The 16-year-old girl who’s (probably) faster than you – meet Vali Höll
The 16-year-old girl who’s (probably) faster than you – meet Vali Höll
Junior downhiller Vali Höll has set the DH World Cup series alight this year, winning every round and clinching an almost unheard of perfect season. We check in with Austria's golden girl to find out what makes her tick
I’m Vali Höll, I’m 16 years old and I’m from Saalbach, Austria.
How did you start mountain biking?
My parents were riding XC when I was young, but after they visited Whistler and saw the bike park and how the whole riding scene in Canada was different from the riding back home, my dad built his own trail. I learnt to ride my bike on this track essentially. I had my first bike race when I was three years old. It was a loop through the city. I stopped for everyone who took a photo though, so I came last. Haha.
What inspired you to take up racing?
I used to be a ski racer when I was younger, and I wasn’t too bad, but I never felt the atmosphere was enjoyable and the other competitors weren’t that cool. My dad found the iXS Rookies Cup online and we went to try one. This was my first downhill race, and I had to race against the boys. Knowing I’m a terrible loser, my dad wanted to prepare me that I wouldn’t win against all those boys, who were racing in their second year in that category. At the end of the day though, I was faster than all the boys and won my first Rookies Cup. Haha. Sorry boys! I didn’t make friends that time, but over the following races, we met so many friendly people!
As you kept improving, did you set yourself goals?
My parents never pushed me into something I didn’t want to do, but they supported me every way they could. It’s fun to look back to when I said, as a little girl: “I want to race World Cups one day.” Suddenly, I’m right in the middle of it. It’s a little crazy!
Berm-blasting to victory at the final World Cup round in La Bresse, France. Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool
Whom do you ride with at home? Do you have any mentors and what have you learnt from them?
When I’m at home, I ride with my homies and do the local races with them. I’ve learned so much from them, and of course the speed too. I don’t really have a mentor or anything like that, but I go riding with my godmother, Angie (Hohenwarter). She raced 4X and DH, and I learned a lot about how to communicate with sponsors from her.
Your results wouldn’t suggest it, but do you feel there’s any disadvantage to living in Austria, where you can’t ride year-round, or is this a positive thing?
Well, you can see it from both sides. On the one hand, I can’t ride my bike from October till May at home. That’s a long time. After the lifts close in September you can go for enduro rides, but in November it’s too cold and mostly snowy on top. The ski slopes are open till Easter, so you can’t really ride the trails in the spring, because they’re mostly under the snow. But on the other hand, it’s nice to be off the bike for a few months, just to be fired up to get riding again. Of course, it’s hard when you see the pros flying to New Zealand or somewhere sunny to go shredding when you have to sit in school and go to the gym.
When did it become clear to you that you could have a successful future in mountain biking?
Well, I don’t see biking as my future job. School is still way more important than racing and I want to have a good job after I’ve stopped. But yeah, it would be really cool if I could live from biking for a few years.
You’ve made a big impression during your first World Cup season. Did you expect these results or were they a surprise?
No, not really. I thought I would be way more nervous, but I soon realised that they’re like every other race. I just tried to give my best, and it all worked out pretty good! Haha.
What’s the biggest difference between World Cup races and the others you’ve competed in?
Standing by your heroes next to the track or in the gondola is just so cool. Even though they’ve talked to me for a few months, I’m still so nervous. Haha!
What do you believe your strengths are when it comes to racing?
I think I race quite controlled and I try to be mentally strong.
What’s been the best experience of your first World Cup season so far?
Winning seven out of seven World Cups!
The look of someone who’s just nailed a perfect season! Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool
Do you enjoy the travelling that goes along with racing?
It’s so cool to travel around, except for flying! When I went on holidays with my family, we never had flight problems, but this year I always seem to. Like long delays or really close times to catch a connecting flight. Running through airports is more exhausting than a World Cup weekend! Croatia was cool, it was more like a holiday than a race.
People are already comparing your times with those of the Elite women. Is this a compliment or do you find it adds more pressure?
It’s cool that people check the Juniors’ times because we don’t get much recognition. Sometimes you can’t compare the times due to track or weather changes. But I always try to have the fastest women’s speed trap, which worked out at Vallnord and a few other races!
How did your sponsorship with Red Bull happen?
I’ve been in contact with Red Bull for a long time. But I didn’t think I’d get the helmet before I even started racing World Cups. It was a huge surprise.
If you’d just landed a Red Bull helmet deal, you’d be this stoked too! Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool
And how about your YT and SRAM sponsorship?
I’ve been with YT since I was 12. SRAM was just perfect for me because the people are so friendly and they wanted to do the same programme with me that they did with Luca [Shaw] and it was really successful.
Do you have any short-term and long-term goals with your racing?
Not getting hurt and keeping it fun. I don’t want DH racing to end like it does for lots of ski racers.
Can you offer any advice to young girls who would want to take up the sport?
Just go shredding with your friends and try out the races. Even when boys might seem stronger, girls can be better.
How is the downhill scene in Austria? Is it supported or can you see room for improvement?
Oh yes, we need better youth support. Austria is solid in skiing because they have kids’ training, where you can start at six years of age. Why not do the same in DH? We have so many good bike parks and possibilities.
Are you interested in competing in other disciplines?
I would like to do more Crankworx events and maybe try enduro too.
Vali on the pump track podium on home soil, at Crankworx Innsbruck. Photo: Stefan Voitl/Red Bull Content Pool
Who are the riders you admire?
Definitely Rachel Atherton. I mean, who doesn’t? She’s so strong, and even when she’s down, she comes back even stronger.
Do you have a favourite race venue and what are your favourite tracks?
Fort William. Just a dream track! Vallnord is sick too. But when I’m at home, I’m riding in Saalbach.
How are you managing to fit both school and riding into your timetable? Do you have plans for further education?
It’s hard but it’s important to me, so I keep going. Haha! In two years I have my exams and then I want to go to university and study sports marketing.
You’re busy with both the media and social media. Is this positive or a little overwhelming at times?
I’m addicted to my phone anyway, so it’s not really stressful to post something. I have to try to do less, but it’s hard to get rid of Instagram and Snapchat.