October 15th, 2009

Australia’s top big mountain skier continues to push the boundaries.

Photo: Alexander Klun

By Reggae Elliss

Andrea Binning has been Australia’s leading big mountain snow athlete – male, female, skier or snowboarder – since she hit the international scene in 1996. A former mogul skier, Andrea was drawn to the freeski scene due to its less constrained competitions and the fact it is all about skiing the mountain. Her first major international freeski event was the 1996 World Heli Challenge in New Zealand, from where her career progressed in and out of competition.
When Andrea won the 2000 World Extreme Championships in Alaska her achievement went largely unheralded in Australia except for coverage in the ski mags and a lengthy interview in Chillfactor magazine.
That win led to Andrea securing sponsorship with Roxy and Red Bull, associations that have enabled her to live the last 10 years as Australia’s only full-time professional freeskier. It is a career that has taken Andrea to some of the biggest and steepest mountains in the world, seen her suffer through three ACL knee reconstructions, a knee cartilage repair, a broken collarbone, a broken wrist and surviving an avalanche in Canada in 2006. During her career Andrea has skied the biggest and steepest mountains in Europe and North America. Her next challenge is a skiing/mountaineering expedition to Antarctica this November/December.

Andrea attacks a vertical Alaskan picth, her slough in close pursuit. Photo: Harro

CF: You won the World Extreme champs in Alaska in 2000…do you still go in many comps?
Andrea: That win was really just the beginning for me… when I started to figure it all out. I then went on to do many more contests and do the World Freeskiing Tour.(

What is the most memorable descent you’ve done?
It would have to be Pontoon with Jessica Sobolowski in Cordova, Alaska.

Andrea, Jessica Sobolowski and Kevin Quinn prepare for a first descent on Pontoon in Alaska. Photo: Harro

We ran a very gnarly sequence where you were taken out by your slough in AK a few years ago in Chillfactor mag. That looked heavy, but I suppose it was nothing compared to the heaviest experience you’ve had?
No, when I was taken out in an avalanche on the coast of Canada in 2006 was by far my scariest experience.

I have seen the avalanche footage and it is terrifying. Can you describe it to us at the time and how you felt when you got out?
The avalanche ripped on my third turn and I tried to cut out to the right and then the whole force of the slide pushed me over and I got sent into high speed cartwheels. I was taken about 1000 feet down the face and buried up to my waist. It was a terrifying experience, where I had no control over my fate at the time. I realise how lucky I was to get out with relatively minor injuries, I just tore my ACL.

Andrea dropping in – no room for error. Photo: Harro

Your husband Stian Hagan is another world renowned big mountain skier…did you guys meet on the side of a 45 degree mountain?
I met Stian during my first season in Chamonix 1999 in a bar. We then went onto spend most our time in the mountains together with him guiding me around. It was an amazing season that year, so much snow. When I look back on that time, I realise now how inexperienced I was and how lucky I was to have someone like him take me around and show me the ropes. Chamonix can be a dangerous place if you don’t know your way around.

Big mountain skiing is very technical and not for the feint-hearted. Andrea attacks a Pontoon spine. Photo – Harro.

Some people would regard the terrain you ski as incredibly dangerous, is it?
It can be if you don´t have the experience and knowledge. We do all we can to reduce the dangers of what we do by being aware of the snow stability, what aspects of the mountain are more loaded then others, staying away from avalanche traps and just being smart in the mountains. You can’t totally eliminate the risk ,but making good decisions out there can definitely reduce the risk.

What would it take to slow you down? Kids?
That is a good question, not sure if I want to slow down just yet, but for sure having a family will definitely slow me down for a few years.

Photo: Alexander Klun

You are about to embark on a pretty amazing expedition to ski some first descents in Antarctica. What can you tell us about it?
It is an expedition with Chris Davenport and my husband Stian. And the objective is to climb and ski first descents in one of the world’s last great-unexplored ranges, the Antarctic Peninsula. Our professional film crew will capture HD video and 16mm film to produce a feature length ski documentary. The peninsula offers a 600-mile chain of high mountains exposed to the full 4000-mile expanse of the Pacific Ocean, which provides ample snow much like the coasts of BC and Alaska. Historically only a handful of ski groups have explored the range, and very little documentation of skiing has been accomplished there. Given the goals of the expedition and adventure in a remote part of the world, we hope to push the boundaries of Ski Alpinism with cutting edge descents and environmentally responsible methods of travel.

It sounds like a full on adventure that will be physically demanding. What preparation have you done?
To prepare for the trip I have been doing lots of time on the road bike getting a good base fitness, I have also been to they gym and doing squats and hamstring exercises. Also when I get back to Chamonix will be doing some bigger routes climbing in the mountains and lots of hiking and some skiing.

Good luck!!

Watch Andrea get caught in a deadly avalanche in Canada in 2007