Denise Karbon doesn’t really feel like she’s been racing on the World Cup for 11 years (her first World Cup points actually go back to a 16th place in 1999 in Serre Chevalier, France).
At age 31, it still gives her a little shock every time she realizes that she is now a veteran.
“It surprises me a lot,” she says. “It seems to me four or five years in the World Cup. It’s a good sign, I think. You like the people … all around, the sport.”
Her knees, on the other hand, are feeling the years.
After tearing ligaments seven years ago, the last two years have been riddled with more knee trouble for the giant slalom specialist. Two seasons ago, Karbon injured her right knee in Aspen and had minor surgery, missing several weeks of racing, then re-injured it in November last year, sidelining herself for several more weeks. By the time she raced in the world championships last year however, Karbon was back in form, barely missing a medal with a fourth-place giant slalom finish (her third fourth-place finish at a world championships … though she’s medaled twice, silver in St. Moritz 2003 and bronze in Are 2007). In the final GS last season at Spindleruv Mlyn, Karbon was back on the podium. This season, she has had a bit of bad luck in her second runs – often being poised and gunning for what would probably be a podium but missing gates or crashing out. Her top result this season was a sixth place in the Aspen GS, and, after missing the last gate on the course last weekend after leading the entire way down in the first GS in Ofterschwang, Karbon had a very fast second run on Sunday, skiing from 26th after the first run to 10th in the race.
Looking back on what has changed in her decade-plus on the white circus, the affable Italian says she has slightly modified her technique to get the most out of her rapidly aging knees.
“I was trying to make the turn with my knees and leaning a lot into the gates,” she says. “This allowed me to make a really short turn. This was my strong character of skiing. Now I try to do this, but not leaning too much. Now sometimes I lean too much and have to go straighter to be faster. I think this is the most important thing to carve the turn and not slide out.”
Not only has her technique changed a bit, but Karbon’s pre and post-race routine now includes a lot more time with ice and PT.
“I have to care a lot and make a lot of therapy,” she says. “Of course I can not be that aggressive without thinking going into the turn. I have to take it in a balance, not to take too many risks because my knees are not that strong and stable any more. That comes with age – the body is not so strong and fresh anymore. You have more experience … with experience you keep it in the balance.”
Karbon’s carving technique is one that other racers have imitated over the years. These days, however, she is watching the likes of Viktoria Rebensburg and Tessa Worley and trying to learn from them.
“I’m sure [younger athletes] were looking at my technique and try to copy it. Now I have to copy the best giant slalom racers now – be smooth maybe, and more aggressive on my turns,” she says.
Also when she looks back on her years, another thing Karbon sees changing is the easy influx of young racers into top positions.
“There are so many girls skiing good now. I think in the top 30s, any girl can go into top 10,” she says. “Ten years ago when I made my first top 10 result, it was very important. Today it happens more times. Today the young girls are skiing a lot better than a lot of years ago.”
If there were a popularity contest on the World Cup, Karbon would have won it a million times over. In any given race, one will find her laughing and chatting with athletes from every nation. And while other older racers might feel threatened by the surge of new young talent on the World Cup, Karbon enjoys nurturing it, saying she likes to impart the wisdom her experience has provided her and often feels like a big sister.
“Old sister,” she corrects, laughing (measuring just 1.60 meters and 60 kilos, Karbon is one of the smallest athletes on the World Cup).
“It’s really a hard life for a skier to be competitive and keep going on and to believe in himself. I like to speak with the other girls and encourage them and encourage them if it’s not going well because I know how it is when things are not going good,” she says. “I like to talk to the young girls on the team. They are sometimes searching me for some advice, or my opinion. It’s a nice thing because I feel I’m doing things well and I can give something of my experience. For me that's really nice.”
See what else Karbon has to say in this video.
By Shauna Farnell
FISALPINE.com is running a series with a few athletes racing on the Cup for 10 years or longer (*and a special addition with a retired ski icon), asking them to take a look back on what has changed since they were rookies.
Other installments of Way Back When ...... with Julia Mancuso