“By the time I’ve finished with you’ll be skiing down from the top of the UK’S longest indoor ski slope,” exclaimed Ellie Koyander as I took my first tentative slides onto the Chill Factore’s real snow.
A look of horror and disbelief crossed my face as I stared up to the dizzing heights of the mountain summit of the 180 metre run.
“Have you ever been skiing before?” the Derbyshire skier asked me.
“Well there was one time (pause, deep breath, as the humiliating nightmare resurfaces) in Sheffield on a dry ski slope where I couldn’t even make it up the nursery slope with a ski lift,” I mumbled.
“Don’t worry you are in expert hands and I thought we could put you on the fast track course –that’s if you’re game for it?”
Still, it’s not every day you get a master class from an athlete who became the youngest member of Team GB representing her country at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics so I was determined to overcome the fear.
Ellie, 22, is a full time athlete on the FIS World Cup circuit, and travels the world training and competing.
She was born into a skiing family and at the tender age of just one year nine months she strapped on ski boots for the first time and has never looked back.
The talented youngster joined Sharks Ski Club in Sheffield and trained initially as a slalom racer however whilst watching the complex sport of mogul skiing at the 2006 games in Turin, Italy on television Ellie was inspired and immediately changed disciplines.
Mogul courses are between 200 and 270 metres with the moguls (bumps) set approximately 3.5 metres apart and includes two small jumps which are used as a take-off for aerial manoeuvres.
Athletes can perform upright or inverted tricks off these jumps in the course of a competition run Ellie’s signature moves are a 360 aerial jump and a back flip.
Despite competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics at just 18-years-old the Team GB skier sadly missed out on Sochi, however she was extremely upbeat and determined about her future.
“I haven’t made Sochi but I want to go for gold in Korea now,” she said whilst showing me how to strap down the buckles on the ski boots.
“Of course I was disappointed but as soon as I knew I hadn’t been selected for team GB for Sochi I instantly knew that I wanted to go another four years to Korea. I am very positive and I have definitely got the fuel and the fire in the belly to get me to the next Olympics.”
When you put ski boots on for the first time in a very long while it feels like you may topple over with the slightest movement, and are unable to maintain a steady balance for more than a few steps without support.
Fortunately Ellie had the patience to deal with my lack of balance and having her arm to cling to meant I was able to step onto the snow.
First, click your boots into the ski. Lift the foot, place the front of the boot onto the locking system and step down firmly. Easy, right?
Wrong. Don’t step hard enough with the back of the foot and your body weight could fling you in all directions.
Ellie lunged in to stop me from a bruising.
Having secured my boot into place on the left ski we practiced walking across the snow and turning and then I alternated with the right foot.
It was a strange feeling -slipping along on huge new ski flippers that I had miraculously just sprouted but I managed to grasp this quickly and we moved onto sliding along in both.
“Excellent, now you are ready to learn the snow plough,” my expert teacher said.
I stepped tentatively sideways up the nursery slope and turned as I had been shown and then watched as the GB athlete demonstrated.
To make the snowplough I put the skis into a v-shape with the ski tips about 10cm apart, and the back of the skis further apart, this position is very stable and the wide stance makes it easier to keep your balance at slower speeds.
As a human being we have a trained instinct to lean backwards if speed increases however this is the last thing you want to do on skies as it’s leaning forward that will slow you down.
Having adjusted my position so I was more upright with my arms out in front and looking straight ahead I managed, to my surprise, to grasp the position quickly and gently glided down the short distance.
After repeating this several times Ellie then nudged me and pointed to the escalator at the side of the slope.
“It’s time to go higher.”
From the top of the nursery slope I slowly made my way down in the snow plough position with Ellie skiing backwards stopping me when I picked up too much speed.
It felt wonderful to make it all the way down widening my stance at the bottom to bring myself to a halt and after that all the fear was swept away and I couldn’t wait to go higher.
“You’re doing really well. See it’s all about your mind-set, if you tell yourself you can do it and throw yourself into it then you will love it,” the 22-year old exclaimed.
On the nursery slope I continued to slide straight down in the snow plough position until I was able to do it by myself and then we moved onto turning.
All you have to do is turn your feet so they point in the direction you want to travel however you have to defy gravity by turning your skis so they face across the hill and not down it or you can uncontrollable accelerate.
So, I started from the top of the slope, keeping the skis in the v-shape and gently turned my feet, occasionally I picked up too much speed but I simply moved into the plough position to but the brakes on.
“You’re picking this up really fast, so you know what it’s time to move onto the real run now,” she said eagerly.
Yes that’s right I was hitting Chill factor’s incredible 180 metre long real snow slope just an hour after donning a pair of skies for the second time in my life.
I first had to avoid a Bridget Jones type catastrophe on the ski lift, which involved grabbing hold of a moving pulley type contraption.
After having a few runs from the middle of the slope I was now heading to the top, as I stared down the sheer drop – well through my frightened eyes as in ski terms it’s only deemed as a ‘challenging,’ blue run course – Ellie reassured me I was going to be OK.
“How do you cope when you’re stood at the starting gate in the moguls?” I gasped.
“I don’t usually get nervous but I do get an excited type of feeling that helps push and charge me down the hill,” she explained.
“A lot of work goes in to mentally prepare us so when I stand, ready to compete I’m just completely focused. It’s running through my head what exactly I am going to do and I visualise and difficult areas in the course which I need to look out for.”
After a few deep breaths I tentatively pushed off, with Ellie sliding down backwards in front in case I needed to grab her.
I put everything the mogul skier had taught me into practice and before I knew it Ellie had pealed away and let me fly down solo.
My legs ached as I came to a top in the snow plough position for the last time, I had done what had seemed ludicrous an hour and a half before- I had conquered the mountain!
Any delusions of how good I actually was were soon put to bed when Ellie treated fellow skiers and snowboarders to a breath-taking mini mogul run, set up at the top of the slope.
Praise must be given to the Chill Factore for the layout of the Uk’s longest indoor skiing and snowboarding slope which runs alongside a nursery slope and a luge slide.
The striking building is positioned just off the M60 close to the Trafford Centre and the interior transports you straight to the wintery French Alps with a beautiful blend of wintry sophistication and spirit.
Everything was designed to visually enhance the skiing experience, from the snow topped mountainous imagery on the walls, real snow crunching under the snow boots to the alpine style bar upstairs.
I’m usually one who detests the thought of skiing as have always associated it as an elitist sport, but all of this, combined with an exhilarating experience on the slopes, made it impossible not to want to get back on the slopes.
The only thing left to do now is to book in my next ski lesson.
Follow Ellie’s journey to Korea on twitter @elliekoyander
Image courtesy of Team GB, with thanks.