When Alannah Yip of Vancouver began a study-abroad program in Switzerland two years ago, she contacted Urs Stöcker, head coach of the Swiss climbing team, through “a friend of a friend.” In what she would later refer to as the best seven months of her life, she trained with the team, made a lot of friends, and “got a lot stronger.”
“I got to train with people like Petra Klinger, Rebekka Stotz and Natalie Bärtschi,” she says. “Just getting to train with a bunch of strong girls was awesome. It was really inspiring to see how strong they are, but also that I could keep up. I realized I could do this. I just needed to get a little stronger. I needed to commit.”
Bärtschi invited Yip along on a four-week trip to Rocklands, where the Canadian visitor sent her first two V10s.
Having previously taken a year off climbing to focus on her engineering studies, Yip switched her sport back to the center in her life, came home and entered Nationals, qualified for the World Cup, and embarked upon the full circuit of events and travel. This year she became the first Canadian woman ever to make a WC finals field, in Chongqing, China.
We spoke to her at the GoPro Mountain Games, in Vail, Colorado, in June. Yip, 23, was disappointed not to have passed through qualifiers, but spoke fluidly and precisely about coping, mindset … and mechatronics.
Q&A with Alannah Yip
How was the World Cup today?
The boulders were really hard. I was confident coming in. I felt like I had prepared well, was rested and relaxed, had done everything I should have. It was just a hard set of boulders and unfortunately not my style. I just wasn’t strong enough today.
What is not your style and what is?
I’m fairly well-rounded but not the best at large open-handed slopers. That straight-up mantel [was] probably the weakest move I have.
I’m not necessarily outstanding at any one thing. I’m pretty good at reading problems, and at pinches … [Laughs] It’s a lot easier for me to think of things I’m not so good at.
What is your approach, in attitude?
We’ve worked, our whole [local] team, on competition mindset and how to bring your mindset back to center if something doesn’t go the way you want it to. I don’t let one thing snowball my emotions. But that didn’t come easily. I was a little stress case when I was a kid.
So how’d you do it?
A lot of it was growing up and becoming more in control of my emotions. And realizing that this competition is never the be-all, end-all … and that life goes on after an event or a round. I’m no less of a person. My friends and family won’t love me any less just because I screw up one competition. [Laughs] Maybe two competitions.
What are you studying at the University of British Columbia?
Mechanical engineering is my degree, and I’m specializing in mechatronics, a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering, and you do a lot of work in robotics and industrial automation and control systems.
I like logical thinking. I like physics. I think robotics is the way of the future.
How would you describe your character?
Fairly introverted. [Laughs] It freaks me out meeting too many new people. I’m trying to get better at it.
How do you as an athlete cope with disappointment?
By moving on, moving forward, making sure I reflect on the competition. I take it as a learning opportunity for what movements I need to work on.
Anything else that is important to your climbing?
As a kid I was never the best. I was always chasing other, stronger kids, especially Elise Sethna and a couple other girls in Canada.
That has always inspired me to train harder and push harder because I’d like to be the best but I never was before. I still like to have people I’m chasing, but now it’s Miho and Shauna.
— 5th place – Chongqing World Cup, China, 2017
— Canadian National Boulder and Lead Champion, 2016 and 2017
— 7th place overall, 16th bouldering – World Championships, Paris, 2016
— Three V10s: Caroline and No Late Tenders, Rocklands, South Africa, 2015; and Detour, the Boulderfields, Canada, 2016
— Flashed Zanzibar (V7) and Un Petit Hueco Dans Rocklands (V8), Rocklands, 2015
This interview with Alannah Yip appeared in Rock and Ice issue 245 (October 2017).
Feature image by Annette Cheung.