Pictured: Abi Hansen/
When she first put on a pair of skis at just 18 months old, June Lake native Abigale “Abi” Hansen had no way to know that it would lead to her becoming one of the top junior halfpipe skiers in the world. At 14, Hansen is already a competition veteran, and seems poised to leave her mark on the skiing world for years to come.
“I learned to ski on June Mountain,” she recalled. “I used to hold my dad’s hand going off jumps because I was too scared to do them myself.”
“She’d be singing while she was cruising down runs,” Hansen’s mom, Anna, said. Now living in Mammoth Lakes (the family moved in 2005), she no longer fears those jumps. In fact, these days you’re likely to hear Abi singing in the pipe as well. “I’m in the zone,” she said. “I listen to music full blast … it’s the only time I don’t have any distractions.”
Whatever helps her focus seems to be working. This March, she became one of only four junior skiers invited by the U.S. Ski Team to go to the Junior Worlds in Italy. Now in 9th Grade at Mammoth High School’s Independent Learning Center, Abi’s other full-time job is keeping up her 4.0 A-average.
As she and her mom related, Abi started her halfpipe career as a racer. “Then I got invited to join the Freeride team in fourth grade,” she said. “I’d also go off and compete in slopestyle or halfpipe; my race coaches used to get mad.” She still does slopestyle, and some skier cross racing, as well as the occasional rail jam, but only for fun. Last year, she decided to “focus down” to just halfpipe. “I’m a definite pipe jock,” she quipped.
The curious part of that decision is that it wasn’t her first love. “When I started doing it, I hated it,” she admitted. “I wasn’t good at it, going into this U-shaped thing and trying to get air. I kept seeing these athletes going 15 out, and I couldn’t figure it out.” Her coaches, however, saw her from a different perspective, and kept sending her back in.
“Then, I put it all together, it all made sense. I figured out how to air out of a pipe,” she said. “The first time I got air, though, I wasn’t sure I actually did it. I didn’t think I was big enough, but the coaches said I did it! I’m still like that. I’m always asking, ‘Was it any good? Are you sure?’”
Maybe she’s a little too in the zone. Maybe it’s her iPod playlist, which usually includes tunes from musician Ryan Lewis and the band Parramore, featured in the “Twilight” films.
“On the drive to competitions, I crank up Motörhead and Flogging Molly to get pumped up. When I need to calm down, though, I listen to Miley Cyrus or Bob Marley. I got that idea from [fellow skiing athlete] Kelly Berger.”
Abi has a few ski icons she admires, including all-mountain pro skier Ingrid Backstrom and late pipe skier Sarah Burke, who died following a training accident in January 2012. “She did so much for the women’s side of the sport,” Abi noted, “including getting paid the same as men. We’re still treated differently, like it’s a ‘man’s’ world. She got [halfpipe] in the X-Games and in the Olympics.” Halfpipe will make its debut in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
She’s also getting some endorsements, sponsored by Nordica, POC and (fittingly) the June Lake General Store. Roxy is also taking a look at her, but Abi said nothing’s been formally discussed … yet.
Up in the air
This year, Abi said her thoughts have been on training and school. “I’m working on being a better skier, and that includes classes, but I have time to goof around with my friends, too,” she said. Hansen’s had a roller coaster ride, professionally, though. Abi was invited to the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colo., in January, where she did well in practice, but fell during competition. “It was upsetting, but I got through it,” she said. “I felt relieved. It was my first Grand Prix, and I know what it feels like to be under that kind of pressure, especially as the youngest athlete there.”
At a stop on the Revolution Tour at Northstar in Lake Tahoe, she won the halfpipe, but during a for-fun only slopestyle event the next day, she flatted a jump and fractured her heel. After recovering for two months, she fell on her last practice run at another Revolution Tour date in Idaho, slightly tearing her ACL, and brusing her femur and tibia. “It could have been a lot worse,” Anna said.
Once she’s back to full speed, her next event is the Project Gold Camp at Mammoth Mountain in late May. Long term, though, Abi said her eye is competing in the 2018 U.S. Olympics. “I know she can make it,” Anna enthused about her daughter.
How does she handle that kind of pressure?
“Ryan Carey, the Freeride Team Coach, is my best friend at competitions,” she acknowledged. “He says things to make me laugh, forget about the pressure. ‘Competition is nothing but a private run in your favorite halfpipe.’ I put in my tunes, zone out and drop in.”