Ursula Moore, 25, is a year 1 foundation doctor training at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. She has been part of the women’s GB ski-mountaineering team since 2013. Here she talks of her love for ‘SkiMo’.
“I got involved in ski-mountaineering (or SkiMo) when I met Jon Morgan, a mountain guide and anaesthetist on a ski touring trip in the Alps. He also happened to be the men’s captain for the GB ski-mountaineering team. He must have spotted my masochistic tendencies, or perhaps gullibility, as he suggested I try racing and that there was a spot in the GB women’s team. It seemed quite a jump, from no race experience to an international stage, and it was!
SkiMo involves climbing up the mountains that you are then going to ski down. Using skins on the bottom of the ski – which, like stroking a cat, will slide one way but catch the other – allows you to ‘ski’ uphill. When you reach the top, the skins come off and you ski down. In many races there are also sections where you scramble along ridges with the skis attached to your rucksack so that you can go over rocks.
My first race was an eye-opener. I had previously done lots of ski touring and long races in other disciplines, such as triathlon, but wasn’t prepared for the intensity of SkiMo. I didn’t manage to eat or drink for the 4hr race as I was breathing too hard and, not surprisingly, hit a wall after about 3hrs. I’ve since got much better at feeding myself.
There are several disciplines with sprint races being only 3-4 minutes long, individual races of about 2.5-3hrs and team races which can be anything from 3–20hrs long. A typical individual race will have 2000-2500m vertical ascent and decent. Team races involve more height gain and some require you to use ropes.
Many longer races start in the dark (at 5am or so) – it is magical to watch the sunrise over the mountains as you climb. The longest race I know of is the Patrouille des Glaciers, with 4000m height gain, which traverses a route from Zermatt via Arolla to Verbier. It is not being held in 2015, but is a target for the 2016 season.
We have so much kit! The boots are very flexible and feel almost like running shoes before they lock solid for the downhill section, while the skies are light and jittery in heavy snow. Then there is the avalanche rescue gear, transceiver, harness, obligatory spare layers and, of course, thousands of calories in jelly babies.
Everything has to be super-lightweight as you are dragging it all uphill with you. However, there is a fine balance between lightweight and useless in an emergency. I once found that my race shovel cracked when I used it to build a snowman – so I didn’t trust it on a long ski trip.
The sport is definitely growing in popularity across Europe, including the UK, but is obviously a much bigger sport for the alpine countries. This year we have a team of six women filling the four race slots in the World Championships and we will rotate to play to our strengths.
Training in the UK is obviously difficult so it involves a lot of general fitness (using triathlon training) and ski-specific indoor exercises. In short races, a lot of time can be lost during the transition from each uphill to downhill segment – which means practicing on the living room carpet for the UK based team. I keep fit by doing triathlons over the summer months. I cycle or run to work most days. I love being in Newcastle with Northumberland on the doorstep to explore on my bike and such beautiful beaches to run along.
During the season I might manage four or five separate races although some of these offer more than one day of racing. During the last two seasons I was a medical student and it was surprisingly difficult to get the time to compete as many races were not at weekends or required travel during the working week. My medical school was not flexible about time off, but I found understanding consultants who were prepared to allow me to use weekends to gain my clinical experience instead. Now I’m working, I can use my annual leave to race.
I race mainly in the Alps but a new race series has started in Scotland. I hope to get to more of the Scottish races to help support the sport in the UK. I would love to race in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. The scenery is so dramatic and large scale with fantastic glaciers all around. I think the remoteness –often several days travel from ‘civilisation’ – is key. That really is getting away from it all.
Juggling sport with my career makes me better at both. As a new and daunted F1, my fitness training has helped me to keep perspective. As a racer, the job back home reminds me that skiing is not everything and that if a race goes badly it is still a lot better than a bad day for a patient on the wards. My team mates love to combine the two and bombard me with physiology questions about acclimatisation and the legality of salbutamol inhalers in races.
My next big race is the World Championships in Verbier in February 2015. This will be a week of races, of all the disciplines, between the national teams from many countries. The other ‘big’ race this season will be the ‘Pierra Menta’. This is a four-day long staged team race, a little like the Tour de France, with 4-5 hrs of racing each day. Qualifying for the race is very competitive and my team mate Gabby Lees and I were thrilled to get a place this year. Sadly, I had to pull out because of a groin injury. This will be the most important race for me in 2015, as I am keen not to let Gabby down again.