McRae Williams speaks about his career motivation, his latest project Lockdown, and his thoughts on the whole Covid-19 thing. If you haven't watched the edit, give it (and much more) a gander on TGRtv today.
This has always been the plan. Compete so I can make a name for myself and build my personal brand. Get a few sponsors that will hopefully support me through my transition to filming full-time, something I can do for years to come and keep my career and passion alive. Competing was like a solid 10 years of college. Now I’ve graduated and I got my degree. Time to have some fun!
– McRae Williams
Why did you decide to stop competing?
Mcrae Williams: It got old. Plain and simple. I was burnt out. Year after year of traveling to the same places for the same contest. Don’t get me wrong I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to world and ski in all these amazing places, the time had just finally come to take my ski career in a different direction. Something to bring the spark back in my passion for skiing. Competing started to feel more like a job than a passion. Lots of stress and pressure. I was the oldest guy on the start list for a while and it is extremely difficult to keep up with the kids these days. The progression of our sport is like no other. Body wears on you. Mind gets a little too complex and you start overthinking. I did a lot of mental training towards the end of my competitive career which I feel helped a lot not only with my skiing but with life in general, but it was nearly impossible to shut everything out completely. I just wasn’t happy doing it anymore, and why keep doing something if it doesn’t make you happy anymore right? It was hard to let go of something I’d dedicated my life too for so long, and step into a new realm I’m not quite so familiar with, but at the same time that’s what makes it exciting. The stoke I feel now when the air gets crisp and the snow starts falling reminds why I fell in love with this sport and lifestyle in the first place.
What were your favorite and least favorite parts about competing?
MW: Obviously being able to travel to some of the most beautiful places with some very awesome people was a huge perk. And winning lol. No better feeling than winning. Losing on the other hand was one of the worst feelings. Not putting down the run that you planned and landed so many times in practice was one of the most devastating things for me, and I’m sure others can attest to that. I swear every time I realized I either wasn’t making finals, or wasn’t making the podium, it felt like my life was over. Like all my confidence had just gone out the window and there was no getting it back. But you learn something from that. You just move on to the next, and eventually you land that dream run at the perfect moment. In other words, the stars align, and you stand proud on top of the podium knowing you did your absolute best and people recognized. No better feeling than that. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That is competing in a nutshell.
What is the competition run that you are most proud of?
MW: I never thought I’d say this, because I was never a huge Olympic advocate. I despised the Olympics actually. Blamed them for coming into a perfectly good sport and making it no fun at all. But I was wrong. My Olympic experience was probably the most meaningful moment of my life. It was a grueling, painful, scary experience. I put so much pressure on not only making it to the Olympics one day but winning a gold medal. And if I didn’t do that, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to live with myself. Ended up with a grade 3 MCL tear just over three weeks before the games in Pyeongchang. With some of the most amazing doctors and physical therapists at my back, I did whatever it took to drop into that course in Korea. Taking a six- to eight-week recovery and turning it into three. And not just recovering, but getting back to peak performance. That was a lot of pressure, and I had my doubts, but I had to keep my confidence and just enjoy the moment I was living. After everything I went through to be able to drop into that course and represent my country, it felt bigger than just skiing. It was a journey I’ll never forget. Didn’t end up making finals or winning a medal, but I put down a run top to bottom for my family, my friends, my fans, my country, and last but not least for myself. It wasn’t my best run ever, nor my best result, but it was by far the most meaningful run I ever took. Then I dropped in for my second run and my shoulder popped out of its socket mid-air on the first jump. Think it’s safe to say the Olympics weren’t for me.
Then there was X Games Aspen 2014. You know when you have days where everything just seems to go right. Like things just keep getting better and you don’t even understand it. Like you have complete and total control over everything that is unfolding before you. That is what is commonly known as a flow state of mind. The day of slopestyle finals in Aspen back in 2014 was one of the few times I can truly say I achieved a flow state of mind. I learned a new trick in practice that morning. One I had been thinking of for a long time. It was a switch double cork 1440 blunt grab, a trick which ended up becoming a staple for me throughout my competitive career. I did this trick on the last jump, AKA the “Money Booter”, to conclude a perfectly executed run, exactly as I had envisioned before dropping in. That run earned me my second X Games medal of my career, and it was silver. One of the pinnacle moments of my career no doubt. On top of how good it felt to know I did my absolute best and stand on an X Games podium for the second time, I had been battling the disappointment of barely missing the cut for the debut US Olympic slopestyle team which was announced just a couple weeks prior. This was a feeling of redemption like no other. I was able to prove to the ski community and the world that I had what it took and should be going to Sochi. Felt good to shake that feeling of disappointment and walk away with a medal that meant more to me personally than going to the Olympics.
What ski contest has been most influential in progressing freeskiing?
MW: Honestly Slvsh is one of the best things that ever happened to skiing. Not just saying that because some of my best friends started it and I back them through and through, but because it’s actually true. The amount you learn and push yourself to try in a game of Slvsh is unlike anything else. When your opponent lands something you’ve never tried and you know thousands of people are going to be expecting you to try this trick the pressure is on and it’s good pressure. Pressure we want and need but might be a little scared of on our own without a little push. Super hyped on everything Slvsh has done and the following they have gained. That’s the kind of stuff we need more of in skiing.
In your mind, what was the best built course of all time?
MW: X Games Aspen hands down. Hard to pinpoint exactly what year but SPT always killed it with the slope course in Aspen. Especially the jumps. One of the few courses to ever have a proper sized four jump line in a slope contest, testing skiers on all 4 directions of spinning. Also, one of the few courses to have proper sized jumps in general so that skiing could reach the absolute highest level of trickery. It was always so exhilarating to be a part of and watch firsthand. That goes for all the events at X Games. It brings an unparalleled energy and progression out in extreme sports. X Games will always be the pinnacle of freeskiing for me personally.
What is one aspect about ski contests that non-competitors might not realize?
MW: I think one thing a lot of people who don’t compete might not realize is how much more mental it is than physical. I think it’s safe to say that a good quarter of the field competing in any given contest has the tricks to win, but it takes more than just having an adequate arsenal. It’s about fighting the pressure and all the other variables you might not think of looking at it from the outside. You have to train your mind to block out the unnecessary chatter and the distractions so you can fully focus on doing what you need to do, and at the same time believing that it is possible. Much easier said than done. You think “oh yeah I have complete confidence in myself and I know I can land this run any day of the week,” but when you finally get in that start gate the doubt begins creeping in. You start thinking about that trick you haven’t landed once in practice yet. “You gotta land it now, don’t mess this up.” Those very thoughts in fact cause you to mess that trick up. I personally trained myself to reverse these negative thoughts and instead of telling myself what NOT to do, I would tell myself what TO do. Land. Stomp. Win. All words that will do you a lot of good if tracing through your head before you drop in for your third run in finals at X Games. And these principles apply to just about anything in life. “As you think, so shall you become” -Bruce Lee
Describe your 2017 season. What did you do differently that year to ski so well?
MW: 2017 was a crazy one for me. By far the best competitive season of my career. I had been having a rough time for a while there. I was facing a lot of challenges in my personal life that was drastically affecting my skiing. I read a book that changed everything for me. That book was ‘The Mindful Athlete’ by George Mumford. It changed my whole outlook on not just skiing and competing but on life. There was one quote from that book that really summarized everything for me. That quote read “When you marry intention with positive mind states through outcome expectation, visualization, and practice, you’re able to achieve great things on and off the court”. Couldn’t believe the immediate change that I saw when I applied this philosophy to my competitive skiing. It all started in France at the Font Romeu world cup. It was an unusual win due to crazy weather and finals being cancelled, but it gave me the very confidence I needed to build some momentum. I went on to get silver at X Games that year, second at the World cup finals in Silvaplana which clinched the overall world cup title and the coveted crystal globe. And to cap it all off I ended up winning World Champs in Sierra Nevada, Spain. It was a time in life and a feeling of pure confidence I’ll never forget. A whole season of flow. All this going into my last and only chance at going to the Olympics. Couldn’t have been more grateful that book fell into my hands when it did. Powerful stuff! Go check out my edit ‘The Mindful Skier’ which is a more in-depth look at this season of mine and how it all unfolded.
What challenges do you anticipate on the road ahead? What are some aspects of film skiing you are new to, and would like to perfect?
MW: The backcountry is completely unpredictable. You have to learn to spontaneously adapt to your surroundings, and above all make good decisions. Competing has always been more planned out for me. Could’ve been a bad thing honestly, but sometimes I’d find myself planning a run before I’ve even seen the course just based off of a computer rendering online. I mean national teams were building their own versions of features that were revealed to be in the Olympic course two years prior. So much planning, coordinating, and training. Stuff I wanted to avoid when I got into “Free” skiing as a kid. I loved skiing because it was none of that. I love that freedom and adventure that is backcountry skiing and filming. One huge challenge I’ve faced trying to film backcountry parts and ski lines is knowing what tricks to do when. Landing and taking off with imperfections makes trick choice and even line choice a big aspect of filming backcountry, and I’m learning a lot about what to do when. All about game time decision making. Also, reading and studying the lines or jumps before skiing them is something I’m learning a lot about. My whole career I’ve been so used to having practice. In the backcountry you get one try, maybe two, and if you’re super lucky three, before having to either wait for the next jump you build or a reset to get another chance. You might be waiting an entire year maybe more to get another attempt at a trick or line that got away. Another huge thing is learning the terrain and the different locations you ski. I have been so many new places in the past two years that were hard to figure out the first time around. Now going back to these spots in the years to come I can retry tricks and lines that I wasn’t able to get before or try something I’ve visualized thinking about these spots since I last left them. So many new aspects of skiing that I’ve never dealt with. So many new challenges. Something fresh and exciting to rejuvenate my stoke for skiing.
Moving forward, what excites you about transitioning to film skiing? What are some strengths you hope to play off of?
MW: Like I said before, just the freedom and adventure of exploring new places and a new realm of skiing I’m not quite as familiar with. New challenges to face. New skills to learn. New people to meet. Little do a lot of people know however, I have done quite a bit of backcountry skiing throughout my life having grown up in the Wasatch Mountains. The terrain is not as vast as other places, but there is still a lot of amazing backcountry terrain and backcountry touring has a big presence here. I got started taking avalanche courses and touring in the backcountry at a fairly young age. I used to do a ton of backcountry skiing with my buddies but when my competitive career took over, I found it hard to line up time and conditions to get in the back country as much as I used to. Having this small foundation of back country knowledge has helped me a lot in my transition to back country filming. But I do have a lot to learn still.
Who are your biggest inspirations in terms of contest skiers who have now become film skiers?
MW: Honestly, Sammy Carlson is one of my biggest inspirations lately. This dude has dominated both the film and competition world for a long time. He has been at the forefront of freeskiing for what seems to be decades. You almost become numb to it because he has been so good for so long, but if you take a minute to realize what he continues to do year in and year out, he is definitely at the top of the list of most dominant and well-rounded skiers of all time. Not only is he skiing insane lines and gnarly pillow stacks, he’s doing tricks on them that most others would never even dream of. I consider him the Travis Rice of skiing. A few others I look up to would be Alexi Godbout, Duncan Adams, Chris Logan, just to name a few.
What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
MW: Keep the ball rolling. Trying to just ski and film as much as possible. Explore some badass new terrain, shred some super deep blower pow, and hopefully get corked somewhere along the way. Hoping to film with Strictly boys a bunch more in the future. They got a fun motivated crew that I enjoy working with. If you haven’t already check out their latest film ‘Bermuda’. In other news, I have spent the majority of this season filming with John Spriggs and his filmer Ed Clem, working on a new film project called ‘Must Be Nice’. I just kind of linked up with these boys on an early season trip to Montana, and once I learned a bit more about what they’re working on I became super intrigued and decided to dedicate my season to this project. This film looks to expose and portray some of the hardships and struggles skiers face trying to keep the dream alive, something I am experiencing firsthand as I get older and drift away from mainstream competitive skiing and look to dedicate myself entirely to backcountry filming. A lot of people only see the glamour and the glory of the final products and the best moments shared on social media. They think to themselves “must be nice”, but little do they know there is a constant battle we all play to balance everyday life and survival with the dedication and effort it takes to do what we love to do. Aside from all that nitty gritty this the film is sure to display some of the highest-level BC riding to date, from the likes of Spriggs himself, Taylor Seaton, Ben Moxham, and many others. Be sure and stay tuned for this one! To round out my plans and all that the future holds for me I recently decided to sign up for a Freeride World Tour qualifier at Snowbird so we’ll see how that goes. Been super psyched on the idea as of late. Figure why not combine my competitive experience with my new love for skiing big mountain lines. It’s something totally new to me, so it will be a journey, but I am excited to have something completely new to dedicate myself to like I once did slopestyle skiing.
Do you have a dream project you would like to produce?
MW: Actually, I do. I have been thinking about this project for some time now. Since my competitive career has come to an end, I’ve been reminiscing a lot on the whole journey and what it all meant to me. How it was all possible. To think back to when I was dreaming of one day being a pro skier, watching X Games at home on tv hoping that I would one day be there. And now, looking at several X Games medals hanging on my office wall as I type this, one being gold, you sometimes forget how real this is and how much it truly means to you. Sometimes it just feels like you blinked and now you’re here, but I want to remember the journey I went through to get here, and what motivated me along the way, and share that journey with others who might find motivation to chase their own dreams. Against all odds you never give up if you want something bad enough. So ‘The will to ski’ would be a documentary style look at my entire competitive career and what kept me going along the way. If you find something you truly love, you’ll do anything for it, and that I think is something a lot of people can relate to, but also shy away from when the doubt creeps in. Lately I have found that it is important and more meaningful to find ways to portray a message through my skiing, to give it a bit more purpose. Everybody loves to watch badass skiing and there will be no shortage of that, but I think it is important to accompany that with a strong message we can all relate to not matter what our individual dreams or passion may be. To give it substance and reach a broader spectrum of people.
To round things out, what are your thoughts on Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the ski community, and how is it affecting you personally?
MW: 2020 brought some serious changes to the way we go about our daily lives, and also how we plan to live out our dreams and careers. For me personally, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit a bit differently than for others I might say. I was already undergoing a major transition from being a full-time competitive skier for over a decade, to spending my winters a bit more off the beaten path chasing snow and documenting those adventures. The pandemic seems to have complimented that transition as resorts have had to regulate how many people are on their mountains on a given day, many of them implementing a reservation system. For me, having to make reservations to go ski makes absolutely no sense. Waking up and seeing the weather and how much snow may have fallen is a huge determining factor in where and if I go skiing. The backcountry will still allow that freedom to decide daily where to go and what to do. Seeing how Covid-19 has only boosted the summer recreational industries throughout last summer, I think it’s safe to say that we will see a similar effect on the winter recreational industries. A lot of people are skiing this year, and a large portion of those people are turning to backcountry skiing due to the new inbounds regulations and policies. Even pre-Covid here in the Wasatch you would see massive backcountry bowls turning to mogul fields by 11 am on a pow day. Meaning there was already a ton of people skiing in the backcountry before Covid, and that number has increased drastically this year. I think it’s super important that a lot of us veteran skiers and backcountry enthusiasts go out of our way to encourage people to get educated before stepping out of bounds, and to set a good example of proper backcountry etiquette and precautions. We have the platform to make people aware of how dangerous backcountry travel can be and to make sure we keep avalanche fatalities to a minimum as people swarm to the backcountry in this post-Covid era. Unfortunately, with this swarm we’ve seen some of the worst avalanche conditions I can remember. The combination is scary and has proven to be fatal. Hopefully some good has come from this in that people may be more aware of how dangerous the backcountry is, and further educate themselves. Backcountry skiing or snowboarding isn’t something you just jump right into. It takes decades of experience and observation to truly understand the nature of the beast, and it’s important that we know our place out there and respect the mountains.
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