One of the most pleasurable parts of my job is meeting and helping lots of young athletes starting their journey in the world of ski racing.
The UK has a great domestic racing scene, vibrant and massively varied. From the gentle dry slope of Pendle hill where Lancashire's Dave Ryding cut his teeth to the steep Hillend Dryslope where Perth athlete Charlie Guest no doubt stared down the fall away and gritted her teeth. The slopes are many and varied and all have their character as do the racers who stand in the start gate of the hundreds of races each year.
I mainly deal with those racers participating at club and national level with the odd international athlete thrown into the mix. My daughter, Issy, is embedded in this scene and would absolutely rather be freezing cold at a race training evening at Rossendale (her home club is the Ski Rossendale Race Club) than doing anything else. I go straight to the nice warm cafe and let her get on with it!
These guys are keen on their skiing, I mean fanatically keen so I really enjoy being part of their journey. This normally starts with a recommendation from a fellow racer or coach and either a tap on my shoulder at a race or a call to the shop. We work by appointment so its easy to give the racer our full attention. Even though most of them are pretty young they ALL know what they want from their kit - Performance!
I always try and watch them ski if I can and talk to their coaches and parents. They are all on their own journey and develop at different speeds and in different ways and their boots need to match this trajectory, not impede it, so its really important to get a true picture of their current abilities and potential.
Once we have them on the bench in the shop we can thoroughly assess them in terms of biomechanics and sizing. There is no one size fits all approach here, they all get the same detailed process of assessment, planning and fitting as our most revered ski Instructors and Coaches. We look at their stance, ankle posture, ankle flexibility, ankle range of motion, lower leg length, 12 measurements of each foot and a myriad of other details to form our fitting picture.
In terms of fitting priorities, for me we are always mindful of the athletes physical well being, Fitting boots for only performance with young, developing bodies is a recipe for long term damage to those bodies. We definitely still need to make sure they have a stable, static foot in the boot, that the flex is correct for their power, leg length and ankle range of motion and that they have the correct cuff height for their limb length to name a few of the priorities of fit.
BUT, this should not be at the expense of their health and well being - not to mention the parents bank accounts - so we do always try to give growing room if needed.
We have great range of junior race boots from Lange, Head and Dalbello and you'd be surprised at the difference in fit between brands, They are all very different to each other and having a great range makes our job easier. That said, we will only fit what is right so if we assess the athlete needs a specific product we will order that in specially for them.
Above, testing volume of junior race boots from different brands
Footbeds are a subject all their own, watch this space for another blog post about them but suffice to say that for our young athletes footbeds are really important. They make a stable platform inside the boot for the athlete to apply pressure into the ski and are a fundamental part of our fitting process and are as individual as the racers we service. We have lots of different types and will explain the specific type being used in each instance.
Our World Cup athletes are always after those extra thousandths of a second and its just the same at a Club race so if we need to make any adjustments to help with performance and comfort that is covered for the life of the boot so the racer and their parents can rest assured their boots will help them attain their goals.
We're always on hand to help out with boot related issues on race days if I am there. Once we fit you, you're one of OUR athletes and we will support you in any way we can.
Finally, I am gong to unashamedly steal the Welsh Dragons mantra:
SKI FAST, LAUGH LOTS!