LONDON (Reuters) - The Alpine ski season is drawing near and Britain’s top Olympic hope Dave Ryding will be heading indoors, far from any snowcapped mountains.
Three weeks in Hamburg may lack the glamour of Val d’Isere and Wengen, but Ryding feels the north German port city’s indoor ski facility offers just what he needs ahead of potentially the biggest season of his career and February’s Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea.
“I like to go indoors because I know what I’m going to get,” the 30-year-old slalom specialist told Reuters on his return from three weeks of training in Ushuaia, in the glacial southernmost tip of Argentina.
“Every day’s going to be the same and I get some sort of consistency to try and work on aspects of my skiing.
“Say you were to go to a glacier in Austria or wherever, then you get a lot of variable weather and conditions.”
Most teams will incorporate some indoor time in their preparations, but the majority for days rather than weeks. Ryding is a bit different.
Rivals may think he’s mad, but it works for a man who last January equaled Britain’s best ever World Cup result with a stunning second place in Kitzbuehel - one of the showcase slaloms of the season.
He had led after the first run down the famed Hahnenkamm slope before being pipped by local favorite and overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher.
“They (other rivals) think I’m crazy, but I’ve grown up on those short dry ski slopes which are the same length if not shorter,” said Ryding.
“I really like it there (indoors). They seem to think it drives them crazy after four days but that’s just how I was brought up I guess.”
Growing up in post-industrial north-west England, Ryding grew familiar with dry ski slopes around the country by competing in summer series of races.
His family made sacrifices, grandparents also chipping in financially, and the family would stay in campsites rather than hotels to save money.
Ryding recognizes that Austria’s Olympic medal contenders are unlikely to have ever pitched a tent near a concrete hill but says such experiences stood him in good stead.
“In the end we used to love camping. It just became the way of life,” he recalled.
“I’ve always had to sacrifice and we’ve always had to work hard for what we’ve got but in the end we made it happen.
“And I believe I’m in a better place for it now than having loads of money and things come too easy.”
While there will never be a level playing field in a sport that involves steep slopes and sheets of jagged ice, and countries with considerable natural advantages, Ryding has showed he has both the talent and resilience to succeed.
“We’re always going to be behind the Austrians, French, whatever because they were on these mountains when they were four years old,” said the skier, who based himself in Austria when he was 18.
“But I always believed that I can catch them up...and when you are at the top, if you’ve had to work to get there then you know how to put in the hard work to stay there.
“I’ve always known that I’m not the best or whatever so I’ve always tried to put in that bit more work and it’s still the same now,” he added.
Ryding was 27th at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 17th in Sochi four years ago. Last season he had six top-10 finishes in the World Cup.
His first race of the 2017-18 season is scheduled for Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12 after the World Cup starts with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, at the end of October.
“I’ve proven I can get a podium when my day’s right,” he said. “They (rivals) certainly take me more seriously than they used to four years ago, I guess.
“I’ve never really looked at myself and thought I’m British and these Austrians are looking down at me.
“They don’t seem to look down at you, they just obviously expect to beat you. But now they don’t expect to beat me all the time.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond