How To Improve Your Snowboarding (According To Olympian Valentino Guseli)
— Updated on 17 October 2022

How To Improve Your Snowboarding (According To Olympian Valentino Guseli)

— Updated on 17 October 2022
Wade Fraser
WORDS BY
Wade Fraser

With interstate and international travel well and truly back on the cards, mountains around the world are officially within reach again. The 2022 season has seen bumper snowfall at Australia’s snowfields and nearby slopes in New Zealand, a real treat for all of us venturing out after being under house arrest for the past two winters. 

The only thing more certain than a million kooks on the slopes at Perisher is that we’ll all be a tad rusty getting back on the skis again after a long drought. When Red Bull reached out with an invite to spend some time with their best snowboarders in Thredbo, we jumped at the opportunity to get a few runs in (and perhaps even learn a thing or two).

We were joined by 17-year-old Red Bull athlete Valentino Guseli, someone who I’d never heard of until this year’s Winter Olympics but was quickly impressed by. Val broke the record for the highest air out of a halfpipe last year, clocking a monstrous 7.3.m and beating previous record holder Shaun White’s best by 30cm. 

Originally from Canberra, Val cut his teeth on the slopes of Perisher and Thredbo from the age of 3. He quickly became adept on the board, throwing down bigger and more technical tricks as the years ticked over. When Val and his family moved to Dalmeny in coastal NSW – not exactly known for its proximity to winter sports facilities – Val’s dad built him a massive ramp and air bag in the backyard, allowing Val to keep progressing his craft at a rapid rate.

The young gun burst onto the scene with a number of impressive debuts in competition, winning at the 2019 US Open Junior Jam and booking himself a spot in the Open fields. The start of 2022 saw Val throw down an impressive performance at the World Cup at Laax, Switzerland, ultimately finishing fifth. Months later, he clocked a number of massive runs to snag sixth place at the X-Games in Aspen, then sixth again at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Not bad for an Aussie kid living in a beach town.

We managed a day on the mountain, which began with a snowboarding lesson for yours truly conducted by Val. It was naturally attended by Red Bull’s marketing team to make sure there was always someone on hand to laugh at me. I’d never snowboarded before and copped a fair beating at first, but Val’s patience and tips (which you can find in full below) had me linking turns within a couple runs. 

From there, we toured the mountain and Val showed us his favourite spots before heading to the park. As I filmed and loitered around the park, Val hit some huge jumps, performing all manner of backflips, frontflips and combos, with surprising ease. Small crowds gathered quickly to spectate as he soared and spun with relative ease.

Guseli’s off-slope persona is not all that different from his attitude on the board. He’s relaxed and himself, with little-to-no filter. Whether this is a product of his young age or the abundance of worldly experiences he’s already had, I’m undecided. On our first chair, not five minutes after meeting me, he had his phone belting out a rock number while he sang along to the slopes below. Fast forward another five and he was doing backflips off trail marker mounds as I hustled to keep up.

His attitude and technical ability (not to mention his achievements to date), prove Val displays all the early signs of greatness. We look forward to seeing him go skywards at events like the 2023 Laax Open early next year and getting onto some podiums. We grabbed him for a quick chat over lunch at Thredbo’s Kareela Hut to hear about all things Val and what lies ahead for the high flying teenager. But first, here are Val’s best tips to get your snowboarding back on track.

How to improve your snowboarding with Valentino Guseli

  1. Be confident

“With anything you do when you’re snowboarding, you want to do it confidently. If you’re hesitant or a bit scared or nervous, it makes your body stiff and tight, and you don’t do the movements in the correct way.”

  1. Commit

“If you’re going to drop into a steep run or hit a jump, you have to commit. If you’re not all in, you might go a little slower than you should, or be a bit off-balance. If you’re committed, then you’re fully into it; your mind is focused and it’s more likely to work out.”

  1. Stay relaxed and keep your composure

“Snowboarding is 90% mindset. It’s about having the right approach and being relaxed, so you’re not overthinking things and you’re comfortable in the motions. At the end of the day, you’re meant to enjoy it. If you’re having fun, then even if you fall it doesn’t really matter. If you enjoy it and stay relaxed, you’ll progress faster than you expect.”

  1. Bend your knees

“When you bend your knees, your centre of gravity is lower. When your centre of gravity is balanced, you are stable on the board, and you won’t fall. You want a nice, fairly neutral bend in the knees and your ankles flexed a little bit. Think of your knees or legs as suspension in a car – they will absorb bumps and impacts as you ride.”

  1. Point your arms to where you want to go

“Your arms are more helpful than you’d think. If you point your arms the way you want to go, they’ll point your shoulders, which points your hips, your legs all the way to your feet and the board. It’s all connected and it’s funny how a small movement with your arms can make such a huge difference. It’s actually really simple; you just point where you want to go.”

Bonus tip: Put in the time

“The biggest thing in progressing your riding is time on the board. If you spend more time riding, you’ll get more comfortable and understand physically and mentally the way the board works and the spots you do and don’t want to use on the board. You’ll get more comfortable with turning and slowing down, and if you can slow down easily, there’s no reason you can’t hit that steeper run or whatever it is you want to try. It’s a natural evolution.”

A yarn with Valentino Guseli over lunch on the slopes

So Val, first things first, you’ve broken the world record for the highest air out of halfpipe at 7.3 metres, which is incredible, but what’s going through your head when you’re that high in the air?

“Everything and nothing at the same time. When you’re up there you see the world around you and below you. It’s a pretty crazy feeling, because with something like this record, I’ve never gone that big before that. Instead of only seeing the wall of the halfpipe that I’m on, I see the whole halfpipe below me with the flat bottom and the other side, even some people riding down the hill on the runs. Yeah, so it’s pretty crazy.”

Do you see yourself having another crack at the record and potentially beating your own best?

“Yeah, next year. I want to try and go bigger. It’ll be in Laax, Switzerland.” 

What sort of training do you go through to get yourself prepared for both that and competition?

“Well you definitely want to be physically strong. When you’re hitting a half pipe wall with that much G-force, you need to have strong legs, otherwise they can give out. And if your legs give out, when you’re going over 20-feet out of a halfpipe, it’s not going to be a fun time. I hit the gym as much as I can.”

Do you have a pre-run ritual that gets you pumped up or focused during a comp?

“I do have a pre-run ritual. If anyone reading this has seen The Wolf of Wall Street and knows when Matthew McConaughey is beating his chest – that’s what I do [laughs]. I do three chest pumps, and then I drop in. I don’t know what the meaning is behind it, but I’ve just done it since I was young. I think my mom said that it was a good thing to do or something, so I’ve just always done it.”

In terms of competing and getting a win at something like the World Championship, is it a case of you learning bigger and more complex tricks, or improving the consistency and landing the tricks you already know?

“It’s a mix of both. There are always more tricks that you can have and the more tricks the better. But putting down a good performance on the day is just as important. There are many times when the conditions will be really bad and the people that don’t have the biggest tricks can still win if they just put it together for that day. It can definitely depend, but you always want to have the best tricks possible and do them with the best execution and the best amplitude in the pipe.”

Do you have a go-to or favourite manoeuvre that tends to win over the judges?

“I’m working on a couple. Yeah, I’m working on a couple for sure. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” 

I’m sure the sport and this job has taken you to a lot of cool places, what are your favourite places to ride in the world?

“Well, my favourite place is actually where we are right now, Thredbo. I grew up riding in Thredders, so it’s always nice. It’s nostalgic seeing everyone that I grew up riding with and riding the runs I learned to snowboard on. Laax in Switzerland is really awesome, and it’s also nice to ride in Italy – there are some nice spots there for sure. Everywhere has its own little characteristics that I love. Snowboarding in general, wherever you go, is beautiful.”

You had a gnarly injury on the halfpipe last year – talk us through that setback and what it took to get back on the board.

“Yeah, on the 8th of October, 2021, I made a little mistake coming out of the halfpipe and I ended up landing on the coping, which is where it goes from flat to vertical on the pipe wall. I smashed my arm on it, broke my arm, and had to get surgery that day.

It was a bit unfortunate in the lead up to my first Olympic games. But it healed up pretty quickly and we did a lot of really good rehab and got on top of it pretty early, so I was happy about that. And then once I was back on snow, I was so hyped and just grateful to be back.

The rest was history. I forgot about the arm and just focused on snowboarding again and tried to not make that same mistake again or hurt myself…” 

You’ve been called a real rising star in the snowboarding scene – after making such a huge entrance, what are you hoping to achieve in the coming years?

“I wanna be the GOAT. Nah, there’s a couple things. I think one of the things I’d like to do is make it more commonplace to compete in not only one discipline, but several. In snowboarding, lots of people tend to specialise in just one discipline, whether that be halfpipe, slopestyle, or big air. I want to try and be competitive in all three of those. That’s one of my goals. Otherwise, to just be the GOAT and win every comp. You might as well shoot for the stars and worst case, if I land short, I’ll be on the moon.”

What are you passionate about outside of snowboarding?

“I really enjoy surfing, playing guitar and trying to sing. I wouldn’t say I’m a good singer, but I do enjoy playing some tunes in the shower. I really enjoy hanging out with my family because I don’t get to see them all the time. So I definitely make the most of it when I’m with them.”

Wade Fraser
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