Well well, why on earth did I do that? And by that, I mean enter a ski race on a whim after having barely seen a rapid gate let alone ski through any for almost 19 years!
I tell you why, because i'm a bit daft, that's why. But I did it, I entered the Telford Club National event at Chilfactore in Manchester and sat back, and then I thought about it. I thought what will it be like, what will I do, what about preparation? Well not a lot if truth be told, work, a far more pressing priority once life progresses, took over and I was resigned to the fact that I would just have to go and see what happened.
So what did happen? Well, there were a lot of young people there that was the first thing I noticed, the majority of whom were younger than my 25 year old race boots, which were a bit split and difficult to get on, man they're stiff! And these skis with sidecuts, what's that all about? I had managed to acquire a pair of volkl P60 slalom skis a few years ago, not race stock but they turn well enough and are fun to ski on.
The race itself was interesting. I was starting at the back of the field, obviously, my points had slipped to the bottom of the list a number of years ago, in fact i'd only just re-registered for this race so i'm not sure I have any any more. Course Inspection was a thing, whilst in my head I was like 'I can do this, no worries' I was a bit shakey on the kit and despite three inspections (I used to be able to scope out a course from the lift in the old days) I couldn't really visualise how to ski the course.
Mainly because, I didn't know how my turns would go on these skis through gates.
So in the end I was like, i'll just have to see what happens. Aah, the value of training, when I was a lad racing it was never really a consideration as that's all you'd focused on and all you'd trained for, you knew how to ski the course and it was mainly ruts that would be the main unknown factor depending on where you were on the start list, that would affect that. This time it was lack of prep.
And winning, even if you didn't think realistically you could, was all that would be on your mind, again dependent on your start number, and if you didn't, which rarely you did given the changing nature of the sport, you just dealt with it. But on this occasion I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen.
In the start, still no idea, just gonna have to go for it as some of these kids are darned fast! So I did, pushed like crazy and the rest was a blur until I reached the last few gates where I started to get into it and was cruising, and thoroughly enjoying it!
I did ok, I finished, in a respectable time, with mistakes, but these carvy ski things kinda let you get away with quite a bit, I think back in the day I would either have come to a near grinding halt at one point or blown out, but these skis sure help where that's concerned. Overall I was content, a bit relieved, and actually leading the masters section even if only by a few hundredths. Which was nice
The 2nd run followed much the same pattern, no clue how it was gonna go, pushed like mad out the start, a bit sketchy on way down, relaxed into it by the end but at least finished and a bit faster, just increasing my lead slightly in the masters section, which was good, though no nearer to the top boys if i'm honest. Although I was bit surprised by the reversing the start list for 2nd run, which you think would help, though i'm not sure it did realistically, the best guys were still fast, the swines.
The day was finished off with a bit of a fun GS run, times given but not recorded, which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt I could throw myself into that a bit more, and, even though a different discipline I was getting better with each run. Slowly.
So will I race again? for sure. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and it was great to get back and do a bit of a race again, though i'd definitely prefer the chance to get to run a few gates in prep just so I knew what was going on under my feet.
Like I say these carving skis are great fun but they do different stuff, and actually let you get away with quite a bit more, but if you're good then it also means you can get that much more out of them, and i'm quite intrigued to see what I can get out of them in terms being able to be in the start and having some confidence about what i'm about to undertake, you know, see how far I can push it. Even at this age!
On a final note I found the prize giving quite telling, there were loads of young kids (U12's) there which was great to see, we've got a whole load coming through up at the Plas y Brenin ski slope as a part of the North Wales Snowsport program getting youngsters into the sport, which was the main reason for me taking part so I can see where the sport is up to and what's going on; there were some great U16's, U18's and the race was won by some of the U21's, but what surprised me was that were only a handful of seniors (21 – 30's), in fact there were more in the masters category, which I won by the way :).
I was a little surprised by this, but also a bit concerned. Like I say there were some great skiers, in fact some of the better skiers ranked in the UK were there, and the youngsters were great, but I hope it hasn't just become a young persons sport, because it shouldn't be, and certainly not in the UK.
I know there is a lot of pressure for results at the top from BOA etc. but skiing is an amazing sport, and racing is ace, and it's not all about winning, because you can't won't and don't win all the time. Not even the great champions of our times Stenmark, Tomba, et al, they all had their good and bad days and seasons. For me I used to race because I loved it so much, I wanted to get to the Olympics (didn't quite make it by the way) but I was under no illusion i'd ever be an Olympic champion if I did, Alan (Baxter)'s been the nearest we've gotten to that in Alpine racing.
So in short, what i'm saying is, don't give up, get your skis on and get racing! The Manchester event, though run by the Telford club, was an amazing day, with loads of people skiing well and to be fair I thought it was actually good value for money to be able to ski all day and get the races for £28, I though that was good value indeed.
And if there's any masters (30+) out there fancying a bit of a challenge, get your skis on, we'll be waiting for you, I'm throwing down the gauntlet, if you think you can handle it!