Henri Battilani: the most important moment of a ski race is right before the jump

By Gabriele Ferraresi / LUZ
Born in 1994 in Aosta Valley, Henri Battilani, Italian gold medallist during the 2015 World Junior Ski Championships in Norway, is a skier specialising in downhill skiing and giant slalom, two of the fastest and most adrenaline-pumping disciplines you can practice with a pair of skis on your feet.

We ask the young Battilani, what goes through his head when he’s at the starting gate before jumping off. The ski champion replies: "I always try to get to that moment where I am completely focused, thinking about what I have to do next, thinking about what the difficulties will be, to the points of the track where you can make a difference. However - Henri Battilani points out - the exact moment before the start, I always try to free my mind, though in a “particular” way! Often, when I think back to the best races I had, I find it hard to remember what I did exactly".

It's like a mental quasi-zen passage, because if it's true that when everything goes well you are so concentrated that you don't pay attention to what you do, when things don't go as they should, you remember everything perfectly.

Battilani confirms this theory: "That's right: I remember precisely certain slopes where I realised exactly the moment I lost the race. Why does this happen? Maybe because you're unsure, you have thoughts, and in our sport thinking is not the go-to because you lose time!”
In the Downhill, thinking about the next move is just a waste of time.
Battilani's secret to concentrate before the start?

I do this visualization, as you’ve probably seen on TV: when skiers move their hands and look stupid, it is simply a way to view the track. In that way, we "see" the doors and picture the bumps. Then again, everyone has his own method.

However, as Battilani perfectly knows, it is impossible to predict everything, for a downhill or a giant slalom is a labyrinth of infinite variables: "Yes, in my case skiing is a very situational sport, so at the end what I imagine is never what it turns out. You can't think during the descent, you need clear vision and mind.”
In this sport, you can reach the speed of a racing car
A sport full of unexpected events and two hard disciplines for Battilani: "I think skiing is a difficult sport to love, but it almost goes around: it is so unpleasant that you have to love it. You have an enormous training workload, working out 11 months a year for a season that lasts 3/4 months. Perhaps - the young Battilani continues - it's precisely the difficulties that push you to give more and more, the constant challenge against yourself, that lead you to love it. And then I love the jumps, the speed, the downhill, the adrenaline. Well, that's the best part.”

Henri Battilani's top speed? "In Wengen, until a few years ago, you could reach 160 km/h. 150 km/h are easy to reach."

Henri Battilani: the body and skills of an alpine skier

The disciplines practised by Henri Battilani, great slalom and downhill, are among the most spectacular of the skiing environment. As told in the interview, in the downhill you often reach peaks of 150 km/h, with an average downhill speed that reaches 130 km/h at competitive levels.

All this, for stretches even a few kilometres long - as in the case of the Lauberhorn, in Wengen, Switzerland, whose length, steepness and height difference make it one of the most dangerous and most loved slopes by skiers (including Henri Battilani and Peter Fill, Italian world champion in downhill).

Lauberhorn in all its glory
In order to be able to withstand such pressure while maintaining control of their skis, skiers of the calibre of Battilani certainly do not lack a good dose of courage, but also a considerable mental and physical concentration. Precisely for this reason, skier’s body is massive, with a powerful and explosive musculature, concentrated in the lower part of the body.

The body of the alpine skier is often defined as an agile brickhouse: a body with a lot of muscle mass to withstand gravitational pressure and centrifugal force, but also agile, able to make rapid changes of direction and with a high degree of motor coordination.

In order to get a body suitable for very high speeds, you need a constant training
To obtain such a built-for-speed body, skiers’ training does not end when the snow melts in spring. Instead, it continues, as in the case of Henri Battilani, for as much as eleven months of the year, often with custom gym training routines.

3 training exercises like Henri Battilani

What distinguishes a junior champion like Henri Battilani from an amateur skier can be summarised in two main points:

  • Courage to ski at crazy speed
  • Constant gym and ski training
Although we can't give you the courage to jump off on the most competitive slopes in the world at full speed, we can suggest 3 of the most practised exercises by Battilani:

Front Squat

Start with the barbell on the front side of your shoulders near your neck. A good way to tell if the bar is positioned correctly is to do a test while keeping your arms perpendicular to the rest of your body. If the barbell does not fall from its position, the barbell position is correct.
How to make a front squat
Place your fingertips under the barbell just outside your shoulders and push your elbows up. While keeping your chest up and your core contracted, squat until your quadriceps are parallel to the ground. Hold the position for one second. Then, keeping your back straight, push with your legs and return to the starting position.

Standing Leg Curl

The standing curl is the simplest variant of the various curls on bench. In fact, it allows concentrating all the effort on one leg at a time, and therefore the correct execution of the movement.
How to make a standing curl
Remaining standing, with the ankle resting on the cushions, flex one of the knees at 90 degrees, with the foot in dorsiflexion. Taking care to extend the hip well, inhale in the eccentric phase and exhale in the concentric one. Slowly return to the starting position. Once the series is over, repeat with the other knee.

Jump Squat

This is a more complex version than the traditional squat. Therefore, an initial execution with no or low loads is recommended to familiarise with the movement.
How to make a jump squat
With the barbell correctly placed on your shoulders and trapezium, keep your back straight and contracted, slowly descending and flexing your knees, pushing your buttocks outside. Descend until your legs are parallel to the ground. Hold the position for a second. Then, give yourself a quick boost by holding the barbell firmly on your back. In mid-air, keep your body straight. Land by returning to the squat position.

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