Red Bull UpSprings brings 15 talented young snowboarders from Germany, Austria and Switzerland together with Marco Smolla, Marc Swoboda and Markus Keller to teach them the life of a pro snowboarder both on and off the slopes.

The project is organised by Olympic champion by Nicola Thost and her aim is to equip her young protégés with the knowldge they’ll need to handle any situation they’ll encounter as an elite athlete, from how to handle a deluge of questions from the Press to what to do in an avalanche. We caught up with her in Falchau, Austria.

How did you choose the 15 for the Red Bull UpSprings?
I picked them from the 50 who took part in my young talent initiative, Springboard, which has five stops in Germany and Austria. For each stop we give 10 talented snowboarders aged 9-16 the chance to spend a day snowboarding with different pros, photographers and film-makers. The five Springboard kids from Germany, Austria and Switzerland with the most potential receive a wildcard entry for Red Bull Upspring.

The age of competitors on the snowboarding circuit seems to be getting lower and lower. What age would you say is right to turn pro?
Everyone is different but from my experience, I’d say that you can turn pro by 16. By that age you can tell how good a snowboarder is going to become and their personality has had a chance to develop.

How old were you when you realised that you could be a pro boarder?
Professional only means that you can make a living from the sport so for my generation that meant turning pro a lot later. I only started snowboarding at 14 and by the time I was 16 I had won the Junior World Championships, signed my first contract and was ready to join the ISF Protour. After graduating from high school, I had to make a deal with my parents: I had one year to try making it as a professional snowboarder and then we’d see what happens. Next came qualification for the Olympics and when I was 21, I won gold at Nagano.

You had your parents’ backing, but what are the pressures like on young stars today?
I meet a lot of talented kids in the 10-13 age range who are already snowboarding to a very high level and have a real passion for the sport, but they’re not yet equipped to deal with living in an adult world, and it can be overwhelming for them. The risk is that a lot of rising stars burn out quickly. As a sport I’d like to see us put the focus on a healthier mentality and make sure we properly nurture our young talents.

You had to end your own career after you tore your cruciate ligament for the third time. What do you say to kids about the dangers and stresses of sports?
It’s very important to me to pass on good practices to avoid injury. I always tell them to warm-up properly and make sure they progress step by step, learning the basics before progressing to the difficult stuff. Start on small kickers, not the largest you can find. It’s also important to wear protection and I give them tips on what to do on unfamiliar terrain. Springboard gives me the chance to not only teach theories but also show the kids what it’s like to be a pro. I am supported by pros from various areas of the sport and they talk about their own experiences. And we try to keep it fun so the kids can reap the most benefits.

At Red Bull Upspring the kids also get media training. What advice would you give to a young boarder on handling the media?
One of the biggest changes in recent years is the range of possibilities presented by social media platforms. So we teach them about how to get the kind of pictures and footage that is going to work online and to steer clear of the kind of content that could even hinder them in the future, even if they are a top snowboarder.

What qualities do you need to become an Olympic champion?
Everyone is different but snowboarders need discipline, determination, endurance and the firm belief that they’re doing the right thing.

What do you think about freestyle?
I'm amazed by it: the airtime and the complexity of the tricks. Hey, 1440 Triple Corks are acrobatics at the highest level and I have the greatest respect for it, but it also scares because I know how easy it is to pick up a career-threatening injury.

And finally, why do you spend so much of your time helping to bring up the next generation of snowboarders?
Because I love it! It allows me to support these kids and help them to achieve their dreams. My passion is snowboarding and Springboard comes from the heart.

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