Growing up outside Oslo, I imagine you were on skis early as a child.
I come from a family of skiers – my parents met as ski instructors. Before that they were both racing. I would never have started skiing if my parents didn’t take me as a child – in the local hills around Oslo and at my grandparents cabin at Geilo, three hours drive. They had a cabin the way it used to be with bunk beds and the whole family sharing.
As a young boy growing up in Norway, who inspired you?
I grew up with Lasse Kjus and Kjetil Aamodt as my heroes. They were superstars and, in a way, that felt so far away from what I was doing that I never gave it much thought. But then things happened very fast. When I joined them at a training camp when I was 17, I still had posters of them on the wall. But there I was, sitting around the dinner table, feeling like a 100% worthy member of the team. Still one of the coolest experiences I have ever had! It’s something I try to push in the team today - the feeling of including everyone and making them feel like they are all equally important to the team.
You have a blend of stars on the Norwegian team. In a sport where you are competing against
your teammates, how do you maximize the opportunity to work together as a team?
Ski racing is a team sport except for the two minutes you´re competing. If you try to look at it in that perspective it helps the team culture. Each team member needs to firmly believe that they will improve their performance during those two minutes, if they truly cooperate like good teammates. Your own team members might be your strongest competitors. But if everyone believes that an important part of the reason for this is that we work together as a team, we can make it work. But it only works if everyone plays fair and no one tries to be smart and profit more than they share.
As a professional athlete, how have partnerships such as your role as an ambassador for Longines helped you grow as a person?
You want to work with brands and people that share your values. This makes it easier to be a good ambassador. It also helps you be true to your own values. Most people see the end product of a brand – like timepieces for Longines. But an athlete who works with a brand spends a lot of time with the people behind the end product. You build personal relationships and you learn the value behind those relationships. I have worked with Longines for more than 11 years, and I´m sure I´ll have a personal relationship with them also after I retire. Those kind of relationships teach you a lot about fair play in business. In business, as in sports, fair play should be a standard.
The World Cup can be a grueling tour over six months. But you’ve also had the opportunity to visit some amazing places. What are a few of your favorite tour stops?
We visit some amazing places, and it's easy to forget this when you're tuned in on racing. The view from a place like the start house in Wengen, the drive through the Dolomites to get to Val Gardena or seeing how 50,000 people stand in the snow surrounding the race track in Kitzbühel are all great experiences that showcase downhill ski racing. When I’m not in the mountains, I enjoy the ocean – especially in the summer. A peaceful island is the best way to relax right after a long winter!
Aksel, how special was it to come back from injury to win the Kitzbühel super-G?
Kitzbühel is always special – even more so right after a big crash. I was very nervous at the start and very happy with the result. Having the finish area up on the mountain was strange, as there were almost no spectators. But it was also very cool in a way. Because there was less people, you could really identify the people on your team like the coaches who work hard for you on the hill so that you can win races. They were right there and I could spot them almost immediately after crossing the finish line, seeing their emotions and hearing them cheer me on. After some tough races in Kitzbühel, getting a win felt really good.
Åre played a pivotal role in your career with two gold medals in 2007. And it’s been a strong venue for you on the World Cup tour. What are your thoughts as you prepare for your eight World Championships?
I like Åre a lot! It's great to ski in Scandinavia in front of my home supporters. Åre also has a nice vibe. I have a lot of good memories there. Racers tend to like mountains where they are fast and the 2007 World Championships are possibly my best memories!
Fans look to you as an athlete who loves the outdoors and action sports like alpine ski racing. When you’re not training, what are other things you like to do as a part of your lifestyle?
I get very inspired by people with skill and enthusiasm. Teamed up with the right people, I can get interested in almost any subject. So I spend a lot of time away from skiing or sports. One of the fields I have really taken an interest in is entrepreneurship. I’m intrigued by modern companies with technology and a business model that makes it possible to disrupt a market. Just like in sports, it takes extreme performance to build a company.
Winter sports athletes today are increasingly using their platform to advocate for sustainable practices. Can you speak to the importance of the environment to you as an athlete?
Athletes have the possibility of being role models and it's great when that position can be used to advocate for something important like sustainability. I have started a clothing company that puts focus on how garments are made, how they´re used and how they shouldn’t end up as waste, but be upcycled to new products. Our values are that we stand for something more important and bigger than just financial success, hence our name >A (Greater Than A). ‘A’ because it can be anything from A-Team and best grade in school... or my name.
You’ve had one of the most successful careers of any alpine ski racer. Do you still have any specific goals you wish to achieve?
When I look back on what has happened in my career, I find it hard to believe it's been 15+ years. And it's not so much the single moments that stand out, but the total feeling of what I´ve been a part of and what I've experienced as a world class athlete. That is also what I will look for going forward.
Aksel, thank you for spending time with White Season.
Any final thoughts you want to share with fans?
Skiing as great sport – the sport itself, the destinations and the people. A big part of the ‘people’ factor is the atmosphere at the races and the enthusiasm I see in the fans I meet. So thanks to all the skiing fans out there!