A FUTURE CHAMPION?
Francesca Lee is a Keswick-based ski racer with big ambitions
Recently George Fisher started giving some assistance to Francesca Lee, a very keen 13 year old ski racer who attends Keswick School. Francesca started skiing young and moved into racing relatively recently, but has been making quite an impression on the junior scene. We thought we’d ask Francesca to tell us a little more…
When did you first ski?
On a family holiday to Badhofgastein in Austria, when I was three. My dad was a keen skier and endured three years of not skiing after I was born, so as soon as possible he took us all away. However, he spent most of the time checking I was OK rather than skiing! I did my first ‘slalom’ that year (see photo!)
How did you get into ski racing?
None of my family had any experience of ski racing other than my dad watching Ski Sunday. After I had been on a few ski trips, an instructor that lives in our village mentioned Kendal ski club so I went along and really enjoyed it. Then someone mentioned Rossendale Summer Race league, which was a whole new experience for all of us, and that is where my ski racing really started on dry ski slopes.
How long have you been racing?
I have been racing four years now, but it seems longer! I was nine when I first raced at the Rossendale Race series and the following year when I was ten I also did a race series at Sheffield, placing first in my age category at both Rossendale and Sheffield. I also competed in some ‘Club Nationals’ on dry ski slopes in the ‘Mini’ category and I saw the tough national competition of trained ski racers. That year I was also able to compete in my first real snow race at The Lecht in Scotland. The whole race set-up was still new to us and at that race my Mum acted as my coach for Course Inspection although she was probably the only coach who was snow ploughing, and we did not know what we were meant to be inspecting!
Which discipline do you prefer – downhill, slalom or GS?
Slalom has poles(known as gates) closer together, Giant Slalom is faster as the gates are further apart, Super G has even less gates and can be very fast, and Downhill has less gates still so it is extremely fast.
The small dry slope and indoor snow slopes are only big enough for slalom courses, so I mainly train and race slalom. My favourite dry slope is at Hillend, Edinburgh and it is long enough for GS races (my last race time there was 24.32 seconds for a 500m course, an average of over 46mph!). I have also trained and raced GS on snow and I would say GS is probably my favourite. In Bormio in Italy in 2010 I had my one and only run at Super G which I was really looking forward to and really enjoyed it, at least for the five gates before I crashed out on an invisible bump! Fortunately I was uninjured but really disappointed as I don’t often get the chance to do Super G and this was the last race of that trip.
How do you know which gates to go through?
You do a course inspection, and from training you get used to going the correct way around the gates. It is quite easy to follow when you get the hang of it but there are some odd looking gates when you first come across them – there is one called the banana gate! I try to memorise the course and so after course inspection I close my eyes and imagine myself going down the course - it looks like I am wiggling a lot! At some races less experienced racers are allowed guides that take the racers down the course, but the guide must remember not to go through the timing beam at the finish! Also in some of the less serious races you are allowed to ski down the course beforehand.
How and where do you train?
I regularly train on dry slopes, mainly at Sunderland and sometimes at Kendal, also at the ‘Chill Factor’ in Manchester and sometimes at the indoor snow centre at Castleford, Leeds.
For the last winter season I started to train at Cairngorm in Scotland with the Scottish Ski Club and I will be training there again soon this winter, can’t wait! I am also training with the Scottish FAST camps this winter.
Whose equipment do you use? Skis, poles, boots etc
I am on Dynastar slalom skis and Rossignol GS skis, Salomon boots, with Leki race poles which my parents have bought for me, but I am exploring with George Fisher about changing to Salomon skis. Ski preparation is important for all skiers and especially to ski racers where this can make a vital difference to the race times. Ski racers often prep their skis before each run of a race and most have two identical pairs of skis, one for the training runs and one pair kept prepared for the race runs only.
What ski heroes do you have?
Chemmie Alcott – I have won several cups that Chemmie won when she was my age.
Alain Baxter – He coached me at a ski camp at the Chill Factor and most of the time was spent perfecting an explosive start – I spent hours practising my start and climbing back up the hill to do it over again and again! It was really useful. Then there’s Finley Mickel, Martin Bell, Dave Ryding (2010 Olympic competitor from Lancashire) and TJ Baldwin.
What do your friends think?
My school friends understand and are really supportive, especially if I have to miss a party because of a ski race, as is often the case. I have also gained loads of friends from all over the UK from the ski racing circle.
Can British ski racers ever be as good as those from Alpine countries?
Yes, many of our ski racers have quite high rankings so they are better than many of those from the Alpine countries. The Alpine countries probably have more entrants into the sport so it is perhaps a harder challenge to be number one, but the difficulties that the British face to be able to compete just shows how determined the British ski racers are.
What’s happening this winter – where are you racing?
With the summer race league over I aim to be competing in the BARSC races held in Champoluc, Italy in December and the Anglo Scottish Races in Les Houches at the start of January. Also there’s the English Championship in Bormio, Italy in February, and the ISF World Schools Ski Championship in Italy in March, as well as dry slope and indoor snow races in the UK. The British Championships at Meribel at Easter may also be an option. As is often the case a lot depends on funds and I would like to add that I am really grateful to George Fisher for the help and assistance they are providing.
Some useful links for budding ski racers might be www.franski.co.uk (my site), www.britski.org and www.racer-ready.co.uk
Just before we went to press we heard some great news, Francesca has been selected to represent England in the World Schools Championships in Gressoney, Italy in March 2012. Also Francesca just won a ‘rising star’ award at the Cumbria Sports Awards, and was second in her age group (and fifth overall) at the Scottish Indoor Championships.