Australian skier and Monash University Design student Sophie Mahon is well on the way to her dream of competing full-time on the world circuit after enjoying a thrilling experience at the FISU Winter World University Games.
In what Sophie, 21, describes as her biggest event to date, she journeyed to Lake Placid, New York in the United States to take on students from over 30 different countries.
Sophie competed across four different events: Alpine combined, Super-G, Giant Slalom and Slalom. Changing conditions across the event saw many competitors struggle, but the University Games was not solely about results for Sophie.
“Super-G and Alpine I hadn’t competed in for about three years, so it was just about coming back and doing it for fun for the event, because it is such a big event. Funnily enough I finished those events that I don’t train for right now and didn’t finish the events I do train for,” Sophie says with a laugh.
“Slalom is my favourite event, I started off well, but unfortunately didn’t finish the first run… I finished the first run for Giant Slalom but didn’t finish the second round for GS. The conditions were quite intense, it was Bluebird (perfectly clear) one day and very foggy and flat light (no sunlight) the next, so it was very up in the air who was going to do well.
“But I was very happy with my experience and it was a very special time. I love being in new environments and constantly pushing my limits, and this was definitely one of those adventures. I’ve never been to an event like that, so it was awesome to be there.”
It was better to have a genuine crack than play it safe, Sophie says, taking the experience as a big learning curve.
In the hopes of one day competing on the international circuit, her professionalism and performance under pressure also received a workout at Lake Placid.
“We had to get our skis tested, after the race they might either drug test you or either check the skis to see if they are fit to race, it had to be under a certain weight and length and so on,” she explains.
“It was very professional, we had to have accreditation the whole time we were walking anywhere, we couldn’t get in anywhere without it, it was very exclusive which was cool… it was pretty big time to the standard races.
“There were cameras around, big screens. That was the part that made it a bit daunting, seeing yourself on a screen and it was live on some sports channels, and friends were watching me back home.
“All in all I was very happy with the experience and would definitely love to go back to the next one!”
Other benefits included plenty of character-building moments (with none of her coaches there with her) and a clearer understanding of her position among the world’s best.
Having idolised many for years, Sophie remarks that it was a dream come true to pick the brains and become friends with some of the elites.
“There were athletes from big national teams, European Cup, World Cup level which was very cool to compete with them on a bigger stage,” she says.
“I got to meet some girls I really look up to in the ski world which was really awesome and (get to know them) on a personal level. Go out to dinner, chat in the dining room, it was really eye opening.”
The entire ordeal for Sophie is far from over, however. Despite being overseas since early January, she’s now hitting the slopes of Italy in preparation for a number of races in the coming days before the National Championships in three weeks’ time.
The Bachelor of Design student is currently with the International Ski Racing Academy, a women’s international team featuring skiers from countries including Japan, Luxemburg, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and more.
Having trained and competed overseas at different times since the age of 12 and with a passion to improve, Sophie’s hoping to take her career to the next level via the Academy.
“My long-term goal is to race on the World Cup circuit competitively and go to the next Winter Olympic Games games in Cortina d'Ampezzo 2026, Italy, which would be awesome because I train here and have been training here for the last two years,” she adds.
“This season I’ve been trying to get my points down and to make some big improvements and see how competitive I can get and hopefully go to a Europa cup at maybe the end of this season or start of next season.”
For now, it’s onwards and upwards as Sophie continues overseas before planning to return home in April.
You can keep up to date on Sophie’s travels and competitions on her Instagram. All the best Sophie!