By Jane Sowerby
The 2011/12 ski season was a really important one for me, with some tough decisions to make, resulting in deciding to retire from full-time competitive ski racing. This is mainly due to the fact that I’ve struggled to come back to the top after a couple of injuries. I still absolutely love skiing, but have lost quite a bit of confidence when it comes to ski racing as downhill mono-skiers regularly hit 70 mph, making the sport very dangerous, and when you crash it usually hurts!
Having said that, I had some great training this season and was really seeing improvement in my technical skills. I was based once again with the National Sports Center for the Disabled out in Winter Park, Colorado.
Training is five days a week, although most of us go free skiing on our days off as well. There’s also a great fitness programme linked in: the local gym offers plenty of accessible equipment, I even tried Pilates for the first time – a fantastic exercise to improve your core stability and flexibility, both essential for skiing.
We raced in some extremely challenging conditions. Colorado had the worst snow conditions they’ve had in 30 years, which basically meant ice, ice and more ice. Ski racers are meant to love ice, but on one ski it’s pretty tough to hold an edge. I wasn’t exactly in my element!
One of the highlights of the season was going to watch the X Games in Aspen. We got to see the Mono Skier X finals – the four sit-skiers took off over the final kicker and came across the finish line at practically the same time; luckily I caught it on camera. It includes my British teammate Sean Rose, those boys are crazy!
These kinds of events are just fantastic for the sport; it shows that disabled skiing is every bit as exciting as able-bodied skiing. It was amazing to see the reaction of the crowd, and hear comments from some of the able-bodied skiing and snowboarding competitors. Everyone seemed completely in awe of the sit-skiers.
One of the things I began to get more involved in this season was ski coaching. This is an area I’ve wanted to pursue for a while, but because of racing commitments have not had the time. I’m a qualified BASI Level 1 Disabled Ski Instructor (British Association of Ski Instructors) so it was great to put some of the skills I learnt to the test.
The National Sports Center for the Disabled has a recreational side as well as the competition side that I train with. The recreational side is where people with all disabilities go to first learn how to ski, and this is where I learnt, when I went on the Back Up ski course in 2005. So when this year’s Back Up group attended, they asked me to help out with instructing. I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it – this is definitely a direction I would like to continue in.
As usual, the Back Up group was fantastic, a pleasure to work with. There were two other mono-skier instructors as well as myself, which meant we could split the group as they were progressing at different levels. The boys I ended up working with were just incredible and progressed so quickly. I can’t take all the credit for that though! They had real natural talent; two of them are going back next season and considering getting into racing.