By Peter Davies
Dry slope ski racing has been a big part of my life and has given me many opportunities so far. I joined Aldershot Ski Race Club when I was eight years-old. Over the years I have competed in regional, national and international competitions on the circuit.
I took a good four year break from competing properly while I was still at university. In all honesty, I think I just needed a break from it all and focus on my Sport Journalism degree at Southampton Solent University.
Straight after I graduated last year, I was offered an internship at the Telegraph Ski and Snowboard Magazine. This was a big deal for me. To get an opportunity like this straight away was amazing and I learnt so much during my six months there. Unfortunately, like many media outlets at the moment, they couldn’t take me on full time.
Now while I look for another job in the industry, I have decided to invest in some new ski boots and skis and give dry slope ski racing another crack!
Before I talk about my first race back, I realise some of you might not know what on earth I’m talking about. So I’ve decided to explain a few basic things.
What is a dry slope?
A dry slope is basically a hill or ramp that is covered in a carpet surface called Dendex. This surface is made up of hexagon holes made of plastic bristles. This means we can ski outdoors in the UK. Slopes are generally short but the terrain can vary with different locations. The Dendex material is really abrasive which means if you crash you’ll have some sort of road rash or injury to show for it.
Dry slope racing explained
Slalom is the main discipline on dry slope due to the short nature of the slopes. Slalom is the slowest but most technical of all the disciplines in alpine skiing. Different races have different formats but the main gist is that we time ourselves through a slalom course to see who’s fastest.
The basic ‘lingo’
To make the timing system start in skiing we have a specially designed start mechanism. It’s a plastic wand that sits in front of the skiers shins; so when we push through it starts the time.
Gates are a point of reference for when we have to turn in a course. In slalom they are spring loaded tall pieces of plastic that you’ll see in pictures being hit by skiers. The reason why skiers hit them is that they’re trying to get the best racing line.
Offset is how wide a gate is set in a course. So if there’s a big offset it basically means that the skier will have to make a wide turn.
Verticali or vertical
A verticali or vertical are three or more gates set in a straight line. This will be mainly the fastest part of most courses and the skier has to move his feet quickly to get around these type of gates.
Similar to a verticali but instead there’s only two gates set in a straight line. So it’s only two quick turns the skier has to make.
A chance for racers to look at the course together before the timed runs. People will use this to think tactically and visualise how they’ll ski the course. On the national circuit you can’t ski the course before you compete.
So that’s the main lingo I’ll explain for now. There are other terms I can explain but I can talk about those in the future. Below are a couple of videos I’ve made in the past that can give more context.
Saturday 16th April: Pembrey Snowsport South Club National
Even though I’ve been racing on the dry slope circuit for a long time, it was my first visit to the Pembrey ski slope. The slope is near the Welsh coast and the views from the top of the slope are incredible. It was definitely worth the four hour drive up just for the view alone, but it was the skiing I was there for.
The format was two runs added together through two different courses. If you fail to finish or complete any of the course your result wouldn’t count. It’s mad to think I travelled four hours just for two small runs but that’s the nature of dry slope skiing.
After course inspection of the first course I noticed that there wasn’t much room at the top to attack. There were two big offset gates going straight into a hairpin on a bump, so it was important to get tight to the gate rather than full on attack at the top. The rest of the course flowed reasonably well.
After watching my sister Jenny ski in the female race, it was now my turn to race. I was bib 17 which was outside the top 15 draw (top 15 ranked skiers for each race get drawn randomly in order). I haven’t raced properly for nearly four years so my points have gone up dramatically meaning my ranking at this moment in time isn’t where it should be.
I was in the start gate and I could sense my teammates and the other top 15 skiers watching me from the top of the slope. It didn’t bother me. I think it’s the fact I’ve been racing for so long that my nerves don’t kick in so violently as they use to. I can somehow switch off all my thoughts; almost like radio silence in my head (some would argue that happens all the time anyway!).
I carefully placed my skis in the start. Clipped into my bindings and I was ready to race. The start official gave me the all clear to go so I thrusted through the start wand but for whatever reason I didn’t put in as many pushes as I would like to. My run felt smooth but not particularly fast as I went down (you’ll notice I’m always hyper critical of my runs, even if they’re not that bad!).
I got to the bottom of the slope and I heard that I took the lead but knew it wouldn’t be for long. After I finished watching the rest of the pack, I found out I was lying in 9th position overall and 1st in my age category. I knew with more aggression I could possibly move up a few places.
The last course was a lot straighter at the top which meant you could attack the top more comfortably. However, parts of the course were set diagonally across the slope. This meant most of the speed was bled across the hill. As a result the second run times were much slower.
As I was queuing up for my second run I noticed some of my team mates had a touch of nerves in their faces. There’s a lot of talented young skiers at Aldershot and for some of them it was the first time they’ve been in a high position in the overall standings. I’m also part of the coaching team at Aldershot so I’ve started to notice small nuances like this a lot more recently. I wished them all good luck and started to focus on my own race.
When I left the starting wand this time I was a lot happier with the way I attacked the top section of the course. On my way down however, I could feel my weight being pulled back by the bumpy terrain, causing me to take each turn later and later. I felt like I was on the verge of not completing the course, alarm bells were ringing in my head, but I managed to sneak through and finish the course.
I was happy to finish and my time was respectable. Not fast but wasn’t sluggish. I stood at the bottom to watch the rest of the race. Some of my team mates held their nerves others let it get to them and crashed out. Some impressive performances by a lot of the team but I think everybody would agree there is a lot to work on throughout the season.
Final results came in and I found out that I retained my 9th overall position and I had won my age group. For the first race of the season I was happy with my performance and I learnt a lot to take into training. I’m starting to get the enjoyment factor back into my racing and I hope I continue with this feeling all year.
Next national race I’m heading to is in Norwich on the 30th April.
Full results here: Pembrey CN results