RGS skiers sparkle in prestigious Alpine races

TWO Ripon Grammar School ski teams sparkled on French and Swiss slopes when they competed in prestigious Alpine races.

It’s the first time RGS has entered the British Schoolgirls’ and British Schoolboys’ events, traditionally dominated by top independent sporting schools, with RGS being the only state school taking part in both this year.

Although they faced stiff competition from elite athletes, including Team GB skiers and aspiring Olympians, RGS boys and girls held their own as they competed in three disciplines - giant slalom, slalom and parallel slalom.

The students were inspired to take up the challenge by RGS parent, Ripon vet Anna Kirby, who competed as a girl in a prize-winning school team which included Olympian Chemmy Alcott.

The girls’ team –Anna’s daughter Milly, Elena Russell and Saskia Hallam - achieved clean runs in all their races, coming away with Best New Team titles in grand slalom and slalom in addition to an overall team prize, while Elena received the prize for best non-registered skier from a new team.

It was the first competition the 14-year-old, from Bishop Monkton, ever entered: “I was really proud of our team as we were against club and Team GB skiers,” she said. Elena, who also enjoys dance and gymnastics, hopes RGS can take part again next year.

During two days of racing, in Flaine, France, she and her team competed alongside 150 girls from around 30 schools.

The event, organised by the Ladies’ Ski Club and now in its 63rd year, is a breeding ground for young British talent, including top Olympians.

The boys’ team - Freddie Palmer,Joseph Gardner, Tom Hallam and Alexander Bowden - claimed the impressive halfway spot on the leader board in their competition, in Wengen, Switzerland, where they raced down the famous Lauberhorn piste, the longest and fastest downhill course on the World Cup circuit.

RGS was the first state school in around 20 years to take part in the event, organised by the Down Hill Only Ski Club and now in its 25th year.

Tom Hallam achieved the fastest time for the RGS boys in giant slalom and was 11th in his category. Alex Bowden and Joseph Gardner triumphed with clean runs, although the slalom proved a greater challenge for the boys in very icy conditions, with many elite athletes falling or missing gates.

Joseph, 16, from Ripon, who first learnt to ski two years ago, said: Racing in Wengen, alongside 133 competitors and finishing in the middle of the whole table was a great achievement, since some individuals are very seasoned and could be considered semi-professionals.”

The students were cheered on by seven RGS parents, who travelled to France and Switzerland to support the teams, with Mrs Kirby’s sister Helena, who represented Britain as a schoolgirl racer and went on to become a ski instructor, kindly providing coaching and top tips for the races.

One of the parents, Claire Hallam, thanked the school for its encouragement of the teams: “Taking part in the ski races serves as a testament to the school’s commitment to fostering diverse talents.

“The resilience and success of these young athletes shines a spotlight on RGS as a modern institution that values and encourages students to explore and master a multitude of skills.”

All agreed that competing in such a high-profile skiing competition was no small feat. For the RGS ski team it was an opportunity to hone their skiing skills and to support each other as a team.

The challenging steep and icy race courses required precision, agility and resilience in the knowledge that a fall or missed gate would disqualify a skier from the race and impact the whole team.

For the students, that meant a constant balance between pushing to go faster whilst maintaining the racing line, with even the most accomplished skiers falling and miss gates as they strive to ski faster.

The students were all very grateful for the opportunity. For most, like Joseph, it was their first competition, and quite a challenge:Ski Racing is very disciplined on a set course which requires you to be precise and sharp to be competitive, easily reaching speeds of around 60 mph,” he said.

Milly, 13, from Littlethorpe, agreed: “I want to improve my skiing and enter more competitions.We did great for the first time. The top spots because were taken by schools who train multiple times a week and dedicate the time to skiing unlike us.”

Saskia, 12, from Mickley, enjoys lots of sports, including football, netball, hockey, swimming and cricket but, like the others, has developed a real passion for skiing following the competition.

“I want to improve my skiing and maybe one day win a trophy or an award,” she says.

Freddie, 16, from Thirsk, also hopes he can compete again for RGS next year. The keen rugby player says he now want to ski as much as possible: “The races in Wengen are definitely the highlight of my skiing career so far.”

Tom, 15, from Mickley, who started skiing aged eight on a family holiday, agreed: “Representing RGS as a member of the ski team has been the highlight of my school career so far.

“Standing at the start gate at the top of the Lauberhorn is an experience I will never forget. I hope to go back next year to beat my time and I’m determined to complete both slalom runs without missing a gate.”

*The Ladies' Ski Club was first established 101 years ago by a group of intrepid women who wanted to ski competitively. The founding members used to hike up the mountains for five hours wearing woollen clothing and leather boots, before skiing down in off-piste races on wooden skis. The Downhill Only Club was set up a boys’ event 25 years ago to provide a similar format competition for British schoolboys.