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With all the brouhaha surrounding the Winter Olympics it’s quite possible you won’t have heard of Britain’s ‘alternative’ snowsports sensation – 37-year-old Sascha Hamm, who at the time of writing is ranked sixth on the Freeride World Tour.
sascha hamm dcarlier

In fact Sascha kicked off his first year on the tour with a superb second place in Courmayeur in January.

He’s a cheerful but determined character who clearly loves taking on the kind of terrain that would terrify most of us, and we caught up with him for a chat earlier this season at the Chamonix leg of the tour.

Snow: So Sascha, what’s your snowboarding background?

SH: I moved to the UK from Austria when I was five and started boarding when I was 14 on trips to visit my aunt in Italy, but I didn’t really get into it properly until I was 17 on the dry slopes at Hillingdon; then when I was 19 I went to Avoriaz for a season instead of uni and ended up doing five winters in the Alps, during which time I learnt to board properly.

Snow: And you then went on to compete?

SH: Yes I was the British Snowboard Half-Pipe and Overall Champion in 2000, but then I took time out to set up my own business in London

Snow: And is it true that you commute to Chamonix throughout the winter and to the FWT as well?!

SH: Yep, I rent a place in Cham and fly out on Thursday evening and back to London on Monday morning! When I’m competing I do the same for each FWT event in the Alps - hopefully I’ll also be able to do it for the two North American legs of the FWT [at Kirkwood and Revelstoke].

Snow: So you got back into competition through the Freeride World Qualifiers and gained a place on the FWT for this season at the ripe old age of 37…

SH: Yes, but I think being older is an advantage – most of the guys on the tour are in their thirties as you need experience to be a good freerider.

Snow: But along with experience and great skill you also have to be pretty gutsy to take on the kind of terrain in which you compete; how do you go about planning your ride bearing in mind the fact that you’re not allowed any practice runs?

SH: You analyse the face you’ll be riding head on the day before the event and pick out certain markers that you want to get to on your way down; but it doesn’t always work out that you can do the ride you had in mind.

Today for instance [the Chamonix leg] I’d worked out what I thought was a ‘winning line’ but once I was on the face I realised that it would have been a very gnarly descent with a 20-foot drop over a small cliff into a 150-foot chute, so I had to change it at the last minute.

Snow: And were you pleased with your performance [Sascha came eighth]?

SH: Yes I was although I think I may need to tailor my riding style to suit what the judges are looking for rather than just going for it! I think that would help me get better results.

Snow: So here comes the inevitable question – what have been your worst injuries?

SH: A broken arm on a dry slope! And ACL on my right knee and meniscus on my left.
I also had a lucky escape in an avalanche – I was riding on my own in Austria and got buried 1.5 metres down in a slide, but I had an air pocket and was able to reach my phone and call a friend, tell him where I was and get him to send the pisteurs out to rescue me!

I was really lucky having the air pocket as I was buried for two hours; it made the TV in Austria, my grandma in Vienna heard about it through watching the news!

But freeriding on the tour isn’t as dangerous as people think. I can ride as hard as I want knowing that the terrain has been checked for avalanche safety beforehand and there’s a helicopter on hand if I do get into trouble; it’s far safer than riding in the backcountry with friends.

Snow: You’ve had a pretty good start with your second place finish at the first FWT event in Courmayeur; what’s your ultimate ambition as a freerider?

SH: To be world champion!

Snow: Well good luck with that Sascha , we’ll be keeping an eye on your results during the rest of the FWT and reporting back on the Snow website.