When I look back on this season, I find it hard to measure exactly how it went. It certainly didn’t go the way that I had planned but on the other hand, I still came out with a lot of what I was looking for. Of course, to see the majority of the goals set this time last year achieved – alongside some that have been sitting in my long term plan for far longer than 12 months – is a glorious feeling. Something that my coach, family and every supporter out there can be proud of helping me push towards and ultimately achieve. SO a huge thank you, to you all for sticking with me throughout every turn and every effort out of the start gate. There can never be too many times to say that I could not be coming back day after day without you.
The biggest thing that I learned throughout this year was that what my brain wants to do and what my body can manage, at times, are two totally different things. It was really hard to come to terms with the fact that even though I had trained so hard throughout the summer, to keep on pushing through something that was niggling every day was not the smart thing to do. Therefore, for the majority of our summer camp at Cardrona, New Zealand, we had to slowly build back up into slalom skiing and focus on that for a good 7 weeks. However we did get to a point where I was making career best results in slalom and was more than comfortable to be back on the long boards in GS and Super-G. Unfortunately, in October whilst training in Soelden, Austria I was in serious pain and a day later was diagnosed with a herniated L4/5 disc. It is still relatively unclear as to whether it was a result of the original back break in 2014 or if it was an entirely unconnected injury that would have been inevitable. One thing was for certain though; I was going to do everything possible not to end up on an operating table. This meant almost 2 months of conservative treatment and very light skiing.
Mobility, pilates and all round stability became my best friends throughout this time and we started to dip our toes back into the slalom program throughout December. After a lot of thinking and a couple of hard decisions, unfortunately we had to resign ourselves to the fact that it would realistically be a couple of months before we could even think about GS. Something that I was devastated about, but at least we were skiing!
By the time Christmas rolled around, we had notched up a couple of podiums. Even if Stef and I were disappointed to be missing the opening Europa Cup of the season and having to focus purely on slalom, words cannot describe how happy I was to be skiing pain free and it did mean that 100% of our time was dedicated to rehab and slalom. (Which, let’s face it, was not an entirely terrible prospect. If you had told me 4 years ago that I had the opportunity to become a slalom specialist, I would have been jumping for joy and grabbed it with both hands)! So with all that said, it was time to look at our goals, re-evaluate and chase them down.
This time last year, I sat down with everyone working with me; from the whole team at the Scottish Institute of Sport to my parents and Stef to map out where we needed to go for 15/16 season. In amongst this we came up with 3 main targets. Firstly to make it into the top 100 in the world in slalom. Secondly to make a bunch of top 15 results in Europa Cup slalom to give me a decent overall ranking at the end of the season and thirdly to get back to a point where I was making Europa Cup points in GS. There were of course a heap of technical and physical ones besides that … but I won’t bore you with the details.
January was when we really managed to get stuck into races and I will admit that I came through the first month of the year feeling rather deflated. I missed a number of big chances, made a bunch of stupid mistakes and as a result my confidence suffered. I came home with a win in a FIS race in Obdach and had a great time fore-running the men’s Europa Cup slaloms in Zell am See (my adopted ‘home slope’) but February was where things really started to happen for me.
The Europa Cup tour took us as far as Bulgaria this season and was definitely one of my highlights. It was an amazing event and of course it is so exciting to head to a completely different corner of the world. There was a course worker posted on every gate, fantastic snow conditions and not to mention… a killer hospitality tent! The piste itself was probably one of the hardest of the season: A small flat out of the start, before a bullet proof pitch followed by a couple of abrupt rolls before the finish. By this point in the season – throughout all of the emotional turbulence – I had been able to build myself into a mind-set where I had to think of nothing but each and every turn. After a particularly ungraceful 1st run of the 2 races I was so surprised to come into the finish inside the top 20, giving me (finally) a great start for the second run! It was a seriously fun couple of races and I flew back to Austria with two top 20 Europa Cup results under my belt. My best two ever! Assia, if you are reading this – your support crew were amazing. I particularly appreciated the extra start gate motivation!
On returning to Austria, I had about 5 days before going home for a short break. It would appear that we were more than determined to make the most of that recently discovered slalom form. After a training session at trusty Hinterreit with the Germans, Stef and I drove over to Krakauebene in Steiermark. The first of two races there saw me narrowly miss out on the win, but still make a steady 16 points. The bib draw for the second race will be an evening I will never forget; all the girls, coaches and organisers dressed up in traditional Austrian dress complete with a local band hammering out fancy dance moves. Anyway – the odds were somehow in my favour, and out of a group of 16 kids, I picked the one hiding bib number 1. It was a really perfect day from start to finish and I took the win by 1.3s which gave me my career best result of 12 points. It certainly made returning home all the sweeter, especially to find out that it was good enough to put me into the top 100 in the world!
One week later and I was back on the slopes fully energised. I was also greeted with the news that I was allowed to start my first World Cup in over 2 years in Jasna : The resort in which I raced my final Junior Worlds. To say that I was over the moon was an understatement. I was able to go in confident with nothing to lose. I ended up being just 0.6s from qualifying for the second run. 100% the closest I have ever come to that prestigious top 30 result.
I can only smile when I look back through March and April. After hitting a big milestone in February, the next came as much more of a surprise at the Europa Cup finals in La Molina. For the first time I started within the top 30, only to find out that for the first time that season, just the top 15 would make the flip. However, we gave our all and came out with a top 10 EC finish. It was undeniably the best day of my season. Obviously there was room for improvement, but at that moment in time it was rather surreal to see how far we had come from a seriously low point in October and November, to making GB’s best ladies slalom Europa Cup finish since Emma Carrick-Anderson in 2002. Kudos to every single one of you that made it happen; Scott, Kelly, Niall, Marcus and Stef.
The last chunk of the season spun past very quickly. The Delancey British Champs were characteristically British and it was so great to catch up with so many people. I was a little disappointed to only be racing in the slalom, but nevertheless we came out with the result that we were looking for and I could successfully bring the Slalom title back to sunny Perthshire!
A week or so later, I found myself as bib 2 at the Austrian Champs and 6th place there gave me my career second best result ever of 13. This was topped off with a double win in Slovenia before we called it a season and headed home. A fantastic note to finish on.
Massive thanks have to go out to everyone at the Scottish Institute of Sport. For the second season in a row everyone has been able to work with all the difficulties thrown at us to get as close as we can to a perfect outcome. Also to Delancey, The Ladies Ski Club, Pandaw River Cruises, The Robertson Trust, Sport Scotland and British Ski and Snowboard for help on the financial side of things. Alongside Craig Lamont and all of those that very generously have contributed towards my make a champ campaigns or attended the Warren Miller Screening in Aviemore last November. Massive thanks to HEAD and UVEX for never failing to get me the fastest skis and top quality noggin protection. To Ski Racing Supplies, Run4It, Teko and Sterling O’Keefe for kitting me out with wax, shoes, clothes, millions of socks and the best ski bags out there! To Heidi at Tayside Chiropractic and Wellness and FitnessWorld in Zell am See for making sure that I am behaving and of course to Volpa for keeping me in technological shape!
The biggest thanks as always have to go out to my main sponsors, Mum and Dad. Thanks for putting up with it all every single day; the tears, the bad days and of course for being there for the great ones! To my siblings, one of which is guaranteed to be Skype available and of course to coach Stef for making the improvements happen every day, always pushing me and doubling as the technician.
So after all of that I would say that I am pleased with how the season went. Right now, I am back in the gym, in the pool and making 100% sure that every imbalance, weakness and muscle group will be sorted for season 16/17. It’s going to be a big one, with World Championships in February and Olympic Qualification opening up. As always, we will go in aiming high and I am more than confident we can pick up where we left of this season, if not better.
Enjoy the summer, and see you out there!
Love Charlie x