Remarkable Women | Spotlight on Sandra Lahnsteiner

In honour of “International Women’s Day” we’re sharing stories from our cream-of-the-crop female athletes. Each of them has a passion, talent and vision that has reshaped her sport. They stand as heroes, set to inspire future generations of female athletes, choosing to be exceptional and unleash their remarkable.

Next up in this rad week is Sandra Lahnsteiner. Sandra is not only a professional free skiing athlete, but also travels the world to carve up fresh snow on the most challenging mountains. From heli skiing to off-piste you name it and Sandra will push her limits and inspire. She knows the challenges of not being naturally talented and has had to put in hard work to get to where she is today. Alongside being an incredible athlete, Sandra is a director and leader of the Shades of Winter movie series, which has put female skiing into the mainstream media by showing the world what can be accomplished by a group of passionate and driven female athletes. Read the story right here in our interview:

“We are challenged to prove that we are action sports athletes but still women and not men in female gear”


When did you know that you wanted to make skiing your life?

I was always into skiing. Seriously, always.

My Dad put me on those little plastic skis when I was 2 years and 2 months and that’s where it all started.

As I started racing as a kid I first wanted to become an alpine skier of course; when an injury stopped me I wanted to become a ski instructor so I started doing all the ski instructor education courses including the highest level in Austria. While studying sport science in Austria with the focus of high performance athletic training I started working as coach and finished the highest coaching license for alpine ski racing.

BUT – I still was fully into skiing myself, I loved skiing, every aspect. All I knew back than was, that my job will always be related to skiing, as a ski instructor or coach and that I will always ski myself ANY minute I have time for it.

But then – things came differently, fortunately and I started living a dream I didn’t even have:

I remember myself watching MSP films and my thoughts were – OMG – that must be a dream life, skiing and traveling the world.

But things didn’t come across easy. After winning a first little freeride competition I blew my knee at the second. Dang! But that only got me started, I now knew that this is unacceptable and that I at least wanna get the chance for redemption. To follow: surgery, set-backs including a scary deep vein thrombosis, trainings always accompanied by my will to ski and to travel the world. Only 6 months after ACL reconstruction I was back on skis, literally “skied” into an all Austrian freeski film production, got invited to join them as the only girl and had an awesome first “pro-ish” season.

The season with the boys was super fun and at the same time I discovered my love and passion to capture that perfect moment in the mountains. Catching a light-shadow line on skis, being the brush on a white canvas, I was seriously hooked to working with filmer’s and photographers and the opportunity to travel the world, meet like minded people, discover new places.

The lack of female athletes in ski films made my kick-off my own first project: AS WE ARE, a girls ski movie back in 09/10 – the first ever all girls European ski film.

I had no clue of film making but I had the desire to create something for the girls… something for female athletes.

Shades of Winter 2013, followed by Shades of Winter PURE 2014 and Shades of Winter BETWEEN 2016…. and I’m not done yet.


So skiing has always been part of my life but in many different ways and constantly changing. And I hope it always will be part of my life in a way.


What drew you to free skiing?

My simple love for challenging myself. OMG – I was not at all a natural freeski talent, haha! I remember myself coming to the Arlberg working as a ski instructor and my turns off piste were more like race-turns than smooth powder skiing. 🙂

But, that’s me – if I am told to not be good at something, I’ll do everything to change that, I love to challenge myself, I wanna be a better athlete and better person every day. I’m not really a competitor, I don’t like to compete against others, but I am the strongest competitor to myself.

So freeskiing for me is the most natural way of skiing. It’s creative, it’s giving me the feeling of being free but most of its being out in the mountains with friends. Those are the incredients that drew me to free skiing.


Was there anyone that you looked up to as you were a pushing to become a pro?

I would definitely say Ingrind Backstrom. Watching her in MSP’s films back in the days was truly an inspiration. She was (still is) such an outstanding cool woman, I love how she motivated me by only seeing her in films and I wanted to be a bit like her.

She was an inspiration for me. I wanted to be an inspiration myself 🙂

But I don’t really have a hero I looked up to or a role model – I guess also because not too many female athletes did do it or more – where known for doing it.

So I do get my inspiration every day from various athletes and people I meet in life.


In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle facing women in action sports?

Generally I think we are currently living in a pretty good time for women in action sports; the girls are pushing their performance and are realising that we are not in competition to the guys but are expected to push our own limits.

The industry does see it as a market too, there is girls lines and women’s collections etc.

We are challenged to prove that we are action sports athletes but still women and not men in female gear. We are women who are good at our sports.

It’s important to show that it is appealing and motivating to be an action sports athlete, rather than an action sports model.


How do you manage being a leader of the Shades of Winter series and perform as a professional athlete?

Well, that is for sure my biggest challenge.

  1. x) good thing I didn’t know what I was getting myself into – haha!
  2. x) Handling the responsibility of a whole production including logistics and budget on one side and focusing on just my own performance as an athlete.
  3. x) sitting in the editing suite for 14 weeks in summer versus going surfing as other athletes do in summer
  4. x) training in the evenings rather than getting my workout done during the days as I am in various meetings for the production ..

and so on.

But I am not complaining, no one told me to do so. It was my own choice, I created this path for myself, no one even knew that I could walk this path. This actually makes it a lot easier.

And I love challenges and I love to succeed, I love to create and to be creative. I love to provide and I love to inspire. And to create Shades of Winter, to share it with other athletes, to inspire other girls (and men) to live their own adventure – that’s my motivation and that makes it easy to combine both roles.


Have you had to overcome any injuries throughout your career, talk to us a bit about how you battled through the pain and came back?

haha, if you only knew! 🙂

The first time I blew my ACL was when I was 15, I had no clue what that meant, I just did what I was told, trained to come back to sports and simple had no fears or whatsoever. It all worked out, I lost track on my alpine racing career due to that injury which bothered me but all that counted for me was being able to do sports.

Things got bit more tricky with my second ACL injury.

(As said above) I had “just” started my path as a freeskier aiming to do it more professional. But I simple had no clue about freeskiing, I just liked skiing. I won my first little freeski competition 2008, entered spontaneously a second one just after and – blew my ACL simply because of totally misjudging the mountain and what I was capable off. And that was even BEFORE I had my first sponsorship deal… DANG.

“That can’t be it!” I told myself and promised to give it a solid and more thoughtful try… and that was only when everything started (see above).

Two knees, one ACL each.

Another week point of my body is my shoulder. Two surgeries, one 2003 and another one while already being “pro skier”. But again here – all I focused on was rehab and training.

To sum it up – my strategy with injuries is the following:

You need to have a goal that lies behind your injury. That will make it easier to fight through, to be patient in rehab, to be focused in training, to manage set-backs and to not think about what if’s once you are back at your sport.


What has been your proudest moment in your career?

That’s a huge question.

Overall I would say “Shades of Winter” and within that – the moment we shared BETWEEN with the huge audience at our world premiere events at BMW Welt in Munich and at Red Bull Hangar7. To be able to create something that so many people seem to like and come for is just huge and I am truly thankful for that.

As an athlete it’s many-sided: for sure being among the first female European athlete to be nominated for Best Female Performance at Powder Awards was one of those moments but awards or medals are just things.

It’s more the moments when you get cherished by your friends after a great run or the silent moments at home reflecting on what you created that last longer. I’m proud of Shades of Winter and I hope that will go on.


Do you think there is enough media coverage for women in skiing and if not what do you think should be done?

Hard to judge.

I feel the European female freeskiers do get not enough coverage in international / US media. I feel the other way round it’s different – everyone knew Ingrid Backstrom in Europe but how many people in the US do know for example Shades of Winter athletes?


What are your goals for 2017?

The past years were pretty much full on and especially BETWEEN took it all from me. So season 2017 for me is a year to find the direction I wanna go personally as an athlete /person but also to which directions I wanna and can take Shades of Winter to.

I felt kinda empty after all the premieres and also with everything that happened with my dear friend Matilda.

But spending time in the mountains with my loved ones and having time for myself brought back my creativity and visions. It’s now time to bring them to paper and work on them structured. I am motivated and this wasn’t the last thing you heard from Shades of Winter, promised.


What advice would you give to someone looking to become a professional skier?

Don’t let anyone tell you can’t! (because if I had believed that I wouldn’t be where and who I am now)


Stay tuned for the next inspirational story from Maud Le Car tomorrow.


Header Photo Credit: Bruno Long

Alan Lund

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