Well I train in cycles, right. You can’t always be lifting the heaviest weights or doing the longest runs or whatever, sort of in phases. So like in the off-season, the beginning of the off-season, you’ll start working on base. You’ll start with cardio, working on all the little muscle things, make sure all the right muscles are firing at the right time. And as you work up, towards the season you start putting in heavier stuff, some squats and building up the strength. And then as you get closer and closer to the season, you start doing all the fun stuff. That’s like the plyos, the Olympic lifting, getting all the explosive muscles working and then when you’re in season it’s all about trying to maintain what you spent the off-season building. So then, you;’re kinda hanging on for dear life as you’re snowboarding during the day, but you still have to be at the gym making sure that your body will be able to stay strong during that long stretch in the winter. You’re not always able to go and lift weight everyday because you already did like 3000 squats on your snowboard when you’re on the mountain. That’s recovery, making sure you’re on the bike everyday and you’re well rested.

MW: I guess you don’t really ever get a break?

MR: There’s always something, which is good because I don’t like sitting around so it works well with your lifestyle.

MW: Do you get to travel in the offseason to South America or Australia and New Zealand?

MR: Ya, we have a World Cup every September usually in Chile or Argentina. The last few years it’s been in Argentina so that’s pretty cool. It’s a bit of a funny schedule because we have this World cup in September then we don’t compete again until December. But, I’ve been to Australia the year before the Olympics. Last summer we went down there and trained with the Aussie team and did some races, so that was tons of fun.

MW: It must feel like being back at Whistler with all the Australians that live there.

MR: Ya, we have such a good rapport with the Aussie guys. We share training facilities and they come up and train with us and we go down and train with them, it’s a pretty good little deal.

MW: Do you get a chance to work with board technology at all like you did with Gatorade and really customize what you ride?

MR: I race on Oxess, they’re a Swiss company and they make custom snowboard cross boards. Technology is changing constantly, especially in snowboard cross, they’re quite specialized now. There’s nobody on tour now who isn’t on a boarder cross specific board. We do have a tech that travels with us full-time, sometimes we have two, depending on the event, boarder cross, there’s so much gliding you need a fast base if you want to be competitive. You want somebody who knows exactly the science behind getting your board much like how you’re fuelling your body, your board is a huge part of it.

MW: Do you get to customize exactly what you need? Is it a one of kind board?

MR: Oh yeah. We had a great tech leading up the games and we had a shop in Squamish where we grinding the boards and getting the ride texture on the base for the right snow conditions. You’d show up at an event with like four or five different boards and depending on the snow conditions, and what the course is like, you chose your board accordingly.

MW: At the Olympics you were given gear, do you get to put your own signature or style on it?

MR: A little bit. Especially with our race stuff we did some research with some people who made racing suits. A lot of time I’m just all about the comfort, I like the baggy pants, I like room to move. I love long fitting things, having a jacket that covers my bum and just something like that. There’s obviously a huge style element to snowboarding and the trends change every year.

MW: There’s the whole tight pants craze…

MR: I’m a big fan of the looser pants.

MW: What did you think of the Olympics gear you got?

MR: It was nice, for sure. It was super tech stuff. It was good. We had some miserable weather, and the last thing you want to do is be in some gear that’s not made for the rain.

MW: Style wise when it comes to apparel, who really stood out to you at the Olympics or on tour?

MR: The Americans had the faux jean thing going on. They got a lot of press about that. I actually quite like it, I think it’s cool but I don’t think everyone shares my opinion.

MW: Do you like bright colours or neutrals?

MR: When you’re doing photos and stuff you want to be in bright colours so you pop with the camera. But my favourite colours are greens and browns and reds.

MW: Who’s your favourite rider when it comes to style, or who do you really like to watch? I read that you grew up riding with Natasza Zurek who has amazing style, was she someone who influenced you?

MR: For sure, Nat (Natasza Zurek). She’s such an amazing rider and definitely at the forefront of Canadian women’s and the world women’s snowboarding for so long. Um, in the boarder cross course, Mellie Francon from Switzerland, she’s a great rider. Of course my teammate, Dominique (Maltais), we have a lot of fun together. Free riding, Annie Boulanger. There’s a lot of good Canadian women out there…Marie Francois, she definitely oozes with style, too. [...] We got all these nice mountains, we’re taking advantage of it…we’re not afraid to get dirty!

MW: Was there anyone growing up who you really admired?

MR: For sure riding with my brother and his friends was huge. Craig Kelly and Terje (Hakonsen), always wanting to check out their video parts. Now so, with free ride stuff that Jeremy Jones is doing with Project Deeper, combining the mountaineering with snowboarding, those adventures…those guys are nuts. Xavier De Le Rue…the lines that he’s doing and his approach to the sport. And he’s a snowboard crosser, too. The guy is succeeding in both parts of the industry [...] it’s hard to balance.

MW: You’ve won Olympic gold on home soil, but what else do you want to do in your snowboarding career? Do you have any goals in mind?

MR: I do. I’m still progressing and still moving on an upward slope in boarder cross and I’m looking forward to keep pushing myself in the next few years. And I’m also really passionate about free riding and being out in the backcountry – I have the mountain right at my doorstep. I took some mountaineering courses this summer to get some more experience.

MW: Here’s a Twitter question from @Ryan_A79. What is it like transitioning from an event like the Olympics back to the regular World Cup tour? It is a big transition, how do you deal with it?

MR: The thing with the Olympics, even in my hometown, I still treated it like another World Cup. I didn’t drive my car down to Vancouver to the Olympic Village – I went on the bus with the team. I made sure before I competed that nothing was drastically different than when I competed with the team in the rest of the season. Obviously, after the event, things got kind of crazy – good crazy and that was tons of fun. I definitely was itching to get back on my board and I was really happy to be back with my team in Europe and racing again, I felt like I was back in my skin and at my comfort level. I didn’t have a trouble transitioning back to the circuit, I was actually looking forward to it.

MW: You treated it like another event?

MR: Obviously the Olympics isn’t just another event but that’s how you have to approach it. You make sure that you’ve been training and preparing for is what you execute.

MW: Do you think since winning the Olympics, you’ve been offered a lot more opportunities?

MR: It’s definitely forced me to learn a different side of snowboarding, more of the business side. I’ve probably matured a lot in the last year. But, I’ve had some amazing opportunities with ACT Now BC and Kid Sport Canada and then I get the chance to align myself with companies I believe in like Gatorade. That are out there to push sport in Canada and to be with this company that is doing that is pretty huge.

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1 Comment

Filed under branding, endorsement, event, personal style, sports

One response to “Maëlle Ricker: Not Your Average Olympian

  1. Brittany Filion

    I’m a huge fan of you, Maelle. I love snowboarding! I’m doing a project for school and I picked you for research and I’d like to know more about you. Could I get your e-mail?
    Thnx, Britt

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