PHOTO: Adam Clark
This interview was first published in the February 2017 (45.6) issue of POWDER. Subscribe here.
The daughter of a Swiss mountain guide father and a ski instructor mother, Francesca Pavillard-Cain, 25, grew up in Crested Butte, Colorado, but often traveled to her father's native Switzerland. When she was 10, she and her family moved to Ecuador for a year. The result? A trilingual, ripping skier. After winning the Freeride World Qualifier tour in 2013, her junior year in college at Western State Colorado University, Pavillard-Cain became one of the youngest athletes on the Freeride World Tour. "Francesca's style is solid and calculated," says veteran FWT competitor Jackie Paaso. "Her biggest strength is her calm demeanor. She doesn't let a bump in the road faze her and she could make her way to the podium at any event." —Megan Michelson
I always introduce myself as Francesca. But my friends call me Franny, Fran, or Frankie.
There's something amazing about competing. It's a pure form of showing your talent. It's you against you.
The disappointment can be huge. I always want to keep it light and fun, but having that burden of not doing well can take away from my love of skiing. I have to remember to care about the competition but also take in the whole experience.
I once took a huge crash in Verbier on the Bec des Rosses. That event humbles you. As I was tomahawking, I was thinking clearly in my head, focusing on trying to stop myself. I wasn't hurt, which was lucky, but a crash like that shakes you.
Skiing turns you into a totally different person. Time slows down. Things are put into perspective and you care only about what's important. In our day-to-day lives, we tend to worry about things that don't matter. That goes away as soon as you drop in on a big line.
Because I grew up in Crested Butte and Switzerland, we were living in these gorgeous mountain towns that were maybe out of reality.
We ended up moving [to Ecuador] for a year and we were the only white people in town. It was a life-changing experience that still affects me today.
My dad is still guiding and he loves it. I've never known him to do anything for the reputation, but he's very much looking to do new things all the time. That's a brave way to go about your life.
Last year, I telemarked a lot. It's always good training. When it's sunny and springtime, why not jump on a pair of telemark skis?
I traveled a lot by myself from a young age. Learning to be alone is important. I think that helped my first year on tour. I was one of the youngest people and it wasn't the easiest situation to be new in. I was surrounded by professional skiers I'd read about in magazines and seen in movies. I had to get used to feeling uncomfortable and eventually, I found my place.
Avec le beurre tout est meilleur. It's a silly French saying we use at home. It means, 'Everything is better with butter.' It's about cooking, but it's also about life and making the most of any situation.
There are some hard feelings in the women's ski world about how some women become professionals—the whole beauty-over-talent debate. That's just the world we live in. But with competition, you can sidestep those issues. If it feels unjust, then hopefully that motivates women to work harder and prove themselves in their own way.
When I close my eyes and think about my happy place, it's just being in the mountains alone.