Get a taste for downhill racing with Thurski at Mendip Snowsport Centre

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 April 2020

Navigating the poles on the dry slope at Mendip Snowsport Centre

Navigating the poles on the dry slope at Mendip Snowsport Centre


Imagine standing in the start game, with a timing wand across your shins and skis clipped to your boots.

Mendip Snowsport Centre manager Phil Turner with Olympian Jenny JonesMendip Snowsport Centre manager Phil Turner with Olympian Jenny Jones

There are 20 red and blue poles down the white slope, dropping away before you, through which you have to ski as fast as you dare.

You are anxious and your adrenaline is running high. But then you realise, this is for fun, and not to be taken too seriously. Welcome to dry slope ski racing!

Thurski is a race team which, rather unsurprisingly, sees skiers training every Thursday evening at Mendip Snowsport Centre in Sandford.

Sessions start for under-14s at 6pm, while the over-14s take over the slope at 7.30pm, and the mix of people is superb, from those still at school to others nearing retirement. ll that is needed is an enthusiasm to ski.

Training is split into two parts, guided by coaches with race experience. For the first 40 minutes skiers are given a variety of exercises: skiing with a pole held behind your shins, stepping or jumping while skiing, or ‘painting the slope’ with a pole, are all popular.

As long as you can ski well enough to turn and stop you can join in, as there is no judgement, just instruction to improve.

Those that need to, take the exercises slowly, whilst others glide on the edges of their skis, rolling from edge to edge, working energy into their turns.

The last part of the evening involves a race course where alternate red and blue poles need to be navigated in a manner which is safe and hopefully quick.

Those who are relatively new give the poles a wide berth, while those that are more experienced or braver skim the poles, pushing them to the ground as they flash past.

No one wins and no one judges, it is all about improving techniques and skills on skis. It teaches control so you turn when told, not when it is convenient.

The course changes every week, so if a pole is on the edge of a drop-away you do not ask for it to be moved. Instead, you navigate it as best you can, even if that means slowing down. Take these skills to the mountain and those hard slopes start to seem tame.

There are a surprising number of teams across the country and in the summer they come together to race each other.

Thurski has had teams representing them at Gloucester and Exeter, as well as at home at Mendip. Morning races are against the clock, while in the afternoon two tracks are created for exciting side-by-side races.

Racing is for fun, there is no major prize and often getting a good time is simply enough. If you think a dry slope is not a place for this type of skiing it is worth considering that Dave Ryding was ranked eighth in the world for slalom racing on snow and he started at a dry slope. Jenny Jones, bronze medalist in Olympic snowboarding, first started at Mendip.

So, if you have ever watched people doing ski slalom racing on TV and thought it looks fun, maybe you should consider trying it locally.

Maybe you have tried skiing and thought racing is not for you. Think again. Perhaps you have recently had a ski trip cancelled because of COVID-19, then the dry slope beckons.

Or if you have never clipped skis to your feet, give it a go. It will certainly help to keep you fit and if you fancy having a go through the poles, most dry slopes have racing teams and are open to anyone giving it a try.

*Mendip Snowsport Centre has been closed because of the COVID-19 infection, but will be welcoming back all enthusiastic skiers and boarders as soon as possible. Thurski is a pay-as-you-go club, run by the Mendip team.

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