Pg. 062 Timeout on Townshend
Anna and Natalie Segal, together, rediscover skiing’s soul
Anna and Natalie Segal hang out together on the Main Range for some soul skiing and sisterly bonding
Anna and Natalie Segal have been Australia’s leading international skiers for a few years now. Growing up in Melbourne, the sisters’ love for skiing grew from their many trips to Buller, but once they left school their skiing paths diverged. Anna took the intense competitive slopestyle route, winning the inaugural X Games, the FIS World Champs, and then placing fourth at the Sochi Olympics. Natalie, on the other hand, was more into big mountains and backcountry, channelling her competitive instincts into big mountain comps on the Freeride World Tour.
After the Olympics, Anna turned away from competitions, her attention turning to the backcountry and chasing powder. Competition has also been a big focus for Nat, and while she still competes on the FWT, she has pulled back a little over the past few years, looking to rekindle her love of skiing:
“After focussing so many years on competing, skiing can sometimes seem more like a job than a privilege. It’s at this point at which skiing loses its soul,” Nat said.
Last spring the girls had a rare opportunity to not only ski together, but to head out onto the Kosciuszko Main Range for a few days and spend some quality sibling time together.
It was an opportunity to take some time out in the mountains and rediscover skiing’s soul.
THIS IMAGE: Nat: “Don’t forget it’s your turn to cook tonight?’
Anna: “Yeah, but if I do, you’re doing the dishes … and making breakfast.” OPPOSITE: Anna drops in as the sun sets across the Victorian wilderness.
I don’t think anyone would have expected either of us to become professional skiers. Growing up, we were involved in all kinds of school sports but neither of us were standout athletes. There was one thing that both of us shared – passion.
We have always been different people with different personalities. As kids, we were constantly at each other’s throats – literally. I remember sitting on Nat’s back with her curly mane in my fist, pulling at it until she howled. But, as the years rolled by, our mum’s prophecy began to take shape. The two of us became the closest of friends.
While our methodology has been different, our underlying objective has been the same; to always challenge ourselves and drive our sport forward, while avoiding getting stuck behind a desk in the process. For the last six years we have lived on separate continents, or at least half a continent away, and since leaving school we have only skied together a handful of times. Despite the distance, we have managed to somehow synchronise, and on our individual journeys we have taken on many similar life lessons.
Although Nat is two years my junior, I have humbly come to accept that I have much to learn from my younger sister. Since moving to Chamonix seven years ago, Nat has been working on skills to help her safely slay it beyond the boundaries of the resort. Since competing in Sochi, I have made a big effort to spend more time backcountry skiing, but like anything, learning a new trade always takes time and patience.
I’ve wanted to do a backcountry trip with Nat since she first explained to me the concept of ski touring. In the spring of 2015, after years of waiting, the stars finally aligned. Nat arrived home from a summer of rock climbing in Chamonix a couple days before my weeklong mid-semester break. What better place to reconnect than where it all began? The mountains of Australia. Nat was jet lagged and I had piles of uni work. Screw it, sleeping and assignments could wait.
The Australian skier drawcard never gets old when you’re travelling overseas. There are always surprised faces when you explain where you were raised and that you learned to ski three hours from Melbourne. Despite the awesome upbringing of rolling hills, wombat sightings, and slushy spring shred days, it was hard to keep Australia as a home base. For both Anna and I, a world of opportunity via international competitions drew us overseas.
Along with the advantages, chasing back-toback winters has its downsides. The obvious benefit is that you get to ski like a maniac all year round. The less evident downside is losing your roots. While my childhood home is Melbourne, I have been travelling constantly for nearly six years and living out of my suitcase now feels more familiar.
It’s not just a disconnection from Australia that we have both felt, but also from skiing itself. After focussing so many years on competing, skiing can sometimes seem more like a job than a privilege. It’s at this point at which skiing loses its soul.
Since a young age, Anna and I have competed in some form of alpine skiing. From gates to bumps, Anna went towards freestyle and after a short hiatus I found myself at the top of big mountain
competitions. The great thing about skiing is that it’s not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a choice to spend time in the mountains, be outside and in nature. However, after 13 years of skiing to impress judging panels, what was once an exciting passion can inevitably become a chore.
For the last few years we’ve both been in need of an excuse to rekindle the passion that has driven us around the world chasing snow. It may sound corny, but heading up to the Kosciusko National Park felt a little bit like going back to our roots. I felt like a kid again, packing the 4WD full of gear, leaving the city traffic behind, arriving late in an alpine village and rising early to race up the hill. It made sense that we were heading back to where it all started to find the excitement that we’d lost.
For many, just below the summit of Mt Townsend wouldn’t seem the most suitable place for a campsite. Sitting pretty at around 2209m (only a few clicks below the height of Mt Kosciusko) this area attracts a lot of attention from passing weather. While a lower campsite could have afforded us better protection from the howling wind, it would have meant missing out on a week of magnificent sunsets that painted themselves across our camp kitchen. The isolation of our home base for the week may have felt lonely to some, but for our group it offered simple serenity. The five of us were alone, responsible for no one except the surrounding environment and ourselves. Five days later we tore down our kitchen and demolished our wind barriers. While it was strange seeing our little community reduced to a few small piles of snow, it was also gratifying knowing how small of an impact we can make.
CF: What was the best part of the trip?
AS: Our ritual at the end of each day was to finish with a sunset lap. We would hike to a nearby peak; wait until the sun hovered just over the horizon, then drop into the golden light. This would be followed by a quick hustle up the skin track, in a race to get back to camp before dark.
How did it feel being bossed around by your little sister on the skin track?
When it comes to backcountry skiing, I try to take all of Nat’s comments as valuable advice. However, once we are back in civilisation, I have no tolerance for her autocratic tendencies.
How has the transition from competitive skiing to real “freeskiing” treated you? Do you have any regrets?
“Real” freeskiing. Haha. In my first year of not competing I found myself having moments of regret. I invested so much time and energy to becoming recognised and accomplished as a competitive skier, at times I thought I was throwing this all away. I even had one team manager tell me that they saw my move as starting my ski career from scratch. But one year into the switch those regrets are a distant memory. My skiing skills have improved and my mind has expanded with the unlimited possibilities and opportunities that could be available to me on my skis. I feel more in control of what I want to be doing with my skiing. Rather than skiing for judges, I’m skiing along the lines of my own ideas of progression.
Most important thing you learnt during the trip?
Snow architecture; how to build a snow dunny, a snow kitchen, and a snow wind wall.
What is the most important thing in your backcountry backpack?
My iPhone…. Just kidding! My snacks. I choose my selection of food for the day extremely carefully. The very idea of lunch is what propels me up the mountain.
What is so special about the Australian Alpine and why should people be encouraged to explore it?
The feeling of adventure balanced with
tranquillity. At times you’re battling the elements, which seem like they’re trying to taunt you until you leave. But if you stick it out, often you are rewarded with the most stunning scenery and a sense of serenity, which will permeate through your whole group.
CF: You said you took a hiatus from skiing. What was it that drew you back to it?
NS: I studied Fine Arts at university for three years, but two years in I needed a break. I went to the French Alps and after spending an incredible six months in Chamonix I realised that I didn’t just need a break, I needed a real challenge. That is what skiing has always been to me and I think the world of freeride skiing and ski mountaineering opened up a whole new set of obstacles that I could work to overcome. These opportunities, coupled with the amazing adventures and travels that being a ski bum allows you to have, drew me back.
Did Anna make any memorable rookie moves on the trip?
She made a whole heap and I probably made some as well – in terms of winter camping Anna and I are both kind of rookies. I have spent a lot of time out in backcountry and on hut trips but I’ve only been snow camping once and only for a night. Four nights in a tent on a windy ridge was a whole new experience. One of the biggest rookie moves we made was bringing quinoa and trying to cook it in the snow kitchen. Let’s just say our bircher muesli was much more successful.
Did Anna teach you anything new while up in the mountains?
Anna is one of my mentors, it’s that simple. So she teaches me new things all the time. But what is funny is that she doesn’t just teach me rational things. The best thing I have learnt from Anna is how to have fun. To be myself, to act silly when I feel like it and not worry so much what others think about me. I can also be quite bossy and Anna does a good job of reminding me when I go overboard. I listen to her, but only sometimes… every big sister needs a bossy younger sister to stand up to her on occasion.
What is the number one faux pas act/ behaviour at base camp?
My biggest pet peeve is when people sit around waiting for someone else to be proactive. Winter camping and camping in general is one big teamwork exercise. There is always something to do, whether it is cooking, cleaning, building snow walls, making tea, or most importantly, building a good place to poop. Of course you have downtime during bad weather and after riding, but there is nothing worse than when someone just sits and waits until others start making dinner. Luckily, we had a rad team, dinner was made, and we had one hell-of-a toilet.
If you could have invited one additional person on the trip (anyone in the world), who would it be and why?
This is lame but I would have invited my mum. We share all kinds of things with our parents, and it was through our parents that we were introduced to skiing. Mum isn’t into camping and her first introduction to ski touring was not a huge success but I think if she was given another opportunity under the right circumstances, she could really fall in love with the scroggin-munching lifestyle… Ha-ha maybe not, but I would love to at least try!
What is the first thing you do when you get home after a weeklong camping trip (don’t lie and say shower)?
I eat something glorious. I love food, especially after a few days hiking in the backcountry. There is nothing better than clean underpants and something good to eat that you can’t make in a trangia. After dragging our sled back into Thredbo, we skied down the groomers, bumped into a wombat, and then ate fresh baked salad rolls at the Thredbo bakery. We couldn’t have dreamed up a better end to our trip.
Anna (in the red) and Nat, sharing the experience on a perfect spring afternoon.
Natalie celebrates as she finished her shoveling duties at the camp.
Skiing the Main Range in the late afternoon is a unique experience and here Nat is loving every turn. To keep up up with our project check out findingthelinefilm.com