Reigning Olympic moguls champion Perrine Laffont, the current world number one, has two overall Freestyle Skiing World Cup titles to her name and is continuing to rack up victories, race after race. The Pyrenees-based star, who has just turned 22, is driven by her enjoyment of the sport and has one aim in mind: to become the first woman to defend the Olympic title in her discipline, at Beijing 2022.
Your father, Jean-Jacques, contributed to the growth in popularity of moguls skiing in France in your Mont d’Olmes ski resort in the Pyrenees. Did his passion rub off on you?
Yes, absolutely. He served in the army in the Alps, discovered the discipline and fell in love with it. He introduced it to the Pyrenees region when he came back, setting up the “Boss Club” [“bosses” means “moguls” in French] with my mum. I was born with skis practically stuck to my feet and became a member of the club almost immediately. That was how I discovered my discipline, after my brother. I liked it straight away; there’s a great atmosphere and it’s a very all-round discipline, with the skiing and the jumps. It’s also like one big family. I tried out Alpine skiing for a bit, but it’s not the same at all and doesn’t have the same atmosphere. It was by doing moguls with my family and friends, and because of the sense of discovery and the enjoyment I was getting out of it, that it became my passion.
Have you been inspired by any of the great champions?
Loads! In moguls, Guilbaut Colas and obviously Edgar Grospiron. But I’ve always followed lots of sports; I admire Lindsey Vonn and Teddy Riner – they’re great champions who have inspired me.
You were still in secondary school when, at 15, you competed in your first Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. What was that first experience on the Olympic stage like?
It was magical! Getting to compete in the Games at that age doesn’t happen very often, and having the opportunity to represent my country as part of the French team was a real source of pride. For an athlete, it’s the Holy Grail, and for me it was the culmination of all the work I’d put in, and a childhood dream come true. I went to Sochi just to experience the Olympic Winter Games, but I did really well in the qualification round, finishing fifth, which was totally unexpected. I was hoping to do just as well in the final, but that was when I learnt what pressure was – media pressure and everything that went with it… I finished 15th. But something really clicked into place for me; that experience really helped me with my future career, and for the Winter Games in 2018.
Is your first World Cup victory, in February 2016 at Tazawako, one of your most abiding memories?
Definitely, because I’d been getting so close to the podium. I was coming fourth, fifth, and I’d been working extremely hard to get to that level. So for my first World Cup podium finish to be a win was the icing on the cake!
And then you became an Olympic champion aged 19, at PyeongChang 2018…
My coaches and I had been working flat out in areas where I’d been falling short; the goal was clearly to get a medal. And I think it all came down to the mental side. At that time, there were about five or six of us who were aiming for the title. Some of them cracked under the pressure; I think I was the last woman standing! I didn’t crack but I was right on the edge; one more run might have done it for me! The media circus that followed was tough and tiring, but I was surrounded by the right people, who helped me deal with it all. These are things you learn over the years. I’ve got the right people around me, and I’m still learning to this day.
You’re now the world number one and winning race after race. How do you manage to keep that up?
By working on everything really: my skiing technique, my speed and, particularly at the moment, my jumping. I’ve made really good progress in that area, after putting in a lot of work with my coaches. A lot of energy went into it, and it’s paid off. With the jumping, the only limit is physical, and I think I’ve still got room to improve; there’s still room for creativity. When I was starting out, my main strength was my skiing, and continuing to focus on this area is really working to my advantage. The thing I like so much about this discipline is that it’s not all about speed; there are lots of other factors: style, the height of the jumps, and so on. Moguls skiing is really varied, and I never feel like I’m doing the same thing. I never get bored.
It was shortly after your second straight victory in the overall Freestyle Skiing World Cup that the first lockdown began. What was that period like for you?
It was mostly fine. It came at the end of my season, so it gave me a chance to get some rest. When the health crisis restrictions were introduced, we adapted. Now it’s happening again, but at the same time races are being cancelled, we’re in the dark as to what’s going on, and we know that the season will have fewer races than normal. Having said that, the 2021 World Championships, which were supposed to take place at the 2022 Olympic venue in Zhangjiakou, China, were cancelled and are now due to be held in Calgary, Canada, in February. I’m a two-time world champion in the parallel moguls; and the world title in the moguls singles – an Olympic event – is the only one missing from my medal collection. So I’m determined to win it!
Is your main goal to retain your Olympic title in 2022?
Of course. It would be a dream come true to hold on to my title for another four years. Only Alexandre Bilodeau from Canada has managed to do that, in 2010 and 2014, and it’s never been done in the women’s competition. But I’m not getting ahead of myself; I’m taking things step by step, so we’ll see. There’s still some way to go before we get to that. I’m not worrying too much about it all; there are lots of things going on between now and then.
What do you think about your discipline’s prospects at the Olympic Winter Games?
We’ve got two events in our discipline: the parallel moguls are an impressive spectacle, great to watch – the crowd loves it. We think it would be good to have it at the Games from 2026; it would give us an extra race, and we’re all keen to promote it.
You’re very engaged when it comes to environmental protection. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
As responsible citizens, we can see how the environmental situation is getting worse, and that we need to be aware of this. I’m even more aware because my livelihood is directly affected by global warming; there is less and less snow in ski resorts, and winter starts much later. I’m determined to get things moving to change the situation. In practice, through the moguls initiation event that I organise in my ski resort, we’re going to try to raise awareness among young people about protecting the environment. What I also need to do is speak about these issues with the people around me; work with people who are involved with the topic and want to get things moving; discuss the cause; and look to build a better world.
You communicate a lot through your vlog and have already produced 23 episodes. How come?
I started after my victory at the Games in 2018. The aim was to give people a behind-the-scenes look at our preparations and competition season. We don’t have a camera following us all year round, and I don’t think people would realise what goes on otherwise. So for me it’s all about sharing a bit of our day-to-day reality with the public.