As I write this I am on the plane from London to Denver I am feeling pretty jammy as I managed to get an upgrade to business class (thanks British Airways!). As it’s a 10 hour flight it is a very welcome relief and is much more comfortable. I didn’t get the menu, but I think they gave me the one up from economy, which tasted fine. I’m pretty used to long-haul flights now so I know what to expect and what I’ll need on board, etc. I see it as a nice time to get away from social media, emails and my phone and to watch some movies, read a book and now; do some writing.
Last season (2014/15) I spent the winter in Winter Park, Colorado (winterparkresort.com) with the view to becoming an independent and confident sit-skier. I spent several months skiing the mountain with an instructor in order to get my skiing up to scratch. I was determined not to start race training before I was completely confident in my skiing ability. Once I started training with the other athletes at the NSCD (National Sports Center for the Disabled; nscd.org) I totally got the 'bug' for skiing gates. It is far from easy but I think that is part of the reason it's so exhilarating when you get it right! I am now returning to Winter Park for the season because I want to take my skiing to the next level and start racing. Here, I will be able to ski nearly every day, and this will give me the best chance of significantly improving my skiing.
This season I am going to be documenting my experiences more than just on Instagram and Facebook. Last season was definitely a journey and this time I want to share it.
I had a great summer, I came back from my season to go straight into school (which was a bit of a shock to the system!) to finish off my teacher training which, gladly, I successfully completed. Following that I had a busy summer, starting with climbing Mount Snowdon with a team of about 12 in the Back Up Push, a fundraising event for a charity very close to my heart, who support people with spinal cord injuries. It was an amazing experience and I was so proud of our team for completing it in an incredible time and coming second out of 13 teams (not a race?! No chance!), and contributing to a massive total raised for Back Up (backuptrust.org.uk).
Over the summer I did quite a bit of water skiing, starting with a couple of camps with Access Adventures (accessadventures.co.uk), which were a lot of fun. After getting the hang of it I went to Heron Lake (bdwsa.org) quite regularly which meant that I was able to make some good progress! By the end I was skiing in the slalom course which I also found really helpful for my skiing. Once the winter is over I will definitely pick up the water skiing again and see where it takes me.
I kept skiing over the summer at The Snow Centre (thesnowcentre.com) in Hemel Hempstead which, although is a very different scene from the snowy climbs of Colorado, (a very short run, button lift, artificial snow), should mean that I will be able to pick up from more or less where I left my skiing in April which will be good.
Hemel Hempstead isn’t the only unlikely place I’ve skied recently. Last month I went out to Landgraaf in Holland to get classified and also to train with the GB team. It was a long drive, which is, as I am learning, part and parcel of ski racing. Being classified was an interesting experience where my balance and core strength was tested through different ways, including, a very wobbly balance board! As the level of my injury is T3/4 (which is at chest level) my balance isn’t very good and I don’t have much core and this was confirmed when they were unable to identify any working stomach muscles when asking me to attempt sit up style exercises. The balance board was an interesting experience as I was unable to perform many of the tasks, despite my best efforts! They asked me to leave the room while they discussed my classification and, when I returned, they informed me that I would be classified as LW10-1 which is the highest level of impairment for sit-skiing. I am pleased with the result and it should provide me with a level playing field in races.
Whilst in Landgraaf I met with the coaching staff and team who were friendly and welcoming. The following two days were spent training which meant early starts (5.30am alarm for ‘activation’ at 6.30am – this was a warm up to ‘activate’ the body and prepare it so that breakfast could be used as fuel more effectively) and onto snow at 8am. This took place at Snowworld (snowworld.com) which has a 500m long run and a chairlift – a welcome break from Hemel Hempstead! It was great having 500m to practice on as it gave us a chance to get more turns in and therefore more practice. The run was quite shallow but the snow was groomed and the conditions were okay, particularly early on, and I was happy with my skiing during training with the coach. We skied for about four hours, starting with some warm up runs, then doing drills and eventually working on making smaller turns.
There was a slalom course set up for a race the following day, which I had a go in too. I managed it okay but slalom tends to be a bit of a nemesis for skiers with higher-level injuries because you have to make much quicker and shorter turns than in other disciplines and this is difficult without use of the core (and I am no exception). I also haven’t had much experience skiing slalom yet but this season I should make some good progress.
So I’ve got 1hr 23 to go till I land where it’ll be 7 hours behind the UK. I’ll get picked up at Denver airport by one of the coaches who’ll take me to my condo in Winter Park town which I’m renting for the season. I’ll make a stab at unpacking and probably fall into bed before long!
Update 6.12.15: I've now arrived at Winter Park. Above is my view each morning from outside my condo (on the right). The photo doesn't really do it justice but it's awesome to be able to see the mountains when I go outside each day.
I've been out skiing twice now and am pretty happy with my standard given that I haven't skied on proper snow since April. I'll get a video up here soon. There's been quite a bit of snow too (26 inches at the base; see winterparkresort.com/the-mountain/snow-weather-report.aspx for the weather report) and it looks like more is on the way which hopefully means it'll be a good season.