With the days getting longer and temperatures finally starting to warm up after months of gloomy midwinter, the start of summer is something many look forward to.
But Britain’s snowsports athletes wished the cold would never end as they look back on the most successful season in their history. Their achievements are remarkable.
Just over 12 months after the bombing of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics – where Britain only medaled in curling – the transformation was astonishing.
Since the start of 2023, Britain’s snowsports athletes have achieved a record 50 podiums, 16 gold medals and four crystal balls. The success was all the more impressive as funding for their respective disciplines was cut by more than £2 million for the next Olympic cycle.
“We have won 50 medals this season,” explains Vicky Gosling, CEO of GB Snowsport. “It’s totally unprecedented, literally unheard of.
Charlotte Bankes was one of the British stars who struggled during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
Mia Brookes became the youngest world champion in snowboarding history in February
Brookes was victorious in the women’s slopestyle event at the Georgia World Championships
“Many other countries wonder how on earth it happens, because Britain is not seen as a competitive snow sports nation!”
So, how did Gosling engineer such a turnaround in performance while working with significantly fewer resources than in the past?
Well, it turns out that a little help from Formula 1 and sheer hard work and determination from the coaches and athletes played a big role.
“My priority was to make sure we had a strong foundation to give the athletes the best possible support,” says Gosling, who helped set up the Invictus Games in a previous role.
“To ensure world-class performance, we knew we needed world-class coaches to complement our very talented British coaches, including our exceptional head coach, Pat Sharples.” We now employ some of the best international coaches in snow sports from Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Austria and France. With regard to F1 involvement and innovation, our Olympic team was supported by McLaren’s chief engineer who looked specifically at our equipment. Separately, Williams built a custom sit-ski for our ParaNordic Team, which was simply brilliant!
“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts leading up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, we had an absolute shock in terms of results.” We were not helped by the challenges of both Brexit and Covid. “We had to comply with Brexit rules that limited us to spend only 180 days a year in Europe. That made it really hard when you needed access to the snow!” That, coupled with the Covid lockdown restrictions, made the preparation for the two years leading up to Beijing very hard on our athletes and it certainly took its toll.
“We were given a medal target by UK Sport for Beijing and unfortunately when we failed to deliver on that, we were deprived of around £3 million in funding as a result. It was a major blow to our organization and the significant progress we had made in all disciplines over the past four years. “Since then we’ve dusted off and come back with a fighting spirit.” As a nation of perseverance, I think the British are good at dealing with adversity. We are used to finding a solution to what it takes to win.”
Central funding for snow sports enthusiasts is essential as many of them not only work part-time but also cannot afford the huge sums required to regularly travel to Europe and fund such things as accommodation, lift passes and living expenses.
Freestyle skier Zoe Atkin is one of the Britons who has tasted success in the year since the Games
Alpine skier Dave Ryding won a World Cup silver medal on the track earlier this year
“We have a number of athletes still in training and others have part-time jobs that represent us,” adds Gosling. “Between competing, they find other ways to generate income to follow their dreams.
“A lot of parents can’t afford the costs, so for us it’s about finding ways to support our athletes. Winter sports have traditionally been underfunded.
“Most people expect our athletes to come from public schools and wealthy families who are only in our disciplines because their parents can afford it.” That is not always the case and we have a number of athletes who do not come from affluent backgrounds . Some of our athletes, including the most talented in the world, come from fairly humble backgrounds and sacrifice a lot to pursue their dreams and represent their country. “I said two years ago it was realistic for us to compete with the top nations and everyone was laughing, but now we’ve taken Britain to new heights no one expected.”
With the likes of Dave Ryding, 16-year-old Mia Brookes, Kirsty Muir, Zoe Atkin, Charlotte Bankes and Makayla Gerken Schofield, Britain has amazing talent. The aim is to build on this year’s success with a view to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan-Cortina, where it is hoped that staying in a European time zone and close to home can positively impact hopes of Team GB medals.
Freestyle skier Gerken Smith says: ‘It was a very stressful summer when we got the news that there would be cuts in certain disciplines. It all began.
“Snow sports activities are very expensive and people don’t realize that. With flights, accommodation and lift passes it can be astronomical. But this season has been my best yet.
“I’ve never had so many good results.”
Lloyd Wallace, another freestyle skier, perhaps sums up the life of a snow sports athlete better than most. He is currently taking time away from the sport before moving to Milan to work as an athlete manager. In his career so far, he has had a crash that left him in a coma.
Last year, he and his fellow British athletes had to make a quick escape from Russia following the country’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Bankes and Huw Nightingale won mixed team gold at the 2023 World Championships
Makayla Gerken Schofield claimed a bronze medal in moguls during the World Cup series
“My discipline was never funded,” Wallace says. “The reality is I have to go it alone and that’s fine with me. In 2017 I had the worst crash I’ve ever had. “I can’t remember the day before, the crash or three days after. I have no idea what happened. That in itself is very strange. I have no memory.
“Once I knew it was going to be okay, I had no doubt that I wanted to keep going. There is an element of fear praying in the air in your mind. I had to go through some hard times to get over that. Milan is in fact an Olympic home games. It’s gonna be epic. “I’m getting to a point in my career where I can hopefully expect podium finishes. I got to that point in 2022, but unfortunately the season was cut short because we were in Russia when they invaded Ukraine.
“I woke up before the first day of training, looked at my phone and was like ‘Oh God, Russia has invaded Ukraine!’ All the countries that were not Russia and Belarus met in the hotel foyer and had a big discussion about what we were going to do. The general consensus was that we had to get out of there pretty quickly.
“Life as a snow sports enthusiast is never easy!”