"The British Womens' Ski Mountaineering team race season commenced relatively late this year, but Rab athlete Leanne Callaghan, Gaby Lees, Dihanne Gilbert and Catrin Thomas were, as ever, delighted to be back racing together at the British Championships in Chamonix. The late start to their season was due to a combination of work commitments and injury. Gaby has been finishing her final months of Physiotherapy training, Di has been grafting as a mountain instructor in the Highlands, Catrin has been researching the feeding habits of penguins in Antarctica and Leanne has been recovering use of her arm following shoulder reconstruction surgery.
None of the women were able to be in sufficient shape to compete in the European championships in February or the world cup series this year but the fantastic snow cover and settled weather recently has enabled virtually all the best spring races to prepare their largest courses and highest summits, so they simply set their sights elsewhere. At the British Championships Leanne, Gaby, Di and Catrin took 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th place respectively. Leanne recently became the first British Woman to complete the gruelling 4 day Pierramenta Ski race, arguably the “true” world championships: a race in which more than one third of the female competitors failed to make it to the finish. She raced with the experienced Nick Wallis of Sheffield and they ranked sixth mixed team. The race is about as technical as they come, involving ten thousand vertical metres of ascent, obligatory 45 degree descent couloirs and very exposed ridge running sections. The subsequent weekend, with somewhat tired legs, she was back for the prestigious French National Championships at the stunningly technical Belle Etoile race near Grenoble. Racing in a pair with the Swiss athlete Fabienne Hadorn the women were third overall but, being from abroad, they were not eligible for the French bronze medal. The presence of a flat-lander on the podium caused a few whispers and raised a few eyebrows amongst the French national squad!
The impressive Super Trophee du Muverans in Switzerland saw 3 British entries this April: Despite being drained from the British Champs the day before, Gaby put in a stunning performance with Christopher Barnes, coming first mixed pair. This served as an excellent introduction to big race days for the talented 22 year old and she is now bristling with enthusiasm to try and be selected with Leanne for an all female GB Pierramenta team in 2013. Leanne raced the Muverans with Swiss racers Suzi Schwarz and Fabienne Hadorn to take second female team of 3. The season is by no means over and Leanne, Di, Catrin and Alison Coulshaw of Chamonix will be putting their steely thighs to the test in the gruelling 53km Patrouille des Glaciers overnight race from Zermatt to Verbier. This is a world-renowned event which is normally the final big race of the spring due to its high altitude and glacial terrain. The event takes place every 2 years and has attracted increasing numbers of British skiers in recent times. This year we expect record numbers of British female finishers in both the long and the short course. Good luck Ladies!”
Any women interested in having a go at ski rando racing can contact the team for advice and help on The British Womens Ski Mountaineering Team Facebook page.[gallery link="file"]
Leanne’s advice for women thinking of getting into ski rando racing/ ski running:
1. Concentrate on descending tricky snow at speed, this takes work
2. Uphill fitness is mainly time served and dedication (as well as some natural ability of course!) read up on cardio training if you are new to it, so you don’t waste training days.
3. Go to a local race, low key, make it fun by going with friends. Aim to do it slowly on your heavy kit then you can take a low risk look at what goes on and get an idea of everyone else's kit and tactics.
4. Decide your budget, if you are serious and can afford it don't fall into the trap of buying kit which is a compromise, get a set of race kit as light as you can afford and get a separate set of touring kit for normal days out skiing. If you buy one set of compromise kit for both purposes you will race slowly and have regrets.
5. Rab manufacture many exceptionally light, high performance clothing items in a women’s specific design. If you can’t face shoe-horning yourself into a spandex race suit it’s the perfect place to start!
5. French and Swiss races are more efficiently organised than Italian ones, and easier to get to.
6. Try and do some team races, they are more fun and light hearted. They also tend to be better, longer, more technical courses.
7. Make sure you examine your kit carefully before buying. Don't buy random kit on-line unless you know what you are doing. Do a careful boot fit. Do not let any old ski shop persuade you that they can fit your bindings. Get a race kit expert to drill them, I had my bindings mounted in France. Buy comfort in boots in preference to weight (that’s my opinion anyway!).
8. The kit regulations change for 2013 season, check the ISMF website so you don’t waste money on forbidden items.
9. Races are online at skimountaineering.org, ffme.fr and sac-cas.ch
10. Equipment purchasing takes weeks to source and research; start early. Boots and skis are very personal. A good, cheaper, very light ski is the Hagan Race. Merelli, Movement Fish, Trab World Cup are pricey and more fragile carbon skis but popular for top-end racing. The lightest boots are carbon. None of the GB women’s team have these models as they are 1100 to 1600 euros a pair! Popular boot manufacturers do a good range of much cheaper boots, which are only 200g or so heavier. Bindings are all fairly similar and they matter less than the boot or ski in my opinion. Dynafit, Trab, ATK, Plum are examples.
Any women interested in having a go at ski rando racing can contact the team for advice and help on The British Womens Ski Mountaineering Team Facebook page.