Thursday, 25 October 2012
In less than 48 hours the Ski World Cup tour will open with a bang in Soelden. Historically this has been a great race for me. It is tough, icy and foreboding. It is where I made history a few years ago - becoming the only British skier to ever win a run in World Cup. That was the day I started to really believe I could win. The day the rest of the world stopped seeing me as a smiley, friendly racer from unsnowy GB but as a threat! So it may surprise you now when I tell you that this year I won’t be starting.
There are numerous reasons for this.
First and foremost GS hasn’t yet clicked for me, as speed has. A combination of the new equipment and the harsh on/off pressure on my leg means that I am inconsistent - sometimes fast, sometimes slow. I have restricted the number of GS days in training I have done over the last 4 months so that my leg eases in to the demands and forces of ski races. In doing so, I have prioritised the speed disciplines - the longer the turn, the more constant the pressure and the less stress on my metal tibia. My downhill is proving to be my best discipline right now - my equipment set up is working fantastically (thanks to all at Atomic) and my feelings on the flats are night and day better than they were before I crashed (mainly thanks to Claire at The Third Space who stripped me back to my physical foundations last year and addressed all the reasons I wasn’t fast on the flats!)
Also I have had enough time away over the last few years to learn about my professional self. I looked long and hard at my results and there was a pattern to my performances, strong early season, strong end with a big dip February. Bearing in mind February is always the month of our most important races (Schladming World Champs 2013, Sochi Olympic Games 2014) it is my aim to change this. By not racing Soelden I am delaying the start to my year and I’m hopeful for a peak in my results come February. Being race ready for Soelden is always a tough one since we have almost a month off racing afterwards, for more training before the World Cup season ‘proper’ begins (and by proper I mean almost every weekend until April!) In past years with good performances at Soelden I have been gagging for the grueling week in week out schedule - harnessing this excitement for a month is tough.
I know it is not ideal. And it will be with sadness and jealousy that I watch the race this Saturday but I have to try something new. I want to be fast when I race. But more than that I want to give myself every opportunity to peak for the biggest goal of my sporting career in 2014.
Monday, 8 October 2012
A little investigation on Facebook recently (that font of all information!) has given me the feeling that change is coming. People back home in the UK are starting to shift their summer clothes back up to the loft and dust off their winter boots. Along with that goes a whole lot of deep sighing and pessimism about the beginning of the snow season. Boo, summer’s over, the weather’s rubbish and there’s another long boring British winter ahead, etc etc. That sort of attitude.
But hey, it’s not all bad! Seriously! There’s plenty of fun to be had in the winter months if you can embrace the awesome fun of skiing.
I would say that, wouldn’t I, because my sole aim is to spread the passion I have for skiing. I admit I am biased – and unashamedly so! – because skiing is the best sport in the world.
On the other hand… Mr Anti Freeze, snowing’s greatest critic, holds a lot of sway these days. Here’s how I’d imagine our great debate would run…
Skiing is like seafood for some people
Mr Anti-Freeze, the snow hater says: “I have never been skiing. In fact the idea of skiing fills me with dread – it’s my worst nightmare.”
To which my devil’s advocate would reply: “Have you ever tried it? Or are these gremlins you have imposed on yourself without reason?
“I used to think I hated fish – all fish, I pretended it made me feel icky. For years I turned my nose up at it. Eventually I was in a situation where I was forced to try it and I realised I had been MISSING OUT – I had planted this seed myself. Once planted it had manifested into something I believed in wholeheartedly. How do you know you don’t like something if you have never tried it?”
Mr Anti-Freeze contemplates this response, but remembers he has his reasons. “Well I hate snow – and I despise the cold,” he grumbles.
Snow means cold! Forget you and forget that, too!
Well, I’m a ski lover so I’m not buying into Mr AF’s problem. I’d say: “You know what? The fresh cold air can bring life and energy to our bodies. Fair enough, in some cirumstances the cold can be quite uncomfortable – like at our December race at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. It has been known to reach minus 38 degrees C! Visitors can choose not to ski – but for competitors, if the race is ON we have no option. All we wear is thin lycra and tape every inch of our face to prevent frostbite! However – this is a ONE off! Unusual.
In Europe, December and January can be a bit blustery. If you don’t want to wrap up in lots of cosy, cashmere-esque layers and stop for yummy hot chocolates every other run, then don’t fear I have a solution! Easter skiing! It’s ideal- you even tan (although be weary of the being ridiculed on return for your panda eyes – goggle tan) whilst skiing! And après ski often results in several more confident (inebriated possibly) skiers stripping down to their bikinis to get much needed vitamin D.
A holiday with physical activity isn’t a holiday!
Maybe Mr Anti-Freeze is starting to warm to my argument and feel less frosty towards ski holidays, but he still has one BIG issue. Despite being a regular gym member, he likes to save his holidays for chilling out – but in the sun, by the pool.
“Exercising on holiday? You HAVE got to be KIDDING! I work hard in the office so I can go on holiday to veg and to do nothing,” he says.
Strangely enough I understand. “Well yes, Mr Anti-Freeze, I actually agree with this one. I also love a good, warm relaxing holiday – although for me I spend every second on the beach searching out some activity, game or distraction. But I get it – for most people it is a decision – lazy sun or active ski.”
I like my beach holidays and don’t want to risk a change – what if skiing’s rubbish?
Well Mr Anti-Freeze, I have a challenge for you.
I know you and Mrs Anti-Freeze work hard to pay the mortgage, to support your family. You save some money and go on a quality beach holiday – you deserve it and you need it. You rest and sleep and eat and read and tan. But I bet you come home looking lobster red and carrying a few extra pounds and wonder where all the time went. And that’s actually pretty nice for a holiday, but maybe lacks a bit of excitement.
Imagine instead, next year, you go on a ski holiday instead. Just a week. You could get a great instructor to teach you this bizarre and exhilarating new skill. You might realise in fact that it’s the first time you’ve learned something new since you passed your driving test! Picture yourselves resting your weary legs in the hot tub outside the hotel overlooking the magical mountain looking back at aday of achievement. Indulge in a hearty dinner, knowing the calories will be burned off on the slopes the next day.
Every day you’ll see progress, moving from bunny slopes to red runs and chairlift rides and gondolas. It’ll be so satisfying to see how quickly you improve, and the technology makes it so much easier to ski now. By the last day you’ll be proudly reminisce about how amazing the week has been, cheeks flushed in the crisp mountain air, muscles toned from the exercise. Maybe you’ll plan a beach holiday for next year… or maybe, you’ll skip it and go skiing instead, saving a long weekend or two for sun, sea and sand!
I wonder if Mr Anti-Freeze will change his mind?
Also published on http://blog.monarch.co.uk
Friday, 5 October 2012
As ambassador for Monarch, I want to encourage everyone to fight their fear and get out on their skis.
Skiing is a sport that can be thrilling, exciting and scary. With so many benefits, don’t let fear stand in the way of experiencing this exhilarating sport.
Lots of people think they have missed the boat to try this fabulous sport of skiing – they may think they are too old, not fit enough or might get hurt. And yes there is a chance that could happen. But age – that is just an excuse – technology has advanced so greatly that the new skis make it easy to learn!
Last year I helped teach a 78 year old man ski for the first time – he is now almost a pro! He has non-skiing children but fanatical grand kids whose passion to learn to ski was somewhat problematic with their parents, so this grandad decided to face his fears, step up to the plate and take one for the team. The grandfather now takes his kids’ kids on a ski holiday every year!
Not sure if you’re fit enough? Well that is all about preparation before you go – the fitter you are, the more you will get out of your holiday. Worried that you’re injury prone? When I was injured, I tested my personal boundaries that day and I pushed it too far but that is how we learn, we evolve and improve as human beings. You’ll learn your own limits in no time and you’ll build your confidence with lessons and experience.
The dreaded cold
Think you are too much of a hot weather person to enjoy a ski holiday – think again! The cold in the mountains feels fresh – it gives your cheeks a healthy glow and the rest of your body is cosy, wrapped up in layers and your feet. You can even have mini electric blankets added to your ski boots so you have toasty feet! If all this doesn’t help you can nip into a quaint mountain hut and grab a hot chocolate (or a few gluhweins – safety first though – don’t forget you have to ski down afterwards!)
Basically I am urging you not to be scared off skiing by fear. Embrace it, accept it, BUT please don’t let it put you off trying it.
Where I started
I was 18 months old when I skied for the first time. I would love to say I fell in love with the sport from that first day but truthfully I can’t remember it. But I do remember WINNING! Yes, my first memory in life was winning a teddy bear with a medal round its neck in my first race when I was just three years old.
I originally took up the sport because my brothers, 4 and 8 years older loved it and I thought they were ‘cool’ so I copied them at most things. That day I raced was MY day – I remember feeling free, no one nagging me, no one telling me what to do – I was controlling my destiny! That sense of freedom, especially at that young an age can be quite addictive and it is still a huge driving force in my snowy career.
Don’t get me wrong though or put me on some kind of ski pedestal – despite doing this for almost 3 decades, there are still ups and downs, sacrifices and rewards.
How I deal with fear
Sometimes the things you worry about the most are actually the things that cause you the least problems. Take the emotion that causes us as human being’s the most sleepless nights – FEAR. For me there has been a lot of chat with respect to my comeback to skiing about this dreaded fear – journalists awkwardly trying to re-phrase the question “Won’t you be scared? How will you handle it?” Well to be honest skiing to me is as normal an activity as walking is to most people. There has been a gaping hole in my life for the months I was forced off the slopes.
Having welcomed turning 30 this summer and knowing that, yes I started walking 29 years ago, but I also started skiing 28 1/2 years ago gave me the confidence to know that despite the time off, I would not come back rusty. Skiing is actually a very natural sport (if you ignore crushing your feet into far too small plastic boots and squeezing your body into a lycra all-in-one!) gravity pulls you downhill; all you need to do is aim your skis in the right directions and you will fly.
Well, yes, I am aware I am simplifying this very technical sport greatly and yes, at the World Cup level it is possibly one of the most complex sports in the world in terms of how to be one hundredths of a second faster than your peers. Essentially I have found from personal experience I ski best when I simplify things – over-thinking what we do, how we do it – that is very dangerous and has resulted in many a career hurtling on a downward spiral!
So back to fear. Simply – that first time I skied since my accident – well, I just shut the door on it. No, thank you, NOT today! Today is just about me being back to doing what I love doing.
Maybe just maybe making the brave (somewhat crazy some may say) decision to aim for my first World Cup race on the very piste that tried (and failed) to end my career almost 2 years ago is a bizarre decision. And maybe, maybe on November the 29th when I go to sleep before that first race fear will come knocking once again at my door….
Who knows? But all I can do is be prepared for it and once again try and force it away!
If you’re keen to give skiing a go, visit the Monarch ski site to browse flights and other useful information!
Also published on http://blog.monarch.co.uk