Snow Club Blog – Freeride shoot and Skiercross in Alpe d’Huez

After a pretty frustrating day at the
Adelboden Giant Slalom World Cup, cancelled after the first run due to fog, Garmin Snow Club Ambassadors Ed Leigh and Graham Bell drove via Geneva airport to Alpe d’Huez. 
The plan had been to shoot links and interviews around the Giant Slalom
for Ski Sunday, however with the cancellation of the G.S. they ended up having to
show the Sunday’s Slalom instead.  

of the footage we shot never made the air, and the guys: cameraman, producer
and VT editor, barely made it back into the UK. They managed to re-book the
Easyjet to Luton, the only flight that would make it to the UK that
evening.  Geneva was bedlam with a
massive queue for the information desk, and people bedding down for the
night.  It was one of those occasions
where I was quite glad not to be heading home!

We were in Alpe d’Huez to cover the
Skiercross World Cup competition, and Ed, cameraman and producer had made the
longer journey from the Bad Gastein Austria. 
We had both opted for a long drive instead of breaking the journey
because it would give us a whole free day on the mountain the following
day.  The weather was set to clear, and
Ed had organised for a local photographer, known as Pike to get some
free-riding shots for us.

Ed and Grahm enjoying the powder

Alpe d’Huez actually has some good
off-piste and wins over the more famous resorts because the standard of skier
is generally of the on-piste recreational verity, so the powder stays untracked
for longer.  A high altitude wind had
meant that the best snow lay at the lower levels, and we headed for the Poutran
gondola where Pike knew some small cliffs to drop off.  As is most often the case with photoshoots,
once the cameraman has a good position established, it’s up to the riders to
hike up again after each jump, much quicker than loping round for the
lift.  Air shots taken care of we headed
over to the Signal for some powder turns and portrait shots.  A temperature inversion, left a band of cloud
covering the lower valley, as we looked out to Les Deux Alpes and La Grave.  Our last shot of the day was one of the best,
blue sky and mountain background, with me following Ed riding champagne powder
towards a bank of cloud.

Next day it was back to business and
the Skiercross World Cup.  The newest
discipline on the Olympic programme, it owes its inclusion in the Games to the
success of Snowboardcross in Turin 2006. 
It’s a head to head race, four against four down a course of banked
turns rollers and table-top jumps. 
Someone at the BBC had heard that I had once won the British Skiercoss
title a couple of years after I had quit ski racing, so thought it would be a
good idea for me to set up a race with some of the best of the World Cup
circuit.  The first step was to survive
training, a couple of racers didn’t.  The
second worst thing that you can do in Skiercross is come up short on a jump
from one roller over another.  The impact
of the landing alone can be enough to blow your knee.  The worst thing you can do however is jump
too far over a table-top and clear the landing hill completely.  Again the impact of the flat landing will be
brutal on the joints.

2010-01-12 at 13-08-34

The trick is to never go first!  So my first run down was at the side of the
piste working out which jumps needed to be absorbed and which needed an extra
pop.  After a couple of runs I had the
course well dialled-in, and had moved from basic survival to thoughts of speed.
Safely through the practice and it was onto the qualification.  One timed run down the course, cuts all but
the top 32, and decides who gets the first choice of start gate in each
heat.  As a fore-runner I got to start
before the filed to check the timing and make sure the track was clear.  My time however was not what you would call
impressive, just over one second behind the fastest girl, and a whopping 5
seconds behind the best man!

The race that we set up after the
qualifying did not go much better.  I
lined up against Angus Morrison the best British skier, and a couple of
Americans.  You press your ski tips
against the metal gate that folds up in front of you and pull against the
handles.  After the command “Racers
Ready” the starter drops the gates and all the racers pull out hard
together.  All except me, who seemed to be
an eternity behind after just 5 metres. 
One advantage that you do have following three guys down the course is
slipsteam.  I was flying along and
amazingly keeping up!  Well, right up
until I tried an overtaking manoeuvre.  I
pulled wide to overtake and was dropped like the rest of the pack like a sack
of potatoes.

It will make a great spectacle during
the Olympic Games come February, and if it had been around when I quit ski
racing I would have given it ago. 
However having tried to race the world’s best, I get the feeling I
should stick to commentating on it."

Watch Graham's attempts at Ski Cross from the weekend's edition of Ski Sunday