Aimee Fuller interview: Aiming High

Taken from Whitelines 105, December 2012
Words by Tristan
Photos by Matt Georges

She’s young, smart and one of Britain’s brightest hopes for the Olympic Games in Sochi. Is Aimee Fuller the luckiest girl in snowboarding?

It’s odd, but there are people out there who don’t seem to enjoy the life of a pro snowboarder. You’d think that talking about something you love would be as straightforward as breathing, but it’s amazing how many riders are grumpy, monosyllabic and down-right miserable when you interview them. It’s as if they don’t want to talk to you at all. And in fact, some of them contrive not to. Over the years we’ve heard some ridiculous excuses. “My phone was out of battery, I never saw your message,” said one (we’d sent ten) “I had to go help my friend move house” was another (really? A last minute, unscheduled house move?) And then there was the weed-loving American jibber (no-names mentioned) who told us for weeks he was “super down for it” but kept “missing” our calls, before eventually emailing to explain that “he wasn’t in the right frame of mind right now”. (Say what? Pulling a week-long whitey?) Some people it seems don’t appreciate how good they have it.

It’s safe to say Aimee Fuller is not one of those people. For starters she’s one of the most easily approachable pros out there – a couple of messages back and forth is all it takes before we’re sitting down face-to-face. Secondly, she’s bright, articulate, and great company. As she talks ten to the dozen over brunch in a Soho café, I’m reminded of my description when we first met in Scotland a few years back. She’s hit the big time in a big way in the years since, but the girl sitting opposite is still “a bundle of bubbly blonde enthusiasm”, holding forth on a wide range of topics with an ease and confidence that makes her seem older than her 21 years. Thirdly, and most importantly, Aimee is clearly head over heels in love with snowboarding.

Scaling the walls in Mordor country. Snow Park, NZ.

“Honestly, I never thought this could be my life,” she says, tucking into her eggs. “I always thought I could be maybe a PE teacher or an air hostess.” She laughs infectiously.“Really? Aimee Fuller the air hostess? I can’t really see that…”
“Well actually when I joined my secondary school they asked ‘what do you want to be?’ and I put on the application form ‘professional snowboarder.’ So from about then it was the dream, but I never realised it was possible.” She’s not being falsely modest either. Because although Aimee was precociously talented, her childhood was far from typical for a British pro. Most of her fellow Team GB freestyle riders were first spotted on their home dryslopes or picked out as potential stars in snowdomes. But Aimee grew up almost entirely outside the UK scene. “I was born in Farnborough in Kent and I grew up there ‘til I was about 12, but then my parents moved out to America,” she explains. At the age when many of the current crop of British groms are just starting to get noticed, Aimee was whisked away overseas, away from the eyes of potential mentors, media or sponsors.

At the age of four I had my first quad bike, and at the age of six I had my first motorbike

Before she left however, she had started out on the right course. “Every Saturday from the age of about three or four I went up to Bromley dry ski slope and had skiing lessons with Andy the instructor. Both my parents ski. Not seriously though. Well, my dad thinks he’s really good,” she chuckles. “But they wanted us to learn to ski so we could go on family holidays. If me and my brother did well, we were going to get a hamster. That was the end goal!” Hamsters aside, there were other early signs that Aimee had the athletic prowess and the sheer gutsiness to go all the way. “My dad was really into motorsports when I was a kid, so at the age of four I had my first quad bike, and at the age of six I had my first motorbike. By eight I was racing the 60cc class at the British Championships!”. Aimee’s father was delighted that she loved the sensation of speed and airtime. Her mother on the other hand, was less keen. “We’d go to these meets and it would be me, blonde pony-tail out the back of my helmet, and 30 other guys lining up at the start. They were pretty rough and didn’t hold back on pushing and stuff. In the end I had a pretty bad slam when my mum was watching with my nan and it got quietly pushed to one side…” She eventually picked up motocross again when her family moved to the States, but it was now having to compete for her affections with a new sport she’d found.

“At Bromley dry ski slope there was only one snowboarder, and he’d always bomb down from the top and do a little ollie method over the knuckle. I always thought ‘I wanna do that, that looks cool!’”. With her parents working in Washington DC, Aimee got the chance to try it out herself on the small icy slopes of nearby Pennsylvania. “The local hill was an hour and a half away, so I started going every other weekend, and then it would be motocross in between. But motocross was less easy to get to out there, and I preferred snowboarding, so then it became most weekends.” The Appalachian mountains of the East Coast are not particularly high, but they tend to make up for it with quality parks. Right from the start it was this aspect of snowboarding that attracted Aimee. “I’d go up with my friend and we’d just hurl ourselves off little jumps and rails – we couldn’t even really turn, we just went straight to the park and started chucking ourselves off stuff!”

But while her talents were growing, being so far removed from an active dome or dryslope scene meant they were going almost entirely unnoticed in the UK. On top of this, her mum and dad were about as far from the pushy parent archetype as you can imagine. These days, Aimee says, they’ll watch the comps and they regularly pop up on her Facebook with encouraging comments, but for ages “they didn’t really know that much about it. It’s only really this last year that they’ve started to understand the scene and they’re starting to get to know everyone.” At the same time, although she knew she loved it, Aimee had no idea how to develop snowboarding as a career. “I never really realised it could go that way, doing comps and stuff.”

Fresh style, stale grab. Geddit?

Things could well have stayed that way, with snowboarding being just a hobby, for after three and a half years in the US, Aimee’s parents would be moving to Belfast. She explains: “It’s not like anyone snowboards there. I was like ‘can I even do it?’ I honestly thought that when I moved back that it might be it, that might be me finished with snowboarding.” Thankfully, fortune was about to interve and help her riding get the recognition it deserved. Lady luck in Aimee’s case came in the form of Roxy rider Erin Comstock. “I’d begged my mum for like a year and a half to be able to go to a snowboard summer camp, so they eventually packed me off to High Cascade. We were moving back to the UK in September, and in the August I went to Mount Hood. Erin was my coach for the week.” Although Aimee describes herself as “a total punter” something about her riding and her attitude obviously impressed Erin, and she put in a good word. A few weeks after arriving back in the UK, Aimee had “a random call” from Stine Brun-Kjeldaas, Roxy’s European team manager, inviting her out on a Roxy camp. “So like two weeks later I was off to Switzerland, to Saas-Fee. And pretty much from that camp I got sponsored by Roxy. I still can’t believe they sponsored me! But I guess they must have seen some potential.”

I was a total punter, I still cant believe Roxy sponsored me!

Whatever Aimee might have thought of her riding at the time, Roxy’s talent-spotters weren’t wrong. In just a few short years she’s gone from being that “total punter” to being a key member of Roxy’s global team, and one of the best riders on the women’s circuit. Last winter she stood on the top step of a major comp podium for the first time, winning the Pleasure Jam in Dachstein with a run that blew the likes of Cheryl Maas and Sarka Pancochova out of the water. She also claimed third behind Jamie Anderson and Cheryl Maas at the Roxy Snow Pro in Saalbach. Most impressively, a few weeks before our interview, a video emerged online of Aimee landing a double backflip at the Red Bull performance camp in New Zealand. She is one of only four women to have ever done the trick, although of course, she modestly plays down her achievement. “It was amazing, but I guess I’m an upside-y down kind of person. I enjoy all the other stuff, but I guess I just really love going upside down, it gives me a real kick.”

Aimee’s career appears to be going into orbit.

She certainly looks like she loves it – Aimee is one of the few women to regularly go inverted in her slopestyle runs, and her laid-out backflips are something of a trademark. One of them earned her her first action cover on Whitelines’ February issue, another landmark achievement in an impressive season. Given the casual way she talks about it and how comfortable she looks in the air, you might think that Aimee was just lucky enough just to be born with these talents. But while she is undoubtedly naturally gifted, it’s also clear that she works hard at her riding too. “When I’m riding, and specially if I’m riding well, I go into this like crazy zone, I just don’t stop. At the pleasure jam, I nailed that run. I must have done it like 25 times or something. I wasn’t even talking to people, I was just doing hot laps.” She takes a similarly methodical approach to learning new tricks, like that double backflip. “You just think about all the ways you like to spin and what you can do, and one trick just leads to another,” she explains. “With all the coaches and Red Bull having that airbag and stuff – I couldn’t have had a better time to try it. I had one day on the airbag, and ripped 10 to 15 to my feet, and the environment they create there, it just felt so safe trying it. So I gave it a go!”

Aimee is clearly head over heels in love with her snowboarding

Of course, just because it’s calculated and well-thought out, doesn’t mean that Aimee’s riding isn’t gutsy. She’s never been shy of just giving stuff a go – explaining how, without having ridden tons of powder, she learned cab underflips off a big booter in the Chamonix backcountry. But even that was – to her at least – a considered choice. “It’s just a backflip taking off switch, so I thought why not?” That kind of thing might be beyond most shredders, but for Aimee it’s a natural step that fits her measured, mature approach. She’s certainly not one to “huck and hope”.

Aimee is one of only a handful of riders on the women’s circuit that are truly comfortable getting inverted, and this year she became just the fourth to land a double backflip. Next level loop-the-loop, Gerlos, Austria.

In snowboarding, more so than in most sports, having good sponsors – ones who are willing to invest in your development – can make or break a career. Tales of super-talented riders who have failed to take off professionally because of a lack of sponsor support are all too common. Like her backflips, Aimee’s rise up the pro ranks looks (on the surface at least) to have been fairly effortless. She’s never had to shift sponsors, having been on Roxy since she was 16; she’s represented by Friday, one of the snowboarding world’s best management companies (with a roster that includes Jake Blauvelt and Eero Ettala); and the day before our chat, she signed for one of the best- respected and most supportive sponsors out there, Red Bull – a move she thinks will do great things for her riding. “I want to try a few different variations on the double backie. We’re looking at creating some opportunities with Red Bull.” She’s coy about the exact nature of the ‘opportunities’ they’ve been discussing, but admits “I’d like to try a cab double 9, and double rodeo.” She laughs and adds “And there’s a few other things but I’ll keep those to myself until I get them!” Given that it was Red Bull who built Seb Toots a special kicker to learn triples and funded Shaun White’s private pipe,we reckon the ‘opportunities’ could be pretty special. But while it might appear that these things just fall into Aimee’s lap, it becomes clear over the course of our chat that that’s not the case.

Like her riding, Aimee’s sponsorship choices are carefully considered. When “it all started kicking off” Roxy weren’t the only company competing for her signature. Nor were Friday the only people who wanted to manage her. “The first year I went to the Euro X Games there were lots of outside forces, people going: ‘ah, you should do this, you should do that’. Aimee though, despite being young, was far from impressionable. Rather than having her head turned by the money on offer and rushing into something, she “waited until [she] found the right people to work with.” Of course she had people advising her. As well as Lesley McKenna – Scotland’s former Olympian and now Roxy team manager – she mentions Jenny Jones (“a huge inspiration, I still look up to her now”) and Jeremy Sladen, the
head of TSA. But even with this advice, the way Aimee has successfully negotiated the endorsement minefield is hugely impressive. Especially when you realise she was making many of these decisions as a teenager!

I couldn’t even stand up properly. I was on such an adrenaline rush..

In fact, in many ways Aimee seems wise beyond her years. Her easy self-confidence and her choices both on and off the hill indicate a savviness that you wouldn’t expect to find in your average 21-year-old. At the same time, she’s still a child of her generation: A keen blogger who makes witty video edits, Aimee also tweets and updates her Facebook regularly. But while she clearly does this for the love, Aimee is also conscious of the value (both for her and her sponsors) of getting her name out there. “It’s part of the job nowadays and part of moving with the times. I’m so thankful for what sponsors are doing for me, I guess having a twitter feed and Facebook and a blog and stuff is something I can give back. But I really enjoy doing it, it’s nice for me too, documenting what I’m doing so I can look back. I think even if I didn’t have sponsors I’d be doing it for my friends and family to see anyway.”

Taming the Gerlos Gap.

This is something that seems to happen a lot with Aimee. She’ll do something because she loves it, and it’ll turn out to be exactly what her sponsors want. That might sound too good to be true, but it’s pretty clear from chatting to her that she wouldn’t do anything just to please them. In fact she says, “I’m very lucky I think with my sponsors, I don’t really feel pressure from them at all.” She’s clearly smart enough to realise how the game works, but she’s not playing it for anyone but herself. The thing is, she doesn’t have to – because when Aimee plays for herself, she plays to win. We’re not talking purely in terms of results here – in fact she says at one point “the result doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.” No, winning in Aimee’s book is all about being the best you can be – riding to the very best of your ability. “If you’ve landed the best run you could do you’ll be on more of a high than if you win. That’s the best feeling,” she explains. “I think it’s quite easy to get into the trap of doing it for the wrong reasons. But if you’re thinking about incentives like the prize money, and you’re not focused, you’re going to do rubbish. [At the Pleasure Jam] I was just buzzing just ‘cos I’d landed that run, I was so stoked.” Snowboarders of all ability levels will appreciate this sentiment. Whether it’s learning a new trick, riding a technical line or even tackling a tricky piste, there really is no better feeling than coming off the hill at the end of the day and feeling like you’ve absolutely smashed it.

Obviously the long term goal is to end up at the Olympics, hopefully with a bit of bling round my neck!

But while everyone can relate to the idea, very few have the natural talent to take it as far as Aimee has. Even fewer have the drive to keep pushing it when they get there. But Aimee’s always had that desire, that innate will to succeed. From taking the punishment dolled out by her fellow motocross riders as a kid to learning the double backflip, her determination has been evident in everything she’s done. This is a girl who kept pursuing what she loved even though “it was hard” at school “cos what I was doing was so different to what my mates were doing”; who kept going even though teachers were “completely unsupportive”; who even now pushes herself to ride hard whatever, even if she has to break through the pain barrier.

Despite all her wins, last season was a difficult one for her as she suffered from a lingering heel injury. At the X Games she says, “I couldn’t even stand up properly. My brother piggy-backed me to the start line. I was just on an adrenaline rush, but as soon as I finished I threw up cos I’d had so many pain killers and stuff.” Incidents like this make it clear that, as well as having charm and ability in spades, Aimee also possesses an iron will. “Yeah I do put pressure on myself. I set my goals, and I set them really high,” she says. But with her single-minded attitude, her love of riding and her natural talent, you’d be stupid to bet against her achieving them. So what are Aimee’s goals for the coming season? “I’m definitely going to give the world cups a go to qualify for the Olympics. Obviously the long term goal is to end up there, hopefully with a bit of bling round my neck!”

She laughs, but the way she’s going, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if come 2014, Aimee Fuller became the UK’s first Olympic snowboard medallist. If she does, it couldn’t happen to a better person. Young, pretty, articulate and supremely talented, Aimee would be an excellent representative for competitive snowboarding in this country. She’d probably say that she’s been lucky – she’s certainly very gracious about thanking others and (unlike some people) is very appreciative of the life she leads (“It’s kind of like a rock star lifestyle,” she says, “I came back from New Zealand, then France for a day, London for two days, then out to Hintertux, I never thought I’d be doing this!”) But while she might make it all look easy, it’s clear that Aimee Fuller has made her own luck, every step of the way.

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