02 March 2016

Battling with the Elements: GB Alpine Racer Cara Brown Vents her Frustrations

Delancey British Alpine Ski Team athlete Cara Brown gives us an insight into a sport which often features factors out of the athlete’s control and the frustrations that it brings…

Skiing is a brilliant sport. One of the things I like best about it is the fact that I get to spend the whole day outside, in amongst nature. This is also one of the things that makes skiing so exciting. When you wake up in the morning, you have no idea what conditions you will be facing: one day, snow, the next day, wind; and when you wake up and see crisp blue skies, it’s pretty awesome!

Like all things in life though, there is an upside and a downside to be in a sport where weather is a huge factor. The first part of the course is a long flat section where most athletes travel between 60 and 65mph. You’ve just finished your run, all the top racers are in the finish and you’re winning. Suddenly the speedometer at the top of the course starts giving speeds of 70 to 75mph. In a sport where every hundredth of a second counts, you can bet that you’re about to get beaten. The racers that would usually be finishing a few seconds behind you are now seconds in front of you. Maybe one or two just had a really good day, but mostly it’s due to the fact that they are getting a little helping hand from the wind.

It’s a pretty frustrating day for those who didn’t get the wind, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Bib 32 won the World Junior Championships Super G last year this way. It was easily her best race ever, but I wonder how she feels about it? Does she think: “I only won this because of the wind, I don’t actually deserve this” or does she think: “that’s the way skiing works, today I won the wind lottery, everyone gets their shot”. I hope she thinks something along the lines of the second reasoning, because with most athletes doing over 800 races by the time they’re 25, it’s pretty likely that at some point the weather will be in their favour.

There is no rule in ski racing that stops the weather interfering with races, unless the conditions mean that the race has become too dangerous. In this case it’s a lottery again: do they wait for the weather to clear and potentially give the people that haven’t gone yet better conditions than the people who have already completed their race? Or do they rerun the race completely, meaning that some of the athletes will have already skied the course and will clearly have an advantage. The problem is that often these races don’t finish with anyone being proud of themselves. The people that didn’t have luck with the conditions blame their failure on the conditions, and the people who did have luck in their favour, are left feeling like they only did well because of the conditions. A bit of a dilemma!

The order of the start numbers in most races is decided based on your FIS points. An international system that ranks people from 999 to 0 points, with 0 points meaning that you are the best in the world. The system goes slightly topsy-turvy in Europa Cup and World, in which ranking is decided based on EC or WC points. Europa Cup is even more confusing, as EC points are mixed with WC points and rankings in other continental cups… But basically when you turn 16, and are old enough to compete in the international ski federation (FIS) races, whether you are a champion skier or just putting your skis on for the first time, you start with 999.99 points. This means you start right at the back of the pack. Depending on how you perform, you will receive new points.

The formulas for working out the points are complicated, but basically if you beat people with better points than you, you will get better points. I currently have 21.82 points in Giant Slalom. It may sound like a small number compared to 999.99, but I’m still ranked around 200th in the world. However, my points do mean that I get to start in the top 15 racers in most FIS races. In Europa Cup though, I start bib 80. And the girl that starts bib 30? She probably has about 16 points. So you can see how close the points are, especially when you look at results and see that in a Giant Slalom race, 1 second counts for about 9 points. So that means if I got half a second faster on a total race time of around 2 minutes, I would be around the 16 points mark – around 130th in the world.

Now that you can better understand how small the margins are in ski racing, you can begin to understand how frustrating a little bit of wind or fog can be. The point is though, that the best skiers in the world, let’s take the household name Lindsey Vonn, is number 1 because as many times as she lost out to the weather, she also got it on her side. The more and more you race you come to realise that there is no point worrying about the things you can’t control and you need to give all your time into the things that you can control. 


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