It’s not like children from the Swiss Alps are born on skis. But it’s also no longshot to end up falling in love with snow sports while growing up in Davos, Switzerland. At least that’s what happened to the Steiner siblings – Cédric and Désirée. Born into a family of alpine skiers and biathlon athletes, Cédric recalls standing on skis before even turning four years old. Désirée, the younger of the two, never strayed from her brother’s side as they grew older and consequently found the same passion for cross-country skiing before too long.
“The great thing about cross-country skiing? You’re outside in nature and you can spend all of your energy.” – Désirée Steiner
After years of practice, Cédric was finally able to realize his goal of attending the local sports high school. “Already in kindergarten, I started telling my friends that I’ll attend that very school one day,” he explains. After enrolling, both him and his sister were given expert coaching to improve their athletic abilities as well as their technique on the slopes.
And as they always trained and competed in the same sport, Cédric and Désirée were able to practice together, learn from each other and support each other.
“The advantage? Yes, you can help each other and share some knowledge. The disadvantage? You see each other A LOT!”, Désirée jokes. “In all seriousness, I was always able to turn to my brother when I needed his advice. And that definitely helped me along the way.”
Growing up together, turning pro together
After graduating, both siblings felt there was only one logical next step for them: go pro. And in doing so, they each collected their fair share of success. Désirée proudly remembers the Youth Olympic Winter Games as one of her biggest personal victories among the many small achievements along the way.
When asked about his biggest success so far, Cédric promptly recalls his performance at the Engadine Ski Marathon. But also the fact that he was able to return back to form after an injury and the global pandemic postponed his comeback season.
So while success has repeatedly found them, their takes on what makes a good cross-country skier target surprisingly different aspects of the sport. Cédric immediately names strength, stamina and technique among other factors to success. Désirée however explains her take with an example of herself: “I may not always be the most focused during practice, but I always bring the passion and energy you need to succeed.”
Their path to Beijing
Pro athletes represent the best of the best in their sport. They dedicate the bulk of their time, energy and focus toward perfecting their craft and improving on a daily basis. Still, only a small number of athletes make it to the biggest stage in the sports world: the Olympic Games. For snow sport athletes like Cédric and Désirée, simply participating would mean a lot – but there’s more to it.
“Just being there is a great achievement in itself. But Switzerland is more than just a participant in the Olympic Winter Games. We always strive to be a contender.” – Cédric Steiner
With only a small roster of female Olympic athletes in cross-country skiing, Désirée would feel especially honored to represent her home country on the slope. But for her as for her older brother, the Olympic dream might be within reach, but not guaranteed. Both will have to qualify with convincing performances over the course of multiple races – a challenge that will demand the siblings are on top of their game.
The spotlight of Swiss cross-country skiing hasn’t found them yet, unlike some of their teammates. And they feed off the idea of proving everybody wrong: “I’m extra hungry to deliver and show everyone who we are,” Désirée opens up. “I like it. It doesn’t change my training and with little outside pressure, you’re in control of the pressure you put on yourself,” Cédric adds.
Training in extreme conditions
You might think extreme training conditions for a cross-country skier involve freezing temperatures and heavy blizzards – and that can definitely be the case. In the case of Cédric and Désirée Steiner however, this refers more to changing winters. Climate change and global warming are visually leaving their mark on the Swiss Alps – and consequently on the ski slopes the Steiners rely on to train and race.
The two professional cross-country skiers definitely experienced the altering weather patterns first hand. Désirée recalls one day in particular that opened her eyes when she zoomed through the snow in the morning and was able to ride her roller skis in shorts in the afternoon. For Cédric, the first view of artificially created slopes on an otherwise snow-free mountain raised his concern for the environment.
And while athletes suffer from the lack of snow amid warmer winters, especially race organizers have found it increasingly difficult to guarantee snow coverage for a certain time period. In the end, they mostly have to resort to artificial snow – a technique that uses cold water and air to create additional snow. Sometimes this process is the only option for ski resorts and race hosts, even though it bears an intense usage of fresh water and energy.
Recycling snow for more sustainable slopes
One answer to bolster the snow coverage in the Swiss Alps could be an initiative from Davos: snow farming. It still relies on snow cannons to produce artificial snow. But instead of spraying it directly onto the slopes, it’s filled into a large pit when the temperature is so low that the snow cannons require less energy. The snow is then covered with sawdust to shield it from rising temperatures over the summer. This way, more of the snow survives until the next ski season begins and is then transported to build the foundation for new slopes. And when temperatures rise again, the snow is placed back in the pit to hibernate until the next season starts.