As everyone is likely far too well aware, what with my recent shameless social media plugs, I’ve been running a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money for new skis which will hopefully be competitive with those under the feet of the World’s best skiers. This has had a fantastic response and I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends as well as many complete strangers. We’re 95% of the way there with just 9 days to go, please keep sharing!!!
I write this blog, primarily, with the aim of giving non skiers some insight into the world of a British ski racer trying to compete with the World’s very best. So here’s a look into the murky world of waxing irons and klister.
If you hang around the mix zone after the finish line of a ski race on a day when the conditions are less than perfect (think heavy snow or even rain!) there’s a good chance you’ll learn a few choice words in a variety of languages. This is most likely due to the imperfect science of ski selection and preparation having failed some skiers to the point of having no grip to get up the hills in classic or the sort of glide you might expect if skiing through treacle. In short, a perfect pair of skis goes a long way towards a good race, and a truly terrible pair of skis leaves you without a hope! Although a fraction of the size of nations with larger budgets, we have an exceptionally hard working and dedicated little team of technicians working multiple roles to try and get us the best possible combination of waxes under our skis on race day. Wax is only part of the story though, first you need the right skis and that is no small task!
On the 7th of October, my ex team mate and now team coach, Alex, started the long drive from Huntly, Scotland to Austria. More specifically to the factories of Salomon and Fischer skis to pick up skis for Annika, Andrew Young and myself. Unfortunately photos were strictly prohibited, but I’m assured the interior of the Salomon factory was quite a sight, with trolley after trolley loaded with skis (circa 2000 pairs visible!), many of which already picked out for athletes racing on the world cup. With information of my weight and height as well as a detailed list of the types of conditions for which I require skis, Alex and Jean Marc from Salomon spent 3 hours sqeezing and analysing the flex of skis from the racks before finally settling on 10 pairs they deemed suitable. Once all skis were chosen and passed through a stone grinder to give the bases an appropriate microstructure, Alex drank another couple of litres of coffee and set off for Torsby, Sweden.
Torsby has an indoor snow tunnel that can be used year round, it’s only a kilometre long so a little boring for training but perfect for testing skis! Here, on the 13th, I met Alex along with Bengt and Thomas, the guys who waxed for the British team in Sochi, who’ll make up 2/3rds of our rotating wax team for this winter. We had a small wax room hired outside the tunnel where Bengt, following presenting me with a very nice piece of cured reindeer meat as a birthday gift, immediately set to work on ironing the same glide wax into all the skis that were to be tested – this was not only athlete’s skis, but also test skis used for testing race waxes in the winter, totalling seventy pairs. Meanwhile, once the first groups of skis were ready, Thomas, Alex and I began the testing of skis. Initially this involves taking one ski from a pair and comparing it against another for feeling, this gives an initial ranking between pairs for the specific conditions in which you’re testing. Then comes the glide testing, Thomas and I would take a pair each and head to the top of a hill, we’d then accelerate and hold on to each other to equalise our speeds before letting go to find the fastest pair. Often this brings surprise results but both tests are important as there is no use having a pair that is fast but is so unstable you can hardly stand on one leg! I left on for Lillehammer after 2 sessions of testing but Alex and Thomas spent over 6 hours in the tunnel on the second day. This gave me a first impression and a useful set of notes on this new batch of skis, some will inevitably be rejected and swapped as the season goes on but compared to my previous collection we’ve already observed a very obvious step up in quality!
All this reinforced for me just how hard our guys work for us, they put absolutely everything in and on some occasions our small team just gets it very right. Bengt reminded me of one of his favourite stories from three seasons ago, when I skied on a pair of skis borrowed from Thomas’s racing days, waxed by Bengt, partly with a concoction he’d prepared in his kitchen. I ended up with some of the best skis in the race, a completely unknown British guy beat some of Sweden’s best sprinters. On being asked by the waxer of one of the race favourites “what the £%$* have you put on his skis?”, Bengt gleefully replied “Russian bull’s semen”.