From Freeride to SkiMo: a special month for Scottish winter sports
What a difference a few weeks can make. As recently as early February, it looked like the first post-covid ski season in Scotland could be a washout, with nothing to show for all those upbeat snow dances other than a modest coating of white stuff in early January. At this point, just opening ski resorts seemed like a lot to ask, let alone hosting competitions. However, by the time the financially critical February midterm rolled around, Mother Nature had come to the rescue with some memorable days of powdery blue skies, and in recent weeks there have even been screaming competitive snow slides.
Unfortunately, the mid-February snow bounty didn’t arrive in time to save the Lawers of Gravity – the first event in the Scottish Freedom series of freeride ski and snowboard events, traditionally held in the mountains around Ben Lawers and particularly close to this writer. heart, as he has spent many happy hours over the years running from one soggy vantage point to another trying to get his picture taken.
Originally scheduled to take place the weekend of February 10-11, the initial decision to postpone the contest for a week due to the “lack of snow depth on the face and the fact that the snowpack is still very soft down to the ground” would not have come as a surprise to anyone.
However, for a few tantalizing days, it looked like it could still play out over the weekend of the 19th and 20th. There was admittedly plenty of snow in a very mixed forecast, but also plenty of wind, and in the end – even if a relatively calm Saturday morning seemed possible – event organizers felt that there was not enough existing snow cover to guarantee a safe contest. (As we now know, that Saturday morning weather window did indeed happen, but given the magnitude of some of the aerial maneuvers we’ve seen on the SFS in recent years, the decision not to race was probably the safer for all. Nothing sends shivers down your spine like watching an athlete land hard only to have the snow give way under them.)
Anyway, fast forward a few weeks, to the weekend of March 5th and 6th, and the second leg of the tour – the Coire Challenge – was able to take place in the Back Corries in Nevis Range under a blue skies and in firm but questionable conditions. Due to a combination of covid-related cancellations and inclement weather and snow conditions, this was the first time this particular contest could take place in nearly four years, so it was a relief to see it return. . Liam Swanson and Francesca Lee won the men’s and women’s ski categories respectively, with Jonathan Tweedie winning the men’s snowboard. Meanwhile, celebrating her 20th birthday on the piste, Hannah Coleman has found herself the only competitor in the women’s snowboard class, and so after her inevitable first place she has a 100 point lead in the final event of the series, the Coe Cup, to be held at Glencoe in early April.
Freeride competitions are all about downhill performance – the style and fluidity with which competitors can string together turns and aerial maneuvers while descending an unpaved section of the mountain is what matters. In ski mountaineering competitions, however, the “up” is just as important as the “down”, as the competitors are racing over a hilly course.
Scotland’s own ski mountaineering series, SkiMo Scotland, is taking a break this year, but SkiMo’s Dynafit British Championships still went ahead as planned in Glenshee on March 12. The route climbs from road level to the Carn Aosta refuge at 795m and from there to a point near the summit of Carn Aosta at around 900m before descending back into the valley. One lap of that would be more than enough for most skiers over the weekend, but SkiMo athletes ran more than four, covering a breathtaking 13km and completing around 1200m of lung climbing.
Ultra-distance runner Donnie Campbell burst through in an hour and 32 minutes and 11 seconds to claim his first British title, edging runner-up Jonathan Turnbull by 35 seconds. In the women’s category, meanwhile, Ursula Catton raced home in an hour, 45 minutes and 27 seconds, nearly eight minutes ahead of second-placed Emma Holgate. The weather ranged from blizzards to thunder and lightning to monsoon-type rain, so imagine what the winners’ times would have looked like on a bluebird day.
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