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Axelle Mollaret, child of the mountains
La Sportiva meets the skimountaineering queen Axelle Mollaret to talk about mountains, outdoor passion, present challenges and future projects
Winning is the word. The undisputed champion with an unmistakable style, Axelle Mollaret has outdone herself - and her rivals - with some classy moves, breaking record after record in spine-tingling ski mountaineering feats. Her mantra is resilience, humility and tenacity. Collecting gold medals, world cups and world titles is simply routine. The Women's World Champion in the team event, second in the World Cup and second in the Pierra Menta are the latest results to be added to her enviable prize list. Axelle Mollaret is a child of the mountains - Her future is mapped out over the Grande Course stages. Born and brought up in Arêches-Beaufort, home to the captivating “Pierra”, this French snow leopard married Xavier Gachet, the ski mountaineering champion and father of her recently born child. Axelle returned from her maternity leave with as much grit and determination as ever. Confirmation that champions are even made off piste. She tested herself in the summer in the high-altitude challenge of the Kilometro Verticale event – just to stay fit – and when she's not in her athlete's kit, she’s in her physiotherapist's uniform. Having been a major athlete in team La Sportiva for a good five seasons, she's also in the French National Ski Mountaineering team which has had Val di Fiemme (Trentino, Dolomiti) as its primary apparel sponsor for three seasons. So, what is Axelle Mollaret's secret? Never give up - Hats off to that!
Mollaret talks to us about her personal and professional story.
“I started ski mountaineering with my parents when I was 11 and I did my first race at 15. And I've never stopped since! I've been working as a physiotherapist in Arêches-Beaufort since 2014. This place, where I was born, is by far my favourite, and I live and train here every day. There are endless opportunities to practise ski mountaineering here - it's the playground for so many enthusiasts".
How has ski mountaineering changed during the pandemic period? How do you expect this sport will develop in the Coronavirus era, bearing in mind it's easy to maintain an appropriate distance and enjoy being out in nature?
“Ski lifts have been closed this winter due to COVID-19 and a large number of people have tried ski mountaineering for the first time because it was the only way to be able to ski. I've talked to many new fans who are really excited to have discovered this sport. I'm sure we'll see many more people with pelts under their skis in the coming years, even when the ski stations are open.”
Ski mountaineering is an individual discipline, but what's the team spirit like inside the French National team? Is it competitive or collaborative?
“There's a great team spirit in our National team, we're so lucky! Although it's an individual sport and each athlete has their own objectives, knowing we can count on each other is our real strong point.”
At an international level, you are the leading athlete in ski mountaineering but is there someone or something that worries you?
“I'm not afraid of any competitor because I love the competition and the rivalry. Of course, I'm not used to "losing" races and that's why I always try to give it 100% every time.”
You said, "Take time to live and look around you. Don't always be in a rush and do the things you love.” When you are in a ski mountaineering event, are you able to give yourself that space? Are you not tired of rushing around?
“No, my comment was about life in general rather than during competitive races. When I'm competing, I certainly don't look around me! I stay focused on my objective, but despite that I have many strong, vivid memories.”
Besides being an athlete and mother, you're also a physiotherapist. Does your work help you as an athlete and let you 'switch off' mentally from the world of competition?
“For me it's really important to have a life outside of being an athlete. That way, when you get to the end of a tough weekend of racing, on Monday morning I can think about something else. And my physiotherapy skills and knowledge help me a lot in my sports activity."
Who is Axelle Mollaret in everyday life? What does she do in her free time?
“The problem is I don't have any 'free time'! When I do, I like to spend it with my friends and family.”
You're married to Xavier Gachet, the Ski Mountaineering champion. Does it get a bit boring only talking about ski mountaineering or does your shared passion bring you closer?
“It really is a great chance for us to share our love of the sport. It helps us push each other all the time and it even helps us organise our daily lives because we understand each other.”
You have just returned from your maternity leave, having finished in the January of the 2019-2020 season. And you've come back as fit as ever - you're doing great! How did you achieve that? And what would you say to women who fear that having children means you 'lose something”, lower performance (in training, in the office, and so on)?
“Having a child was my greatest wish. In my mind, "losing something" means not enjoying this new life when you look at missing a race or a season. I knew I would have to miss a season, but I accepted that. And my son was born in August - I think that was the best time for me from a training perspective, even if I wouldn't have waited to get my fitness back so quickly, it was a gamble and I'm so pleased it worked out! I think that my child's strength comes with me, and I'm still breastfeeding him”.
What is your favourite La Sportiva product and why?
“La Sportiva Stratos V, a carbon ski boot for racing. I use mine every day and they are the partner that helps me win!”
How do you see the future of ski mountaineering? Do you see the potential for a ski mountaineering event at the Milan-Cortina Olympics in 2026?
“The Olympics have never been one of my primary goals. But now, I can definitely say that if ski mountaineering is an event at the 2026 Olympics, I'll do everything I can to be there!”
The fourth stage of the ISMF Ski Mountaineering World Cup took place in Val Martello on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 February 2021. The first 'Overall' position is currently occupied by the Swede Tove Alexandersson, with 651 points. She is ahead of you, with 603 points. What can you say about this stage?
“It was a bit of a difficult weekend for me. After quite a good sprint, I had a few problems with the individual race. I was really bad in the descent and it wasn't great for my legs. Silver is still great, though. Now I need to rest and get my energy back before the World Championships!”
How do you see your future? What are your next short and long-term objectives?
“I don't like to look too far ahead. For now I'm focusing on setting up a home and perhaps skiing with my son, in a few years time. ;-)”
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