Ursula Moore, newest member of the GB Ski mountaineering team gives us the low down her first big race.
As a ‘newbie’ to the sport of ski mountaineering racing this season, I couldn’t think of a better place to kick off my racing career than the world championships.
Well, actually I could. Before coming out to Vallouise this week, I have to admit to asking myself several times what I was doing. I wasn’t too sure how sensible I was being to take a hard fought week off not only to ski mostly uphill, rather than down, but also to attempt it with crowds of very experienced ski mountaineering racers. Was I going to be an embarrassment to team GB and their lovely lycra or was it really as Leanne promised – just great fun?
I arrived on the Saturday and immediately felt like one of the team with our perfectly pink matching Rab down jackets. Later on that evening, our team GB suits arrived and we all began to look the part (not that they didn’t all already!). I had spent the weeks leading up to the event on a mad dash to scrabble kit together for racing and now it had all come together the night before our first race – the excitement could begin to build.
On Sunday morning, the day of the team race, we headed out with mixed feelings. I had only met Gaby the day before but felt awful that she and Leanne wouldn’t be able to race due to the Welsh vomiting bug she had brought with her which held her in bed.
The morning was bitterly cold (-15 degrees) and I was reminded of my primary school science teaching – water freezes – when my drinking tube froze up in minutes. Error number 1! We ‘warmed up’ with several sprints back and forth before building up courage to de-coat, enter the women’s start area and wait for the go.
At the word, there was a huge surge off the start and carbon fibre poles and skis were flying everywhere. I did my utmost to pick a pair of skis to follow and stick with them as the field spread out and the fastest headed off up through the trees. I caught up with (with some strategic slowing on her behalf!) my team mate Janine and we headed off up the first 800m ascent. The climb was punctuated every 100m or so by smiling marshals and the encouraging shout of ‘allez, allez’. With several teams close behind us we started on the second ascent, going strong.
I still hadn’t managed to sort out my water and in the excitement had completely forgotten about trying to eat anything. I felt enormously relieved as we reached the top of the 2nd ascent having begun to believe it may never happen as I replaced my dislodged skin for the 2nd time in 10 minutes. Still, we were there, and so was a smiling Leanne, which picked me up ready for my favourite bit – the downhill!
Despite being split by a few more sneaky skins, making Janine the ‘uphill machine’ happy, the ski down was fantastic. Through beautiful wild terrain and not at all crowded, despite being a race course it was a great ‘mountain day out’. We reached the end of the final skate to see the Belgian team hot on our heels as we rushed to the finish line, adding a bit of last minute excitement before an eagerly anticipated lunch.
My week has followed in the vein of that first day and with each race I am gaining confidence in my skinning and am even eager to battle it out on the start line. Mostly though, I have met some fantastic people who I am really excited to ski with this season and the next in any race they will have me. Despite my trepidations, I would certainly recommend the sport and meeting the people who do it. If you think you might enjoy skiing uphill quickly then definitely – get involved!
Janine and I at the top of the 2nd skin. This is just after my attempts to emulate the best with an 11 second skis to pack manoeuvre – hopefully I can beat 2 minutes next time.
Smiles all round – this was before the race but I promise I was smiling after the race…well at least after the lunch.