Countries weren’t exactly fighting over themselves to host this biannual event but in the end France picked up the baton. Vallouise, a charming village at 1100m, (near Ailefroide- popular climbing spot and access point for the Barre des Ecrins) did a great job of welcoming 23 nations for the week. Countries from as far away as USA, Canada, South Korea and Japan were represented as well as most European nations.
Although the standard of competition was fierce it was a friendly atmosphere with no hint of skulduggery.
Sunday was the team race, finishing at the above church to the clamour of both cowbells (traditional skimo noise) and church bells. The French won both the men’s and women’s race. To say we were competing was technically correct but also implies we were in the same league of fitness and ski ability as those near the front. Not so. Nonetheless we were proud to have 4 men’s teams and 2 women’s teams, our biggest turnout ever. Unfortunately illness and injury hit hard that morning so Ivor Ligertwood was forced to pull out (frustrating for him and team mate Chris Barnes), Gaby Lees was struck down with a virus (again preventing Leanne from competing) and Jon Bracey was unable to race (substituted by Paul Cornforth)
Men (left to right) Ben, Es, me, Carron, Ivor, Kirk. Women (left to right) Ursula, Janine, Leanne. Missing team members Jon Bracey, Gaby Lees, Paul Cornforth, Chris Barnes and Dan Gay.
In the mens Carron Scrimgeour teamed up with Ben Bardsley. They were ahead of me and Es Tressider by a good minute until the top of the big second climb. Carron (current British Skimo champion) prefers his shorter faster races, whereas I always prefer something longer. This race was billed at 2300m of climb as below, but the Suunto Ambit- training tool of choice for me, Ben and Es- confirmed more like 2600m, which was in my favour
In the end Es and I finished 24th in 3h 19m and Ben and Carron 25th in 3h 26m with Kirk Wadsworth and Paul Cornforth (in his first International race) in 32nd 4h 33m. Acclimatisation probably played a part too- Es and I had been high for the week before, whereas Ben and Carron were grafting in Keswick and Sallanches. In the women’s race Ursula and Janine finished 11th in 4h 26 min.
Next up was the Sprint Race on the Monday. It took a degree of focus to ignore the 60cm of fresh snow that fell overnight and concentrate on a race up a piste. Skimo is being presented again to the International Olympic Committee and in May we will hear- if they are successful then the Sprint will be the discipline most likely to become the one to appear in the Olympics. In 2006 they had a proposal rejected as the individual course that was being scrutinised had to be cancelled due to an avalanche! A sprint race is sanitised and resort based- ie safe and good for spectators as you can see the whole course from one vantage point
Es and Ben battling hard in the time trial Sprint Race, on the mandatory portage section
All 7 Brits were eliminated in the opening round (not our specialty..) with times varying from 3m 35sec to 5m 11sec. The winner of the men’s race managed 2m 32 and the final was thrilling to watch- a masterclass in not just skinning and skiing but also the transitions. I thought 20 seconds was quick but the Gold Medallist Joseph Rottmoser can remove both skins, adjust both boots and both bindings and set off again in 9 seconds.. hmmm.
Wednesday was the Individual Race which for many was the event they were most looking forward to. All the pre-race concerns of who might race etc melted away as, with Jon Bracey ill, the four quickest in the team race entered as individuals. Carron came through the strongest after initially chasing Es on the climbs, with Ben not far behind Es.
I was frustrated to discover on the first descent that my carbon fibre boot was broken so I was unable to clip into downhill mode and hence avoiding multiple falls was not possible for me in the very deep snow on skinny skis. In the end the men were all placed between 48th and 54th. The women also had a good race with Janine finishing 29th, and Leanne and Ursula being closely matched in 38th and 39th places.
Wednesday was the Vertical Race- simple format and no requirement to be able to ski at all. 610m of vertical height gain on your skis with skins on, up a piste.
Seeded first row with Kilian Jornet and his mates. Note everyone is wearing either the awesome Scarpa Alien boots (approx. 700g per foot) or Pierre Gignoux carbon boots (like the ones I broke the day before) which are even lighter and reassuringly expensive but not 100% reliable (think Formula 1 race car- ultra performant but they break).
Kilian dominated from the outset extending a lead from the gun and keeping it all the way to the finish in a mere 25 mins- do the maths- elite performance on a pretty flat course (ie hard to gain height quickly). In the womens race Laetitia Roux of France won her second Gold Medal of the Championships cementing her reputation as the best all round female athlete of the Championships.
The fittest skimo racer of them all powering his way to another Gold Medal in the Vertical Race. Blonde spectator enjoying his VPL.
For the GB men Ben was the highest placed at 44th, followed by Es, Carron and Kirk. Janine was the highest placed for the GB women finishing 30th, with Ursula hot on her heels in 31st.
The atmosphere was fun in the evening and local fireworks to drums were great to watch and listen to. The bar was packed that evenng, mainly with rowdy fun-loving Italians but most other nations too, though soft drinks were popular as the final event of the Friday was the Relay in the morning
Es being scrutinised by the officials in the Relay race
The strongest nations in the both male and female race were France, Italy and Switzerland. The Italians looked unbeatable but in the end the Swiss beat them in a thrilling sprint finish on the line. The French women were hot favourites and, despite trailing by 20 seconds at the final transition, deployed their secret weapon in Laetitia Roux who, despite picking up a 30 second time penalty for minor rule infringement, in the end won by 2 mins
Valentine Fabre with a strong start helping France to win another Gold medal, here in the Sprint race. Fantastic for her personally too after a dreadful time, losing her husband in the mountains last summer.
Despite a lot of high profile French victories the overall points were higher for Italy, who therefore technically win the World Champs this year. We did as well as we could for GB, despite 3 racers down with illness and equipment issues. We were happy to have beaten 7 nations, most of which have a lot more opportunity to ski nearby or within their countries. Many thanks to the other 11 racers and to RAB, the BMC, Suunto and Scarpa for support. Detailed results can be found here
PS As I have been saying for many years- we are still lacking racers, especially 15-23 year old (we have virtually none) and the women’s team could have up to 8 in the team race- currently 4. We have enough men but none of us are getting any younger- I would be delighted if the UK standard raised with some younger blood to keep us on our toes.
This will probably be an Olympic sport soon, at which point funding will become much easier. But it is a long learning curve, getting used to skiing dangerously fast on match sticks, so the time to start is now!
PPS I am organising a British Ski Mountaineering Championships on Easter Sunday 31st March 2013 near Grenoble. Details here on the BMC website http://www.thebmc.co.uk/success-and-sorrow-for-team-gb-on-first-2-days-of-the-ski-world-championships
The emphasis is very much on participation and fun.
Ben Bardsley chatting to Kilian Jornet, looking relaxed and happy after another Gold Medal in the Vertical Race. Maybe he is passing on his secrets? Or maybe being born on skis, training 23,000m a week uphill on skis every week and being 8 stone and aged 25 has something to do with it…