When we meet up with Michelle Gisin for our interview, the weather is still warm and summery. “I like every season,” says the successful winter sports athlete, “even when it’s hot.” And, living on Lake Garda in Italy, she says she’s accustomed to the summer heat. If she and her partner Luca De Aliprandini (a ski athlete sponsored by Helvetia Italy) do need to cool off, they can do so whenever they like: either swimming or windsurfing on the lake, or during a workout in the gym they have installed in the basement of their home. So they can still look forward to their daily weight training, especially when it’s hot outside.
“No, not at all. I prefer to stay on the safe side. But I like experimenting. I like trying out new things and I keep at it till I’ve mastered them. Once I feel safe, I can let go – rely on my instinct and take bigger risks.”
“I’m not someone who’ll risk everything they have.”
“I am the kind of athlete who wants to keep evolving and is always looking for something new, a new challenge, in whatever area. In that sense, I do occasionally take risks – or better: I experiment. Not every decision I’ve made may have been the right one. Some things need more time. But it’s often worked out well. For example, when I switched from slalom to downhill. I had a feeling of security: you are already among the top 15 slalom specialists in the world – you’re under no pressure to prove yourself in downhill immediately, I told myself. I invested a lot in my physical development. That’s beginning to pay off. I now hold the record for the number of World Cup races in one season. That’s why I’d say that seeking out new challenges is my recipe for success.”
“The first thing that springs to mind is when my brother Marc crashed in Gröden in 2018. It felt as if the world had stopped turning – everything else seemed so unimportant.”
Michelle herself was downed by glandular fever two years ago. “In early July, I had to cancel all my appointments for the next three months. And I had no idea how long the illness would really last. It felt so absurd because I’m normally booked out for up to 16 hours a day weeks and months in advance. But this illness taught me that, sometimes, you just have to accept that things don’t go the way you’d like them to.”
“My bout of glandular fever made me confront that question, of course. After all, there are athletes of my age group who haven’t returned to competition after such an illness. But, thankfully, things turned out differently for me. The last two years have been physically very demanding. But, at all times I was able to say: You have achieved everything – much more than you ever imagined. Whatever comes now is an absolute bonus.”
Thanks to this positive mindset, Michelle performed much better in the 20/21 season than she had expected, even reaching the podium on several occasions. “Even though in the season before my illness I had taken third place overall in the World Cup competition, the 20/21 season was, for me personally, my best ever – because I had gone into it with zero expectations.” Last winter, too, she had to contend with poor results. But she was so happy and grateful to be able to compete at all in races that she started every one with a smile on her face. If things had gone differently, “I would have had a Plan B, C or D. So far, however, Plan A has always worked out. And I hope I will be able to continue racing for a few more years and then end my career when I choose to.”
“I told myself: You have achieved everything – much more than you ever imagined. Whatever comes now is an absolute bonus.”
“For the self-employed, it is extremely important to make provision for retirement. We athletes have to start planning our retirement early, especially because we achieve our peak income relatively early in life. The federation also makes you aware of this issue. Luckily, my insurance advisor at Helvetia has the expertise to advise me on insurance and pension matters.”
Yes, I think insurance is incredibly important. You need to know your risks and be able to weigh them up. I always inspect every ski run before starting in a race. It’s important to have your own personal insurance advisor. That way I always know who to contact, for example if I get a scratch on my car."
Michelle’s life is set to take another turn soon. She is about to fulfil her biggest dream, as she calls it: her very own house in her home town of Engelberg. Up till now, Michelle has stayed with her parents when in Switzerland. For a long time, she thought she’d never find a plot of land to build on. Now, the plans are finished and construction is to commence soon. “My roots are in Engelberg. I’m really looking forward to having my own home there. So, in the future, I will have homes of my own in two of the most beautiful places I can imagine.”