Last week was a great learning experience. I spent time during the races observing the logistics of competition and the athletes I coach as well as the races themselves. It was also enjoyable, nothing quite beats a blue sky day in the mountains, couple that exciting sport and catching up with friends and colleagues and it doesn’t get much better (having my skis with me would have topped it off).
I thought I’d give a bit of an insight here into a ski racer’s competition day. It actually starts the day before with a captain’s meeting where details of the next day’s race are distributed amongst the coaches, this will include race times, start details, weather reports and officials. Due to weather the downhill race while I was there was cancelled and the slalom part of the super combined event (slalom and super g combined) brought forward a day. This presents a number of challenges. Those arranging their travel to arrive the day before the scheduled super combined missed it, different skis need to be prepped (the majority of the athletes will prepare their own skis, 2 pairs to be used on race day) and altered recovery time from training.
On race day it was up at 6am ish (8’oclock race start) for breakfast, last minute prep and packing and down to the hill for around 7am. Skis and kit were unloaded from the van and taken over to the finish area. Then it was ski boots on and take kit and race skis to the top of the hill. Prior to race there was time for a couple of warm up runs, these don’t take place on the race course as it was been meticulously prepared the night before. The weather was warm and the snow soft so it was salted the previous night to try and firm it up. Also before the start the athletes were given a window of time to inspect the course, this involved sideslipping down the side of the course to view gate layout and snow conditions. There is no standard ski race course layout, it is at the discretion of the person setting the course at each race and so the inspection is vital.
Once inspected it was back to the top of the hill to race. Start orders are dependent upon FIS points, the better the points the earlier you start the first run. As the racing goes on the more skiers who ski the course, the more it deteriorates and the warmer it gets the more the consistency of the snow changes. This means that the condition of the course the athlete skis can be radically different from what they have inspected, the next time they see it is when they’re trying to ski it as fast as possible. This is just one of the things that makes the sport so challenging, the mental preparation and adaptability is massively important.
From a strength and conditioning point of view, timings and logistics of warm up and preparation are difficult. The early start, cold temperatures, being in ski boots and importance of inspection provide challenges. Working closely with the psychologist is very important to make sure that any physical preparation fits in seamlessly with the mental routine which is most definitely a game changer.