A short foray back into the mountains (Skiing)

Ski-mountaineering racing has, in the last few years, become for me the most exhilarating and addictive of sports, and each winter I have looked forward to more amazing races and further progression up a steep learning curve. Itís very different to competing in running races though. In almost every race I enter there is no chance of me getting close to the podium – I started skiing too late in life, and to do well at this sport you have to be able to train on skis for half of the year. You can get so far on running fitness, but the sport is so technical that you also need an enormous amount of time on snow to do well. So ambitions are more modest than in summer – doing well against my fellow Brits, and making personal progress; feeling more competent and inching closer to the leaders with each passing season.

This season has been different. With two major deadlines looming – a PhD write up and the birth of my second child, time away from family and the desk was going to be necessarily much reduced. This was how I ended up lining up for this weekendís TS-Millet race with no previous skiing in my legs since March (unless you count 3 hours in the rain on Cairngorm on a friendís stag-do!). Iíd chosen my race carefully; Iíd done the previous incarnation of this race twice before and knew that if the weather and conditions were good enough to run the full course itís amongst the most technical of races, with spectacular ridges, steep couloir descents and a whopping 4,500m of ascent over the two days of the race. Given that I was potentially only going to do one race in the season I decided to choose a good one! Iíd also got an interesting partner lined up in Fin Wild, the man who broke, and then returned to and obliterated, my Cuillin ridge record this summer. He was keen to get into ski-mountaineering racing and was planning a month in the Alps; Iíd never met him but figured we might have a lot in common.

The weekend ended up being a bit disappointing on some levels, but fun and satisfying on others. The weather was very bad – lots of fresh snow falling on strong winds equalled a high avalanche risk and much reduced courses for both Saturday and Sunday. Gone were the technical sections and airy ridge-running that I reckoned Fin and I might both quite enjoy, replaced by a short, safer course doing laps at a low level amongst the trees on Saturday, and a similarly safe but bigger and better course in the ski area of Sambuy on Sunday. Predictably, with so little skiing in my legs I was a massive limiting factor in our teamís performance – ascents felt brutal and any descent longer than a few minutes saw me having to stop and shake out my cramping legs before carrying on (the shame!). Still, I actually felt I performed better than first-outings in previous years, perhaps due to some ski-specific circuit training in the weeks before the race, and I came back to the flatlands with a long list of ideas for how to improve some more in the absence of snow and hills. I may get a couple more races this season; the Belgian championships in Berchtesgaden (Germany) on the 22nd of February and the British champs in Chamonix on the 9th of March. Whether or not I do them will depend on how likely an early arrival for mini-Tresidder number two is looking!

We ended up 42nd overall out of 150 teams, and weíd have been a fair bit higher up the field had I been able to keep up with Fin. That will have to wait til a season I can spend some more time in the mountains. Other Brits Ben and Carron were 23rd, nine minutes ahead of us overall, Misha Gopaul and Ben TIbbetts were 73rd and Stuart Johnston and Aly Swinton were 99th. Results here and movescount data for Saturday here and for Sunday here