Back in World Cup competition after almost two years of recovery, we catch up with Freestyle Snowboard trailblazer Katie Ormerod
There were 660 days between the moment Katie Ormerod dropped in for the Silvaplana World Cup Finals in March 2022 (finishing in eighth place, between Finland’s Eveliina Taka and Switzerland’s Bianca Gisler), and the moment she stood back in a World Cup starting gate for the first time in almost two years at this season’s Laax World Cup.
For an athlete who was for so long the poster child of British Freestyle Snowboarding and whose record of eleven World Cup podiums remains a key marker of what British Snowboarding can achieve, the wait felt interminable. But first and foremost, above the frustration, was fear.
“It was a really scary time,” Ormerod says over the phone in the gap between the Laax and Mammoth World Cups. “Up until we knew what it was, I thought my body was failing. I’m only 26, and all I could think about was ‘why is this happening to me?’, or ‘am I ever going to get to snowboard again?’”
Some context: having battled back from a brutal injury in training for the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in 2018 (“I was in shock that it was possible to feel so much pain”, she told the Guardian in 2022), Ormerod’s injury nightmares must have felt like a bad memory. Until a routine operation threw up complication after complication.
“All I knew was that one day, I woke up in so much pain, and my surgical scars had opened up. I didn’t know what it was at all, everything came totally out of the blue.” What followed was a nightmarish process of intervention, elimination, assessment, until finally a full diagnosis was made.
“It was a really long time,” she recalls. “Months and months, and multiple surgeries, before we finally found out it was a bone infection. I’m just really grateful to my surgeon at the Specialist Infection Unit; he got straight to the bottom of things, and fixed it for me, and gave me a way back to doing what I love.”
660 days later, when the time finally arrived, how did she feel?
“It just felt like I’d got my normal life back, if that makes sense,” she says. “Once you’re in the start gate, about to drop in, you just get in the zone, and for me I was right back into competition mode.” The importance of competition is something that comes up time and again as we speak. “I’ve always been a competitor, and I’ve always had that natural competitive instinct. Getting back to it at Laax and landing a good run, finishing 12th on my first World Cup back, it was a really good start for me, and it gives me something really positive to build on for the rest of the season and going into Olympic qualifying next year.”
Ah. The “O” word. I wasn’t going to bring up the Olympics, I tell her, but for Ormerod it’s never something far from her mind.
“I haven’t had the best Olympics experiences so far,” she laughs, “so I’m really driven to get to Milan-Cortina and have a good time there.” Does she spend much time thinking about it? “To be honest, the Olympics, it’s always on my mind. It’s like I said: I’m a competitor, and the Olympics is just the biggest event of all of them.”
It’s almost a startling thing to hear, given what Ormerod’s endured on the Olympic stage to date. First, a shattering injury that took her from the pinnacle of the Team GB limelight to agonising recovery before she got to fulfil her Olympic ambitions in PyeongChang in 2018, then the startling, isolating experience that was Beijing 2022. “It was really lonely,” she recalls. “It was nobody’s fault, but with covid and not being able to mix with others, and so many of my friends being on the ski team, it was really, really lonely. It’s such a big event, and I wanted to perform my best, but away from that support system with my friends and teammates around me, I really struggled to be honest.”
Thankfully, for Ormerod, the clouds are burning away. The competitive instinct is back, she’s got a roadmap in mind – “I’m planning to do every Slopestyle World Cup this season, and I really want to get into Finals” – and, perhaps most importantly, she’s back among friends doing what she loves.
“The team is really important to me,” she says. “All that time I was recovering, nor being a part of that team, not being with my best friends – your whole life changes. It really sucked.”
“But it’s so good being back with everyone now. The first trip away this season [a training camp in New Zealand over the summer] was probably the most amazing trip of my life. Just being back riding with my friends, and training, being back to normal… it was the most amazing feeling.”
For British snowsport fans, seeing Ormerod back on the start list and ready to drop in is an amazing feeling too. She’s the 26-year-old veteran. The supremely stylish rider. And a beacon of excellence for a generation of British snowsport athletes. We should all be grateful to have her back.
Katie Ormerod is next due to compete at the Mammoth Slopestyle World Cup this week.
Katie Ormerod Biography:
- Born: 1997
- Discipline: Freestyle Snowboard
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Brighouse