By Amie Henderson
“I know I’m going to win a medal one day” 23-year-old Charlie tells me when we meet one scorching August morning. And fair play to her. Currently ranked as Team GB’s No.2 slalom ski racer, Charlie already has the qualification points she needs for a place in our Olympic squad.
Like so many Scottish children, Charlie’s first taste of snow was in the Highlands, aged three, braving those icy winds. “My Grandparents lived in Aviemore, we’d visit at the weekends and the Cairngorms were literally in our back garden!” Charlie explains. “My dad popped me on a pair of skis and pushed me down a golf course. I was hooked!”
After years spent training with the Scottish Ski Club, Charlie’s ski skills were so impressive that she won a bursary, aged 11, to join the British Ski Academy in Les Houches. “It’s here that I fell in love with the sport,” Charlie tells me. “Scotland had some really great winters in the years that followed, I was able to progress quickly and really grow with the sport.” Success came at the Trofeu Boruffa Championships in Andorra, 2008 where Charlie’s winning run was rewarded with Chupa Chups. “I travelled home with my body weight in lollies stuffed in my suitcase. It felt incredible!”
Charlie decided to make skiing her full-time career after leaving school in 2012 and the intervening years have been entirely dedicated to ski racing. “I want to become the best in the world and bring home World Cup and Olympic Medals to the UK”. Those plans were somewhat scuppered in November 2014 when Charlie fractured four vertebrae in a crash during training. “The actual crash is still pretty vivid in my mind,” Charlie tells me. “It was a normal training day in Sweden, I was giving it everything ahead of my next race. The crash itself was nothing spectacular, but I ended up sliding off the piste at speed, landing on my back and hitting a rock. I tried to save it as I could see what was coming. Then I felt a sharp pain, I was winded and my coaches arrived immediately.”
With weather conditions too bad for a helicopter, an eight-hour journey to hospital in an ambulance followed, giving Charlie time to ask “Will I be training tomorrow?” and “Are my skis OK?”. “I was just 11 weeks away from my first World Championships and I was in great form. It was soul destroying when the Swedish Doctors told me it would be a minimum of 15 weeks before I’d be back on skis.”
It’s Charlie’s approach to the weeks that followed that really set her apart, both as a professional skier and as a sportsperson. “Yes, I fractured four vertebrae and yes, I was back on skis six weeks later, and it’s all thanks to the Scottish Institute of Sport”. As it turns out, the clever folk at the Scottish Institute of Sport had just seen a very similar injury on a cyclist. Their treatment programme landed the cyclist back on her saddle in time for the Commonwealth Games. With Charlie’s competitive season still in play, she still had a chance to do something great with it. Since her return, Charlie has ranked well inside the top 100 skiers in the world, peaking in 75th position last winter, before breaking her hand.
“I’ll leave no stone unturned this summer when it comes to my training plan for the coming season” Charlie tells me. “Summer training for ski racers includes fitness tests, glacier training in ski resorts across Europe and dry land training back in Scotland. But I’m only ever home for a maximum of three weeks at a time. I love the lifestyle and I’m very lucky to be part of the Delancey British World Cup Team”.
Charlie’s spot amongst our Team GB athletes heading for Pyeongchang won’t be confirmed until January 2018. “It was such a weight off my shoulders to nail all of the qualification criteria during January 2017. It’s just a case of waiting now. Training and waiting!” I’m keen to know how a ski racer prepares mentally for these big, potentially life changing events. “I believe that I can win every single race that I take part in. As I stand at the gate, I’m nervous, my heart rate increases, the adrenalin is definitely flowing. But because of my training I can keep everything under control.” Of course, when you’ve been skiing since the age of three, ‘the fear’ has long since been taken care of. “In a race, in the moment, the very last thing I’m thinking about is the consequences. I can’t consider what might go wrong, as then I’d instinctively start to hold back and my times would start to slip. I simply don’t let these thoughts enter my head”.
Funding is a hot topic this year. Our Olympic heroes of 2012 left Sochi with four medals, Team GB’s biggest medal haul since the inaugural Winter Olympics in Chamonix in 1924, suggesting there’s real talent out there. But is there the financial support to nurture it? “I was aged 15 when I moved into the senior race category” Charlie tells me. “In this year Snowsports GB went bankrupt. I therefore had zero funding and had to rely on private sponsors to maintain my training and travelling. This is my first year since 2014 that I have had the financial support from British Ski & Snowboard, who along with sponsor Delancey, are doing all they can for us.” Yet Charlie continues to depend upon the support of private sponsors such as specialist winter sports insurance company MPI Brokers. “They were my first financial sponsor and their support is massively important although I am still looking for a head sponsor for 17/18.” The team at Head Skis keep Charlie moving quickly, offering up the very latest equipment and access to the best servicing team in the industry. “Alpine skiing is really on the map now, especially as athletes such as Dave Ryding continue to rocket through the world rankings. This helps us all hugely!”.
Alas, the professional life of a ski racer cannot continue forever. I’m unsurprised to discover that even at the age of 23, Charlie has already considered life after the world circuit. “I applied to study biomedical science at The University of Aberdeen, even though I knew I wanted to be a ski racer. I need to give 100% of my energy to whatever it is I’m doing, so studying alongside skiing wasn’t an option for me. I have probably 10 more years of professional racing ahead of me, which could mean another two or three Olympic challenges. After that, I’d like to become a physio. With my injury history, I think it would be a smart move!”
FOLLOW CHARLIE THIS WINTER:
Eurosport are dedicating an increasing amount of airtime to World Cup slalom events featuring more British ski racers. Tune in to watch Charlie’s progress this winter, or head to one of her social media pages: