21 Jan Why every skier should learn to ski race
Poised with skis delicately balanced on the ridge of the artificially hilly start, arms outstretched clasping poles ready to reach out and propel myself off the platform like a pro, my heart is fluttering with nerves.
Bleep. Bleep. A change in tone - Bleeeep.
I react with the impulses of a keen rookie and race towards the first slalom gate. I must remember – turn before the gate. Too late! I dig in with my lower edge and attempt to lean into the gate, already considering the next one. My mind is committed. My body is not. Pressure on the lower ski. Lean forward. It feels fast, but considerably clunky. Another gate. Doh – too soon. And another. Too close together! 30 seconds goes by and I cross the finish line. One look at the instructor's face and it's clear ‘clunky' was a fair self-assessment. But he's encouraging nonetheless and breaks down the constructive feedback piece by piece.
Our ‘Learn to ski race' masterclass on test
It turns out this was to be the first run of many in our programme to test out our new ‘Learn to Ski Race Masterclass' with none other than Alain Baxter, available to guests on w/c March 20th 2016. Unfortunately Alain was recuperating from breaking his ribs in another competition so we were under the training of Geraldine Petit, a petite French racer who has competed on the World Cup circuit for many years and is well positioned to advise on the art of ski racing like a professional.
What I hadn't anticipated was how difficult it would be to tackle the same turn in the same place over and over again. It occurred to me that in 30 years of skiing, I had never done this before! Even if you pound the same piste time and time over, you never take the same line twice. The mere pressure of following the same course while replaying the latest top tips in your head is surprisingly effective.
What's more who would have thought that breathing could have anything to do with ski racing? It turns out that yoga could be useful for skiing after all! Geraldine explains how before a race you should pause to take deep slow breaths and then jump to quick sharp intakes just before the start using every breath exhale as you take each gate and inhale as you turn to take the next one. Or at least that's what I thought she said…
What top tips did I learn?
- You've got to separate your upper body from your lower body – this wasn't immediately obvious but effectively it's about treating your upper body and lower body differently. We've all heard the ‘face your body down the mountain' – this is effectively the same guidance. We just got drilled more and it turns out that this is much better than being told and just following the snake. Meanwhile your legs do all the work and you have to let them by reducing the movement in your body itself.
- 100% weight on bottom ski – when you're skiing normally down a piste you wouldn't need to be as rigorous but when you're racing it's imperative to put 100% of your weight on your bottom ski or else you slide through your turns and lose vital time on every corner. It's also much better technique and helps you to carve through each turn.
- Standing up through the turn – transitioning from bent knee to straight and back down again really does help you turn more quickly and more easily. It also helps to get into a rhythm. I found that exaggerating the movement made all the difference.
The truth is I have been taught most of the above before and weight forward featured heavily too, but the hands-on coaching and specific guidance including video replays helps you to join the dots and connect it in your mind in a way you might not have previously.
The Verdict: why should anyone learn to ski race?
We only did a taster of the ‘learn to ski race' programme but in one day I can honestly say my skiing improved more than it has in years. In the days after the masterclass, I felt super stylish and totally in control – the tips rolling through my head as I tackled each piste at pace.
I may not intend to sign up for the British Olympic team (as if they'd have me!) but I do at least feel confident that those looking down at me from the chairlift should do so with an appraising nod. And above all – it was truly great fun to experience a proper race course and proof that an old dog can learn new tricks.
Our ‘Learn to ski race masterclass' with Alain Baxter is available on w/c 20th March 2016, staying in Chalet Mistral. Guests will enjoy a six day itinerary which comprises coaching and time out for free skiing, coupled with the usual luxury Le Chardon fine dining and accommodation experience. Note: it is possible to opt in and out of the ski racing programme to accommodate mixed ability couples and groups. Find out more
‘Learn to Ski Race' Reviews
Financial Times – “My first run feels unbelievably fast, the blue and red gates rushing past…” Read the full review
City AM – “We started with an invigorating dash down the notorious Face de Bellevarde course which had been helpfully injected with water on a daily basis ahead of the famous Criterium de la Premiere Neige event to ensure that glass-like racing surface.” Read the full review
Planet Ski – “Here I am, standing in the starting gate of a giant slalom course, channelling my inner Lindsey Vonn. I am here because a luxury chalet company is promoting what I believe is the opportunity of a lifetime.” Read the full review