With conditions at the Glaciers across Europe variable this summer, Racer Ready managed to catch up with the British World Cup and Europa Cup teams as they trained in Saas Fee in late August. With the Delancey British Alpine Team split into three sections, Men’s and Women’s World Cup plus Men’s Europa Cup, all three teams programmes meant that they were in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee at the same time at the end of August. With around fifty lanes available for training, the British Team were not the only ones in resort looking to improve! Norwegians, Austrians, Germans, Canadians, French, American College teams, young Slovenians, Spanish, Lithuanians and so many more were all after lanes in search of training.
With news that Zermatt, the next door neighbour glacier, only had 12 lanes open, Saas Fee was in pole position in terms of providing space for racers of all levels to train. The resort welcomes race groups with open arms and as you walk through the town dodging the electric vans, tourists, walkers and locals, you could see that while there is a large football field, three volley ball courts, tennis courts as well as the hills available for getting on with fitness, coaches and athletes imagination was very much to the fore to help improve athletes fitness.
The sun gets up early in the mountains and if you were hoping for a nice leisurely start to the training day, think again. The lift opens at 06.30 and, rumour had it the young Spanish Children’s team were already queuing about an hour before that. With World Cup racers given priority, Dave Ryding and other stars of the World Cup in town, had priority in the lift queue thus saving precious time.
Two gondola rides up followed by a train through the mountain and it was a short hike across a ridge onto the snow. Gates, timing equipment, training aids as well as numerous pairs of skis all had to make this journey and at this altitude, air was thin! With no less than 18 peaks around 4000 m surrounding Saas Fee, the glacier is at 3600 m. Ryding’s ski tech and Ryding himself would take up four pairs of skis each day for testing and analysis.
With four piste areas with training lanes set out, there is a hierarchy of who goes where. World Cup racers get the first pick and then down through the ranks. Ryding was training with top Russian slalom racer Alexander Khoroshilov and the two of them have a mutual understanding. One team sets each day and with four coaches helping Ryding, the Russians had the same for their two athletes, Pavel Trikhichev was also pushing the two top World Cup stars.
With both Ryding and Khoroshilov on Fischer, this gave both an opportunity to compare how they were getting on in comparison to the other. While both were at different stages of their pre-season preparation, a keen eye was kept by both on the times being recorded. The day we caught up with them, there was not much between them, times were a closely guarded secret! One run one would be faster and then this would inspire the other to go faster and so it went on. With Ryding being supported this year by Tristan Glasse-Davies, Ali Morton (Ski Tech), Jai Geyer and new Head Coach of the British team Reinhard Fernsebner, Glasse Davies and Fernsebner have separate roles in terms of pushing Ryding to go faster: Glasse Davies is focusing more on the technical side of things while Fernsebner is urging Ryding to push his boundaries ever further and not ski always in his comfort zone.
While Ryding was training slalom, Billy Major and Laurie Taylor, two of the Europa Cup team were also focusing on slalom but on another (of the four) training zones. Charlie Raposo flitted between the Norwegian team Giant Slalom track, with Alex Tilley and Charlie Guest, also on Giant Slalom.
Saas Fee has a great atmosphere. While all the teams work well together, the odd glance from racer to racer to see how they are progressing is understandable. And with the freestyle athletes throwing some immense jumps in the park area, there really is something for everyone. Ryding commented as he stood in appreciation of the height some of the freestyle athletes were getting “I love watching these guys … but you would not get me doing that!”
With accommodation to suit most budgets, Saas Fee is holding firm as one of the top venues for training during the summer. Ryding and Khoroshilov will head off to Ushuaia in September, the time spent in Saas Fee will have helped fitness and technique.
With the snow softening from around eleven in the morning, the on snow time is vital as is the afternoon.
Watch out for the pre-season interviews with all the British athletes in Saas Fee that will be available for subscribers to Racer Ready.
For more information about the self styled Free Republic of Holidays go to www.saas-fee.ch
Picture – Dave Ryding training in Saas Fee – Credit Racer Ready – all rights reserved