Sam Carson is a talented racer on the British Indoor scene. This summer he decided to push his limits and go to South Africa in pursuit of challenging himself. A limited budget and looking to get the most amount of races in, in a short space of time, Carson headed to South Africa and the Tiffindell races: With ten Slalom races scheduled, this looked a great opportunity to get some races under his belt without breaking the bank.
Carson is 17 years old and after winning four of the five British Ski Academy sponsored GBR Indoor races and the series title, has shown that he has the ability to ski fast on the indoor slopes around the UK. Prior to heading to South Africa he had only raced in ten FIS races. Results in the 150 FIS point range did not show his true potential.
After a twelve hour flight from London to Johannesburg Carson it was then off to Bloemfontein on a tiny plane, “We were joined by the Belgian ski team on this flight so the plane was almost full of just racers. This meant that all the ski bags didn’t fit in the plane. As it turned out I was the only one to receive all their bags at the other end. Three of the Belgian team were without holdalls and skis for a day as they couldn’t get them there until late that evening.”
Driving from Bloemfontein to Tiffindell is around six to eight hours depending on road conditions. Carson explains: “To start with you drive for about an hour through a shanty town where everyone is living in small tin shacks, sharing toilets and living with the animals. It’s a whole other world. From then however it is just a long straight road for 4-6 hours through the middle of nowhere.
“We arrived in Barkley East just as it went dark and here we had to unload all hand luggage out of the 4 wheel drive mini vans as they were worried they wouldn’t make it up with the extra weight. These got added into the truck with a huge cage on the back that had all our bags in it.
“Two hours from here up a narrow dirt track that was bumpy and rocky, as we got higher the drop off the side got ever steeper. The driver was worried about stopping as if we stopped they would struggle to get the van moving again it was so steep. Eventually after hours of steep switch backs through the dark with the occasional cow sleeping at the side of the road we could see this mass of white lights on the side of the hill. We had arrived.”
The entire resort is made up of small semi-detached huts where everyone lives. The windows are single glazed and very thin walls so when it was windy it felt like the entire roof was going to come off and the hut blown down. To eat in there is a main building that houses a cafe, bar, restaurant, ski room and rentals and that is built to a lot higher quality than the rest of the buildings.
And what about the slope? “There are two slopes in Tiffindell, one of them is a beginner slope, complete with rope tow which had a surprising amount of beginners on it coming for day or weekend trips. The main slope is a fully FIS legal slope when the top section is used. This top section is steep however we never really had good snow conditions on the upper half. The lower half is flat and registered for entry league races only,” Carson explained.
When it came to the races, they started off with two Entry league races. “We started from the midpoint of the slope and the courses consisted of quite wide flowing turns which relied on good driving through the ski to make speed. The only tricky parts to these courses came down the bottom where there was a banana into a tight hairpin given the speed. In the first run, I ended up missing the gate after as I sat back. I finished the run but had a small hike. The second race was a lot better and I managed two good runs allowing me too score 110 points, a 55 point decrease on my previous points.”
Up next were the National Champs and Junior Champs. “The first race the snow conditions were not too bad, soft on the upper half but from the midway down the snow was hard and grippy. On my first run this allowed me to conserve myself down the steep and then have extra energy to drive through the entire flat section which ultimately resulted in me making the flip for the first time in my career. I went down second on the second run and had a near perfect track from the top down due to some good salting by the snow makers. The result was another score at 110 points,” Carson continued.
Unfortunately, the National Champs did not go as well as the previous day for Carson with a big mistake coming onto the flat on his first run pushing him to the back of the pack.
Two CIT races were next up and the warm weather played its part in not allowing snow making to happen during the night. “This made it very hard starting further down the pack as the ruts were almost unbearable. On one of these races by the time I went down two of the upper gates had dirt patches showing on the line, this meant we had to take a wider line or ruin our skis. For me these two races didn’t go as planned however the experience of competing in adverse conditions with ruts against a tough field was worth the fight to stay in,” Carson explained.
The good camaraderie between the racers saw them slide the hill to prepare for the next races, then walk down the line of the courses set before a snowball fight ensued! Carson explained: “It was a good idea however it only resulted in the slope holding up for around 30 skiers before it got worse again!”
The final races were two more entry level races. “I was very pumped up to perform in these races. The weather had started to cool off so the snow had hardened up even though the cover was thin. The first race started well and I managed to secure myself a place about halfway through the top 30 for the second run. Another good run meant I scored a 100 point result, a new personal best.”
The final race of the series saw Carson in the exact same position as the first race after the first run. With all the top guys huddled around the start gate cheering on and giving support to all the racers, even the back markers who they didn’t know well, this was something he had never experienced at any international race and it helped pump up a lot of the lower ranked racers. “Despite making a mistake coming out of the start gate the rest of the run was good and managed to land me a score of 77, my first sub 100 score. I was very pleased with my performance,” he explained.
How would Carson sum up the whole trip and experience? “I found this set of races a great experience and with there being ten races in ten days it allowed for me to not worry about skiing out or making a mistake as I would have another chance the next day. This was a luxury I haven’t had before only competing in 3/4 races a season. Lots of people say the races are cheat races and they’re just for lowering points, in the past it may have been the case however you still need to perform well to score and with the quality of field they had this year was impressive. There is even talk of a series of GS races being held next year in Afriski, around ten hours away from Tiffindell in Lesotho. The cost of being there is actually very low per race when compared to Europe and economically it is very viable if you are prepared to make the trip.”
Viktoria Palla was another British racer to head to South Africa and the 2001 year of birth racer that lives in Austria came away with a 55 FIS point result. Also in South Africa were Rob Trebilcock, Morgan Gash, Thomas Cherry and Mathieu Avent.