The Brits: Pam Thorburn interview
Most people would take setting off the metal detectors at the airport because of the extent of the injuries they’d suffered as a sign that it’s time for a change of career. But instead of swapping snow for safety, 26-year-old alpine skier Pam Thorburn decided to venture into an even more bone-threatening world: ski-cross.
The wintry cousin of BMX racing, ski-cross sees competitors launch themselves from a start gate and tear side by side down a course featuring jumps, rollers and other obstacles. Thorburn, Britain’s number two alpine skier before she made the switch, is now British ski-cross champion. And, she tells Sport, she has her eyes set on success in the Russian city of Sochi and the 2014 Winter Olympics.
So why did you decide to make the switch to ski-cross?
“I had a bit of a heartbreak after the last Olympics, with not being selected [for the alpine skiing team], so that was quite a big disappointment. After that, I did another season on the World Cup tour and got a real injury to my knee, so I decided I really wanted a change. I saw ski-cross and I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be any good at it or not, but I tried it and I loved it. I love the whole head-to-head competition – that really spurs me on.”
It’s fair to say you’ve adapted pretty well…
“I’m British champion this year – I can’t say British number one, because I haven’t done enough races. When I started in March, there were not very many races left in the season. I became national champion in my third ever race – so that was quite good for me!”
How much has your previous experience helped you?
“There’s a lot of things that are very similar, and the alpine skiing background really helps in the turns. The biggest surprise I’ve found is the features – all the jumps and rollers. They’re very new to me, and they make such a difference for the actual race. There’s a lot of time to be lost and gained with those, so that’s probably the biggest thing I’m working on learning.”
Do you get much chance to train? Ski-cross tracks must be quite hard to come by…
“The thing is, it’s tough for a ski resort to build a ski-cross track because the public can’t really use one that we can train on – the jumps are so big and it’s really like a full-on hardcore track. All the teams will go to the same three or four resorts that have a track. Other than that, when you can’t train on an actual track you just have to train on the features like the rollers, and I do a lot of skiing in the parks on the big jumps. It’s tough – I only did my first training on an actual course last week, and that was like the first time we had it [outside of competition].”
Presumably it’s the same for everyone?
“Yeah, but the big teams can kind of manage that better than I can – it’s very expensive to train on a track, but they can be based on one all year round. So, for that side of things, it’s a little different. I’m on a team of one right now – it’s me travelling with my coach, and ski-cross is obviously a sport where you’re racing against other people, so having training partners to push you and ski beside you is a big difference. It’s hard to simulate that race effect when you’re by yourself.”
The Olympics is the target – have you got a plan in place for qualification?
“That’s the goal this season. We have quite a lot of World Cup races, which are all for qualification this year. I have a plan. I’m not going to go in all guns blazing right at the very start of the season, because I think that would be stupid when I’m still kind of learning. Everything seems to be going the right way now, and it’s amazing each time I get on snow how much better things get and how much more my confidence rises.”
Amit Katwala @amitkatwala