Interview with Freeskier, Trail Runner and Airline Pilot Darryl Ball

Freeskier, Trail Runner and Airline Pilot Darryl BallAfter earning a university degree in Aerospace Engineering, Darryl Ball chose to pursue his dreams and travel the world as a competitive freeskier and coach, spending most of his time in Whistler, Canada and Wanaka, New Zealand. Today, he lives near Stockholm, Sweden and works full-time as a commercial airline pilot for Norwegian Airlines. But he still manages to shred the slopes during the winter and run trails year-round. He has appeared in numerous ski magazines, including the Telegraph Ski and Snowboard Magazine, and is sponsored by Vivobarefoot and Line Skis UK.

Greg: You grew up as a freeskier and more recently transitioned into running. Have you participated in any other sports?

Darryl: I have always been interested in a variety of sports. At school, I played rugby and squash. I also like kitesurfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding and longboarding. This year I hope to give Obstacle Course Racing and SwimRun a try!

Greg: What attracted you to running in the first place? Was there an adjustment period in moving from skiing to running? Have you noticed any similar movement patterns between the two sports?

Darryl: I used to run a bit for basic fitness maintenance even when I was skiing, especially between winter seasons, so it was a natural progression to start running regularly when I stopped doing ski seasons and began flight training. I needed to do something active every day, especially when I had been sitting in a classroom, and running suited me perfectly, both physically and psychologically. I started running more and more, until eventually running became my main activity.

I find that trail running has many similarities with skiing. Form is very important, that the centre of mass is always well balanced over the base of support. This is especially relevant when skiing or running steep slopes. Also the need to look ahead and resist the temptation that many people have to look at the ground directly ahead of them. This allows you to move with much better flow through the terrain, improving speed and effectiveness. It stimulates the body to feel the ground and use all of your senses. By using minimalist shoes from Vivobarefoot I can feel everything and my feet can function to their full ability.

I also like ski touring which, like trail running, requires endurance and strength. The sensation of escaping into nature and leaving the developed world behind is unbeatable!

Freeskier, trail runner and airline pilot Darryl Ball skiing Ekerö powder, Sweden
Darryl Ball skiing Ekerö powder, Sweden

Greg: You mentioned how running suited you “physically and psychologically.” How does running fit your psychology?

Darryl: Running provides a sensation of freedom through natural movement. I always feel refreshed and calm from spending time outdoors, whatever the conditions. Not only do I get stimulated by sunlight, but I also appreciate breaking away from the comfort of daily life when it’s dark, cold, rainy and/or windy, and a personal favorite is running in the snow. It’s through these extremes that I can expand my mind to try and optimize my own capabilities. When it’s time to knuckle down and get on with work it’s much easier to focus!

Greg: Did you start running in the minimalist shoes you use now or thick-soled/big-heeled shoes?

Darryl: I started off running with modern conventional shoes that squash the foot and provide too much cushioning, making it almost impossible to feel the ground and run efficiently. Combined with all those years in ski boots, I damaged and deformed my feet significantly! It was only when I started learning about natural running and using minimalist shoes that I realized that there is a better way to run efficiently and avoid injury. I went to barefoot clinics, walked barefoot as much as possible and made sure that my work shoes, casual shoes and training shoes are all minimalistic from Vivobarefoot.

I have also been using toe spreaders to accelerate the process and I’m happy to say that my feet are returning to their natural form and are far more functional! I wouldn’t say that the transition was difficult as my feet were strong, despite being deformed, but it definitely takes a lot of time and patience! Now when I run it’s almost like I’m hovering over the ground, gliding with almost no impact. My legs work faster and I can feel the surface below my feet, which is much more efficient, allows me to run faster and makes running even more enjoyable!

You earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering and work full-time as an airline pilot but you’ve also been a professional freeskier and coach. Is there any overlap in your approach to these seemingly different career paths?

I don’t have time to coach much these days, as my priorities have shifted more towards my family, but I am still getting lots of time on snow each year and I am on the Line Skis UK team. I wouldn’t say that my degree has any significance to my sporting interests, other than that (just like with all things in life) it takes a good attitude and dedication to be successful at something. Focus is very important. I would also say that skiing taught me to deal with stressful situations, manage risks and multitask effectively. All of these are important skills as a pilot! My coaching experience has also helped me work as a simulator instructor, developing newly employed cadets at Norwegian Airlines.

The pilot lifestyle allows me to work hard and play hard, and I make sure that I exploit every opportunity that I get to run and ski.

For more skiing and running photos, videos and training advice, follow Darryl on Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo, and check out his website