For the last two winters I have spent the majority of my ski days touring or seeking out the powder in Chamonix. And as much as I love it, I have felt my general ski technique going backwards. Or at best I have hit that plateau that everyone talks about!
Several people have mentioned the benefits of race training as a way to improve your all round skiing skills, so after deliberating with the idea for a while, I decided to swap by Cham 97s for a pair of Dynastar Course Pro GS skis and give it a go.
Autumn seemed the natural time to spend five days on the piste, so on the last week of November I signed up for a ‘Race Carve’ course on the glacier in Tignes with Snoworks, a UK company run by experienced ski instructor Phil Smith and Winter Olympian Emma Carrick-Anderson.
With some apprehension I met my group on the expansive terrace at the top of the Tignes funicular, at just over 3000m. Tignes in November is a very different experience to the rest of the winter season. The early trains are packed with racers of all ages and their coaches eager to get to the slopes to perfect their skills, and for these five days we were in exactly the same boat.
As the group gazed up at the glacier littered with race gates, we were greeted by ex GB ski-racer, now instructor, Euan Gardiner who put our minds at rest about the week ahead of us. I had imagined being in a group of serious ski racers, but actually I found that the group consisted of people very much like me – passionate skiers who wanted to improve and had heard that rumour about race training making you a better skier!
Each of the five days of the training took a similar pattern – warm up drills first thing, examining the GS course than Euan had set for us, then having a go at skiing the gates combined with some free skiing. Skiing gates is actually pretty hard, and it took some time to get used to being back on piste and thinking about carving. After day one I didn’t feel I had progressed, but come day two and three, things started to click. Euan impressed on us the importance of the your outside foot (90% of your weight should be on the outside foot in a carved turn), turning above the gates and the position of your body and your hands (which tended to end up all over the place).
In autumn the ski days are comparatively short (we would normally head off the mountain about 2.30 or 3pm), but when you are in ‘training’ this length of time is just about right. It also meant we have lots of time for off-snow activities. As part of the Snoworks course we were able to join in circuits and basketball twice in the week in the new sports centre in Tignes, and ‘Le Lagon’ swimming pool was free to use as part of your lift pass – perfect for tired ski legs. One evening we also had a video feedback session which was invaluable in seeing what you were actually doing wrong (and right in some rare cases).
Although I have dreams of being able to ski like a pro racer, and for one week I felt like I lived like one, training everyday. But the reality is a five-day course won’t make that happen. What it did do for me, however, was to give me a real purpose and get my head back into using the skis and thinking about my timing and body position. Moreover, having a competitive element as part of the course made it fun and challenging.
I would recommend race training. It is perfect for getting back to basics and it has definitely set me up for the season ahead. I might even try and find a gate or two this winter…
Text by Betony Garner