If you look at Mina Fuerst Holtmann’s FIS results from this season, you might think she’s a frequent flier on the international racing scene who is no stranger to podiums. You’d be almost spot-on aside from the fact that the Norwegian is making a comeback from a two-year hiatus from ski racing.
In 2015, Holtmann was a skier on the rise. The Norwegian, who hails from Oslo, earned three medals at the Junior World Championships hosted in her home country: gold in downhill, silver in super-G, and bronze in alpine combined. She made her World Cup debut that season and scored points in the super-G at St. Moritz. Then, during a training session at Soelden leading into the 2015-16 season, Holtmann broke the tibia and fibula in her left leg, which required surgery and the insertion of screws and a metal rod.
The Attacking Viking made a solid recovery, but unfortunately, suffered yet another setback heading into 2016-17.
“I was back skiing after nine months, and my leg felt really good,” Holtmann explains. “My skiing, too, and, then, I suffered a back injury and that took me about three months to get back from, so it was just too late to race that season. I started skiing in early February, so I got the whole spring and a lot of skiing last year, but no racing.”
The 22-year-old explains that her back injury, a pinched nerve, was sustained while traveling from the U.S. to Europe. She was in the Frankfurt airport when she suddenly felt debilitating back pain. She spent three days in a German hospital before gathering the strength to fly home. While missing the 2016-17 season was not in her plans, the Norwegian was able to return to snow in February training with her home club and joined Norwegian national team camps in April 2017.
Finally, after two years away from racing, Holtmann made her return in New Zealand this August. The Norwegian pushed out of the giant slalom start gate at the Australia New Zealand Cup races at Coronet Peak and repeated her performance from the last race she had competed in prior to her injury.
“Since I won there last time, it felt good to be back,” Holtmann says of her comeback. “I like the slope, and I like New Zealand. And the races are early in the season, for sure, so you get thrown into it. But everybody does, so you just have to do what you can do with your skiing at the moment, and just try to not take them too seriously. And well, it worked out for me.”
Head coach of the Norwegian women’s team, Tim Gfeller, was not surprised by her early-season success.
“Her skiing has always been very good,” Gfeller says. “She had a great camp in New Zealand, and we got a lot of work done. In races, she just likes to go. She won a bunch of those races a couple years ago as well in Coronet Peak. She likes that place, and there’s really no pressure, so I was expecting her to do OK there. I mean, you never know of course if somebody hasn’t raced for two years, but it wasn’t a huge surprise.”
This season, Holtmann looks forward to a new emphasis on the World Cup circuit.
“This is actually my first real World Cup season, so for me, I think will switch a little bit between World Cup and Europa Cup races, but mostly World Cup,” she explains.
Her coach hopes to see big things from her on skiing’s biggest stage.
“T0 be honest, I don’t really have any goals [for her] at the moment,” says Gfeller. “I know that she can succeed on the World Cup, that’s for sure, with the way she skis. But of course, there are many other things that go into that. She’s obviously going to start in the World Cup to begin the season, and we’ll do some Europa Cup also to try to improve her slalom points. Then, we’ll see how it goes until Christmas. If she has good success on the World Cup, then we’ll stay there. But otherwise, we’ll continue with a mixture of the two.”
It may be a surprise that the 2015 Junior World Champion in downhill plans to focus on tech this season, but it’s all part of Gfeller’s strategy with this athlete who has the potential to be an all-event World Cup athlete.
“Mina was an athlete that two or three years ago, she was basically ranked in the top 45 in five disciplines,” Gfeller says. “So, she definitely has a lot of talent in the speed department. But when the athletes are transitioning from Europa Cup to World Cup, it’s very important that we create a focus somewhere, that we don’t try to spread them too thin amongst all the disciplines because then you arrive at the end of the season and you’re a jack of all trades but a master of none. So, we really want to make a mark somewhere with her and get her well into the top 30 of the World Cup start list. I feel that she has big potential in the tech events.”
With all that potential, Holtmann has a lot to look forward to, but there are a few things that top her list of exciting stops this season.
“Well, the Olympics are this year, so that would be a dream come true,” she says. “And I know it’s going be awesome to ski Soelden because it’s the opening race and it’s really big. And I’m looking forward to skiing Levi, too, because it’s always nice conditions there and for me, who has a late bib, I’ll have the chance to ski fast from behind.”
World Cup racing kicks off on Oct. 28 for the women with the giant slalom at Soelden, Austria, and fans should keep their eye on Holtmann. She’s already familiar with the hill.
“When I was younger, we took the gondola up with only our shoes on, and then we just stood on our shoes all the way down,” she recalls.
Taking on the Rettenbach Glacier should be a little easier this time around with the addition of skis.