Aged 17, Switzerland’s Thomas Bussard is particularly enthusiastic about taking part in the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, where ski mountaineering will be featuring on the competition programme for the first time. The son of a former champion, he shares his passion with his twin brother, Robin, with whom he achieved one-two finishes in the cadet category at the 2019 World Championships.
How do you see these first Youth Olympic Games (YOG) to feature ski mountaineering?
For us, it’s the event of the year. It’s incredible to be able to take part in the YOG. It’s never happened before in our sport. For the moment, it’s not on the Olympic Games programme, and we hope that this will be the first step and we can compete in the Olympic Games in the future.
How did you discover this discipline?
In fact, my dad was twice Swiss national champion, and he gave us a taste for it. I was on skis from a very early age; and I started competing three years ago. Before, I did it with my parents or friends for fun. I’ve always been very competitive, so when I tried a competition and got good results, that made me want to continue.
What did you like about ski mountaineering? It’s a pretty physically demanding discipline after all…
What I love most is being in the mountains. That’s my passion. And as I have a competitive streak, it suits me very well. What I like too is that it’s a very varied discipline. You can have races which last an hour-and-a-half and individual ones, as well as sprints, which last barely three minutes.
Do you do other mountain activities, like climbing?
Yes, absolutely. Obviously, during the season, you don’t have much time to do anything other than ski mountaineering; but when the season is over, we go climbing. Doing 4,000-metre peaks, climbing. It’s fun to do high mountains with my dad. I’ve done the Weissmies, a 4,000-metre peak in Valais, or the Breithorn, things like that. But I don’t have a lot of time to spend doing that.
Ski mountaineering will be tested for the very first time as an Olympic discipline in Villars (@portedesalpes) during the #Lausanne2020 #YouthOlympics ⛷️🏔️😃— Lausanne 2020 ❄️ Winter Youth Olympic Games 🥇🥈🥉 (@lausanne2020) 13 September 2019
Have a look at this venue who will also host #skicross and #snowboardcross competitions!pic.twitter.com/UeHCkF5pNM
How do you train for ski mountaineering?
In the summer, we train by cycling, roller skiing and running. We do a lot of endurance work, because you need a lot of basic effort. We also do explosive training, for the sprint. We train between 8 and 12 hours a week on average. In the winter, there’s obviously a lot of work on skis.
Are you comfortable doing both the traditional one hour 30 format and sprints?
At the YOG, there will be an individual, a sprint and a relay. I personally prefer the individual format, but at our age it’s important not to specialise. You can’t do only vertical climbs, or sprints or individual races. You have to be good at everything.
Sprints are unusual, with the combination of climbing with skins on the skis, carrying the skis and skiing downhill?
Yes, we train that every day. There are lots of transitions. And it’s not a natural thing, like endurance for example. These transitions need practice, and if you’re good, that can make all the difference in the sprints.
It’s also quite unusual that you share this passion with your twin brother. Are you and Robin very close in terms of level?
Yes, we have the same training plan. We’re together every day. That’s an advantage compared with the others, as we never train alone. In the tougher sessions, with interval training, it helps us both keep going. That’s a real source of motivation.
You seem to get on very well together…
We obviously have some arguments, like all brothers and sisters, but we do get on really well. It’s great. And as we’re at the same level, we’re always together when we’re competing.
How do you see the Youth Olympic Games? Are they a competition that inspires you?
It’s great to be talking about the Olympic Games. And as they’re in my back yard, I really hope I can take part. Everyone’s talking about them. You can’t open a newspaper without seeing articles about them. It’s really exciting to think about the Opening Ceremony with athletes from lots of different sports and loads of countries. For us, it’s like the real Olympic Games.
Do you have any Olympic heroes?
In my sport, I don’t have any hero, as it’s not an Olympic sport. But otherwise, in other sports, I’m quite a fan of cross-country skier Johannes Høsflot Klaebo.
For what reason?
It’s hard to explain. I like the way he is, how he manages to win when he has to. And to be an Olympic champion at his age is an example to all of us.