At the last weekend of the GBR Outdoor Series in Pontypool, Wales, Ffyona Speed caught up with Robin Kellen where she found out more about the GBR Series, what is happening in Wales along with finding out what the future looks like for Snowsport Wales.  

The interview was kicked off with the first question about how the outdoor series gone so far this season, with Robin saying, ‘This year has been very good. This is our first weekend of the GBR Outdoor Races in Wales and we’ve seen an increase in participation from last year. In ChillFactore earlier in May, we ran the indoor race and again we saw an increase in our numbers from previous years. I think Ambition’s involvement has really helped to boost the race profile throughout the series and it’s good to see numbers coming back up again.’

So has having Ambition around increased the amount of people coming into the sport? ‘Yes’ says Robin. ‘They’ve helped with the social media side of things, in terms of promotion and making people more aware of the sport so it is beginning to feel like more of a community. Also, having the guys from Ambition here at the races is really good as well because they’re going out and talking about the sport, as well as getting some ambassadors to go out and meet people too. There’s been a good, positive impact from it.’

We then discussed how the racing went the previous day and how the courses that were set were received. ‘We had good racing yesterday and a good number of racers. The standard of racing was also very good. The course set by David Eaves from Pendle was interesting as it was testing and made people think. It used the terrain very well and that was great. The good thing about it was that it wasn’t predictable. The competitors had to be tactile in it – they couldn’t just go flat out. It wasn’t a straight “Oh this person is going to win”, they had to really think about it. For the Pro Slalom, I’ve been doing some calculations and I reckon the average speed the racers were hitting was about 60km per hour! So that’s a bit scary, especially when you’re watching it as an organiser as well!’

Robin then spoke about what’s going on in Wales in terms of Snow sports. As it goes, there’s a number of things in the pipeline that Snowsports Wales is working on with one of the main aims being ‘to promote the next generation of the development of facilities.’ In Wales alone there are seven artificial slopes and Robin clarified that most of them ‘Hadn’t seen any significant developments in the last twenty to twenty five years.’ He went on to say ‘We aren’t going to be able to look back in twenty years’ time and say we should have thought of something then, so it’s one of the reasons why we’re carrying out an audit of the facilities in Wales. We want to know what they’ve got there at the moment and what the plans are for development and pull that together into one consultative document that we can then go to Sport Wales and local authorities with, so it can help to be a part of us making changes. We want to bring in things like ramps and rails for the top of the slopes for freestyle and we want to know what is happening within the buildings to change them. We’re also looking at what can be done in terms of Snow facilities in Wales. It’d be great to have something the size of Landgraaf on the hills in Wales, so we’re looking into it! Of course if anyone has fifty million quid spare, we could use that!’

‘Another thing we’ve got going in Wales is schools races. Schools development programmes of school regional and national races is a good new story we have as we’re seeing an increasing number of participants year on year’ Robin informs me. ‘With our Welsh schools National Champs, we’re getting in more girls than boys which is fab and it bucks the trend across the sport generally in terms of participation from females which is great and that’s building it’d own momentum as well.’ So do school children then find they can get more involved with the clubs and race teams? It seems so, but of course, ‘Ski racing isn’t for everyone – you have to be a particular type of person to want to do it. But many school children do get involved and participate and give it a go. The influence is there and it’s growing. We do have growing clubs in North Wales and Cardiff is doing very well too so that’s all good!’ Robin says.

The next question for Robin was about whether the GBR Outdoor Series itself could potentially be improved for the future and if there were any plans in place to make changes. ‘At the end of this year, around September, we’ll have a review meeting where the governing bodies will get together and we’ll see where it goes and what we can do. We’ve got some ideas for Wales and we’ve had some ideas in the past’ Robin said. ‘I really like the diversity within the racing and I think that dry slope and indoor snow in slalom is quite a closed, sort of precise game. You often see the same people winning because what we’re doing is basically the same sport in a closed environment. For example, the slope here at Pontypool hasn’t really changed much in the last twenty years, but on Saturday we ran a Pro Slalom race, a fun race, and it brought out some different winners. It brought out different skiers and I’d like to see the GBR series recognise a little bit more of that diversity and that different style of skiing. I like to think it makes it a little bit more competitive as well for the overall series. Pro slalom and even parallel slalom in days gone by, we ran a series called the Celtic Cup Series from Wales and we ran a parallel slalom event as part of that which brought out the different winners in a different type of competition. Within the points overall series, I think it could be a good step forward.’

But what about feedback from competitors? What do they want to see improved? Well, Robin says ‘You’d have to ask them that, but I like to think I’m in touch with the sport and the racers but it is an age old battle between the men with grey hair and blazers who are running the sport and having to work within the confines they’re given. Racers and parents would like to see charges being cheaper, but we have to hire the facilities and get in first aid. We have to buy equipment and replace it and there’s a lot of ongoing investments in place making those things happen. If we saw more people coming into the sport, we could potentially reduce the costs, but then it’s likely we’d be charged more for the use of the facilities. Another thing is the rules. Competitors can get a bit uptight with that and people applying the rules quite strictly. But then we have to ask, well is it or isn’t it a rule? You can’t say it is a rule for some and not others. Fortunately, we know the size of the pitch, we know what’s offside and we know what a goal is – that’s what the rules are. And at the end of the day it’s the officials’ jobs to apply them. We do welcome feedback and it would be great to get some of the athletes involved in discussing what could be changed as well as having them be a part of those changes as well.’

Just as the interview wrapped up, Robin said, ‘There’s only one other thing we really want to do – Beat the English!’

Words Ffyona Speed