Oliver on the slippery slope to a quick finish
WEATHER was inclement at the weekend, but travelling spectators didn't need their snow chains to make it to the Bowles leg of the 2012 Summer Ski Race Series.
More than 70 competitors took part in a slalom event which kicked-off this year's summer season. The youngest was eight years old - the oldest was 77.
In a regional meet that brought together teams from Brentwood, Bromley, Chatham, Folkestone, Aldershot and Welling, Crowborough's own Bowles ski centre enjoyed success through Mark Oliver, eighth overall and second in his over-45s age group, and Jack Hilliard, 13th overall and also second in his age group, the under 17s.
"It was an excellent day and our skiers did very well," said Bowles coach Simon Everett.
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"The regionals are interesting because you get some of the ones challenging for World Cup and Team GB alongside relative amateurs and you can see how you compare to the best in the country. We regularly see skiers from this region go on to compete at that level.
"Mark was excellent, particularly as he was in the super-veterans - strangely, by far the most competitive age group.
"And Jack has showed a lot of promise.
"He started late and obviously we don't have mountains here so he is a long way behind the French and Austrians.
"But he's already an excellent standard of club skier and no doubt our star club member."
The concept of dry-slope skiing may draw the odd sneer from some quarters, but the competition is as fierce as its crashes and, despite residing in France, Britain's well-known alpine racer Chemmy Alcott used to compete in the same dry-slope regional London and South East championships, representing Richmond.
A number of former Bowles ski members have gone on to train with the GB development squad.
The special surface used on dry slopes, Dendix, comprises thousands of bristles arranged in a hexagonal shape to reduce friction, and is seen by many enthusiasts as the nearest thing to snow.
The one in Crowborough stretches more than 100 metres into the air.
Perhaps rather paradoxically, British ski racing is a summer seasonal event. The slope is at its best during the warmer period and the country's top competitors, failing to land a more expensive trip to New Zealand, get their practice in on these shores.
"We provide a way for people to go on and be competitive in the sport," said Everett. "It's good exercise and can be made challenging. Anybody of any level is welcome to come and have a go at Bowles."
Other members Max Laughland, Kian Blewett and Lindsay Russell all performed strongly in their first competitive races.