As Britain’s foremost Alpine skier of the past decade, Dave Ryding is one of the sport’s most recognisable names. As we speak to him before his history-making victory in Kitzbuehel, the Rocket reveals the hard work that’s dominated his skiing career.
“The previous 10 years have been very lonely at times, I can’t deny that.”
Dave Ryding, more than perhaps anyone else, is familiar with the loneliness and the self-determination that comes as part of the territory for the world’s best Alpine skiers. For a not insignificant amount of his career he was, after all, the only regular British presence on the men’s World Cup slalom circuit, ploughing a lone furrow at the top of a naturally insular sport. Recently, though, things have started to change.
“For myself, it’s a breath of fresh air to be honest,” Ryding explains. “It’s great to have new energy, to have competition day in, day out, and a great training environment. I feel like my physical conditioning and my skiing form are at some of the best levels they’ve ever been, and I 100% think it’s down to the young guns pushing me on and the coaches giving us absolutely top training.”
The Rocket’s racing form over the past 18-months seems to bear that out, with a succession of high-level performances, not least his 2021 Adelboden podium position, marking him out as one of the most consistently formidable competitors on the World Cup circuit. And while the 21/22 season may have been marked by a brace of DNF’s in Madonna di Campiglio and on his return to Adelboden, the 35-year-old looks to be in something approaching the form of his life, which he showed to astonishing effect with Britain’s first ever Alpine World Cup victory in Kitzbuehel. So, what’s the secret?
A piece of British sporting history 🇬🇧
— Team GB (@TeamGB) January 22, 2022
“It’s all about having a relentless work ethic. Truly.”, he says. “Not just from myself, but from my coach and the whole team. Everyone sees the skiing, sure, but nobody sees what it takes and the relentless grind we go through to improve. Experience helps, but if I didn’t improve myself physically and technically from 12 years ago, I would be working somewhere else now.”
Speaking to Ryding, it’s crystal clear how seriously he takes his craft. The competition, the training, the travel, the conditioning – all of it is work for a man whose dedication is widely respected by teammates and supporters. All of it appears driven by a determination to wring every drop of success out of the talent he possesses. “I’ve never been motivated by doing ‘x’ amount of Olympic Games, or anything like that,” he explains. “I just want to make the most of the opportunities given to me and, if I can, to go better than I’ve gone before. That’s what will make me proud.”
As one of the veterans in the British ranks – it’s been 12 years since Ryding’s World Cup debut, and Beijing will mark his fourth appearance at the Olympic Winter Games – he’s able to look back with some perspective on the changes the last decade has seen.
“I’m a damn sight balder than I was back then, that’s for sure!”, he laughs, thinking back to the years he was starting out on the World Cup circuit, where it took until his seventh World Cup start to put together two runs, his first finish coming in 2012 at Levi in Finland. “12 years…it’s a long time, sure, but it feels much less to be honest,” he recalls. “I was young and inexperienced then, of course, but it’s been 12 years of learning. Not leaving a stone unturned, and not letting a day go by where skiing isn’t at the very forefront of my mind.”
“12 years of the same thoughts on repeat: how am I going to improve?”
Hands up if you’re still on a high
— GB Snowsport (@GBSnowsport) January 23, 2022
One of the benefits of those 12 years’ experience is the ability to remember that this isn’t the first time British men’s Slalom skiing has had strength in depth too. “The Baxter brothers and James Leuzinger; they were at a real top level. But we did have a period of time where we didn’t have any skiers making World Cup points, and people quickly forget that there used to be success.”
What was it like competing in those leaner years? “I remember comments like ‘Ah, I’ve been beaten by a Brit today!’ or calling us an ‘exotic nation’. Those comments have gone pretty quiet now. We’re here to mix it with any other team. It really is great to have three Brits competing on the slalom World Cup circuit together.”
For now, the World Cups take a back seat as Beijing comes into focus. How does Ryding feel going into the Games?
“It helps being able to draw on those experiences from Vancouver, Sochi and PyeongChang; I know what to expect, how things work, and the pressure that comes with it. Four years is a long time, though, and I’ve had lots of highs and lots of lows since the last Games.”
And is he confident?
“Well, the good thing is that I’m still capable of hitting the highs, and that means anything can happen in Beijing. I can tell you one thing for sure, though: I’ll still be nervous!”.
Nerves or no nerves, there’s one thing British supporters can be absolutely sure of going into the Games. Ryding hasn’t wasted a moment in the build-up. If medals were won on hard work, Britain’s very own Rocket would be a shoo-in.
Dave Ryding Biography
- Born: 1986
- Discipline: Alpine
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Tarleton, England
Header Image: Dave Ryding (GBR) celebrates victory at Kitzbuehel World Cup, January 2022. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Wolfgang Grebien