No snow? No Problem
Welcoming still a fairly new member to the Ski Club, Joe Troman takes a look at the grassroots of British competitive skiing and one athlete’s progression from wire carpets to World Cups…
For a small and relatively flat nation not well known for its ski culture, Great Britain punches well above its weight on the world’s stage. But in a country where there is only 15.6 snowy days a year, how do our elite athletes go from childhood daydreams to Olympic podiums?
Dendix, the most widely used dry slope surface, is a material which UK ski racers will be all too familiar with. At high speeds it’s not the most forgiving thing to ski on, with the criss-cross of damp bristles often behaving unpredictably. Falling on this harsh material is not a pleasant feeling – speaking from experience. Perhaps it is the unforgiving nature of dry slope skiing that is responsible for the consistent stream of canny ski racers emerging from our tiny isle?
Many household names honed their gate dodging skills on carpet. Olympians Graham Bell and Chemmy Alcott both raced on dry slope from a young age. Graham originally learnt to ski at Midlothian Snowsports Centre (formerly Hillend) in Edinburgh, the UK’s largest artificial slope, and he isn’t alone. Recent World Cup success story and fellow Olympian Dave Ryding recalls when he first clipped in to his skis:
“When I was six years old my father Carl, a ski-mad lifelong enthusiast, encouraged me to take lessons at the local dry ski slopes near our home – so I joined Pendle Ski Club.”
Pendle Ski Slope
As an incentive, Dave’s parents promised to take him skiing in the Alps if he progressed enough. He took to sliding down snow like a fish to water and soon was working his way up to the national squad. Fast forward 20 odd years, countless training sessions, 7 national slalom titles and 2 Olympic appearances to the first FIS World Cup Slalom race of the 2016/17 season in Levi, Austria. Dave placed a career best of 6th and looks to be on great form heading in to the season having just placed 7th in his most recent outing in Zagreb. Not bad for a kid who learnt to ski on a strip of bristles in Lancashire!
Whilst Dave “The Rocket” Ryding may have stolen the headlines recently, there has been plenty to talk about throughout the British Ski and Snowboard squad. Young guns like Charlie Raposo and Alex Tilley are coming through from the junior ranks and on to the world cup circuit, keep an eye out for them over the next few seasons in the lead up to Peyongchang 2018, where they both hope to compete.
All-weather dry slope facilities offer great value for money all year round and they are perfect for everyone from the total beginner right through to advanced skiers looking to give racing a go.
Since dry slopes started popping up in Britain around half a century ago they have not progressed greatly. The most notable revolution in the UK snowsports scene in recent memory has been the introduction of snow domes, and with it has come a new generation of young British snowsports athletes, the self-titled “Fridge Kids”.
But that’s for next time…
Make sure you check out the Ski Club’s guide to skiing in the UK to find out how you can best make use of one of the many artificial slopes across the country.