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Sport on Saturdays: The Aussie athlete who conquers mountains for a living.

Nat Segal. Photo by Brian Parcells
Nat Segal. Photo by Brian Parcells

You have to be a little bit crazy to do what Nat Segal does every day.

She’s a 26-year-old Australian big mountain skier that spends most of her days throwing herself down enormous mountains and, well, hoping for the best.

Nat started her skiing career at the ripe old age of two. She comes from a family that’s very into the snow (her sister is Anna Segal, Aussie Winter Olympian that placed fourth in the ski slopestyle event this year) and pursued freestyle, mogul, downhill and freeride skiing for many years, before starting to compete in international big mountain competitions.

For those who are unfamiliar with skiing terms and want to become a bit of a ski expert in less than five minutes (well, we are launching right into winter):

Downhill skiing is what your average skier does when they go skiing; go up the hill on a lift, come back down the hill on a run. Sometimes really quickly.

Freestyle skiing is the tricks that are done off man-made features at the snow, such as rails, boxes and jumps.

Mogul skiing is the skiing over bumps that have been formed in the snow.

Freeride skiing is what is involved when you ski the whole mountain and use the natural features to do tricks and jumps. It’s a case of navigating the natural terrain that hasn’t been moved around by humans.

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Nat is a freeride skier and travels constantly between the northern and southern hemisphere winters, chasing competitions on the Freeride World Qualifying Tours so she can qualify for the world tour. She’s incredibly talented, ridiculously busy and has kicked off some incredible projects all over the world just in the last few months – many of which are aimed at trying to get more girls into the sport.

I had a chat to her to find out what she’s been doing for the last six months:

I went back to America in November and I spent two months training in Jackson Hole in the USA. From there, I went to Europe, where I was working on a photo shoot. And from there I went into a European ski film, called Shades of Winter. It’s an all-girls ski film, so we were in Japan for 2.5 weeks filming with myself and three other female skiers.

I competed in the events in Europe that were Freeride competitions, and I went to Sochi to watch my sister Anna compete in the Winter Olympic Games. It was mind-boggling, just walking around the Olympic village.

I then travelled to America to take part in another qualifying event in America and won that one, it was the highest-ranking qualifying event. And then two days later I got on a plane to Iceland to start an expedition to sail between Iceland and Greenland and ski the ascents. We then flew back to Iceland and then went straight to Norway for another competition.

Iceland was pretty incredible. We went with the hopes of skiing first ascents and also seeing what’s happening, environmentally, around Greenland. We’re an all-female team so we also wanted to create a lot of content that can inspire other women to get involved in the sport and look outside the general recreational box you live in and try something new. Because that’s exactly what we did. So in terms of exploring new terrain and having new adventures, it was incredible.

I think it’s important for women to inspire other women and mentor each other. There’s something very important about having women to relate to when you’re competing in a sport. I’ve had some incredible moments with all-female teams, you’ll learn a lot about yourself by working with other women. Our team in Greenland worked so well together.

nat segal 2Every female skier shares the idea that you don’t see a lot of women getting into big mountain skiing. Women generally need to be coaxed into it by someone. I believe in empowering women to get themselves out there and try new things. The main passion we all shared was encouraging girls to try new things.

You really need to have a passion for it and you are putting yourself in danger. It takes a certain type of brain type to enjoy that challenge and fear – pushing yourself off rocks and everything. I meet guys and they just don’t think about what they’re doing. They’re strong skiers and they throw themselves off things without thinking. Women tend to think things through in a rational way and they’re not so willing to take the risk.

Women need a little bit more time to digest and learn how to do things, and there’s not always that opportunity. For example, a guy might see a cliff and just go, “okay, I’ll jump off that”, whereas if you have a girl and they don’t feel completely comfortable, they’re not going to do it. Their brain works in a different way. Women need a bit more encouragement and someone to run them through the steps. It’s different types of brains.

Of course, that’s generalising – there’s plenty of girls I know that will just ski something gnarly. But generally I’ve found this to be the case.

Nat is now heading back to New Zealand for the winter, where she is an ambassador for ski resort Treble Cone. She’ll also spend time supporting the fabulous female ski initiative, Chicks with Stix, which is one of the more supportive and passionate movements in female sport out there at the moment.

If you’re heading along to the Sydney Snow Travel Expo this weekend, you can also hear Nat speak about her trip to Iceland at 1pm.

And in other sports news from the week…

– THE MATILDAS HAVE REACHED THE FINAL OF THE ASIAN CUP! Excuse the capitals, but this is very exciting news. They beat South Korea 2-1 in the semi-final in Ho Chi Minh City, and are now up against Japan for the final. The Matildas last won the Asian Cup in 2010, and they’ve got a great chance of nabbing it again, even though they are up against the world champions.

Incidentally, our Aussie girls have also qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup through playing at the Asian Cup. It will be their sixth World Cup in a row.

– The first AFL women’s draft was chosen and announced – you can see the full list of names here. The women’s game, between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, will be at Etihad Stadium on June 29. The teams are being coached by Peta Searle, an incredible female footy coach. You can read our interview with Peta here.

– Our Aussie women’s water polo team, the Stingers, beat China in the opening game of the 2014 FINA World League Intercontinental Cup in California. The final score was 13-10. Next, they’re up against Brazil who did very well against Venezuela in their first game of the tournament.

– Our Hockeyroos have also done well in their World Cup warm-up Test in Antwerp, beating Belguim 3-1. All the girls are killing it this week – keep your fingers crossed for our teams.

Have you seen anything in the sporting world that you’d like to talk about?

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