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The best schools in the UK for skiing and ski racing
By Talk Education
24 January 2023
Main image: Danes Hill School
After an extended Covid-induced hiatus, skiing is finally firmly back on the agenda at a number of schools across the UK. But, you may ask, how do UK schools manage to offer the hugely popular winter sport from their town or country campuses?
At many schools, being part of the ski team has long meant jetting off to far climes (fun), but being limited by a short season and few opportunities to train during the rest of the year (not so fun). But skiing is changing its face as a school sport. Today, more and more schools are making it open and accessible to all, shuttling pupils to snow domes and dry-ski slopes up and down the country, and helping them get stuck into a sport that’s proven to boost confidence, improve physical strength and develop firm friendships.
We asked a few pupils for their take on skiing as a school sport. ‘Ski racing has formed a huge part of my identity since I was a child – it’s a lifestyle, a passion, a collection of excitements and what-ifs,’ says Louis, the ski captain at
. ‘It is all about teamwork, and it has taught me a valuable lesson that I take with me everywhere: every challenge has to be overcome. Ski racing is about practice, perseverance, faith and hard work. And, like life itself, it yields rewards of pure joy.’
‘Skiing has given me a huge sense of independence and enabled me to travel,’ adds Rose,
’s ski captain. ‘You have to be organised and self-motivated as we often have to study while we are away, but the balance of training and school has always worked. The friendships I have made and the skills I have learnt over the years are invaluable.’
It’s obvious the benefits are numerous. So, if you’re keen for your son or daughter to develop similar skills while having great fun, we’ve rounded up a handful of top schools in the UK to add to your ski-mad child’s list. Of course, nothing quite compares to being surrounded by snow 24/7, so if your child is desperate to be immersed in the sport, there are also schools in Europe to consider. Take
, the world’s first ski-in, ski-out IB institution with a knockout location just a few steps from the Verbier slopes – and a ski programme masterminded and overseen by a former member of the Argentinian national team…
Danes Hill School
Danes Hill is well known for its stellar sporting reputation – and keen skiers will be thrilled to hear there’s a dedicated head of skiing, Miss Hanks, on the staff roll. Open to pupils in Years 2 to 8, the school’s invitation-only Ski Race club heads to Sandown Ski Centre (just a few miles down the road) every Monday evening to train, where they’re taught by two specialist external instructors and Miss Hanks. To be in the club, children must be able to confidently parallel ski and use a lift button without any help. Training sessions focus on both slalom and giant slalom, readying pupils for the very busy events calendar ahead.
The school has plenty of successes to trumpet about. Last year, the U14 boys’ team placed fourth overall at the English Schools’ Ski Association (ESSKIA) finals, and third overall at the Surrey Schools Championships. Not letting the boys take all the glory, one Year 4 pupil is the proud holder of the Surrey Schools Championships’ third-fastest female title. Most excitingly, one former pupil has just been selected by Team England to compete in the ISF Winter Games later this year.
‘Skiing is a great platform for children to shine beyond the core sports curriculum, which is particularly important for those who are less confident in the mainstream sports,’ says the school. ‘It is also incredibly sociable – the older children take pride in looking after their younger teammates – and a great way to build leadership skills outside of the classroom.’
Merchant Taylors’ School
There’s a dizzying array of sports on offer at Merchant Taylors’ (we’re talking wakeboarding, sailing and kayaking, on top of the more conventional list of school team sports such as rugby, hockey and cricket) – and for some pupils, skiing tops the list. Open to everyone who is keen to take part, the skiing provision here is twofold: one-part competitive slalom and giant slalom racing; another part designed for newcomers keen to have a go at a different sporting discipline and find something they love. The school’s annual ski trip is just as much about fun, friendships and the opportunity to head away on a residential trip as it is about improving technique.
Each year, about 20 boys head off to the Independent Schools Ski Championships, a week-long schools’ ski training and racing event. At the most recent meet – held in Sestriere in Italy in December – successes came thick and fast, with Merchant Taylors’ pupils bagging third place in the senior boys’ team slalom event. Before the pandemic, they were proud holders of both silver and bronze medals in the individual slalom disciplines.
Travelling overseas is undoubtedly a huge perk of being part of a school ski team, but there’s no need to head abroad to reap the benefits. Merchant Taylors’ regularly trains with instructors at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, and enters the British Schools Indoor Open Championships in Milton Keynes. Then, of course, there’s the seriously cool kit. ‘The greatest quirk of being part of a school’s ski team has to be wearing a catsuit when racing – it makes the boys look and feel like superheroes,’ says the school. We can’t disagree with that.
Gordonstoun’s skiing programme looks a little different from most schools’ in the UK, because lucky pupils have access to the spoils of Scotland’s mountain ranges and ski slopes right there on their doorstep. The school is day-trip distance from two of Scotland’s main skiing centres, Cairngorm Mountain and the Lecht Ski Centre – and throughout the spring term pupils make full use of their proximity.
Skiing here is part of an extensive winter-sports programme that encompasses mountain skills, climbing, mountaineering and snow-holing (as wacky as it sounds – pupils dig holes in the snow and spend the night sleeping in them), and is all linked to Gordonstoun’s brilliantly broad curriculum. ‘We aim to bring out more in our students, whether it is in competitive skiing and the lessons provided in both winning and losing, as individuals and members of a team, or in experiencing the vicissitudes of skiing in the north of Scotland,’ says the school.
Importantly, skiing isn’t just treated as a competitive sport here. All senior-school pupils are welcome to sign up for recreational snow sports, regardless of ability or experience – and skiing is on offer to
pupils when conditions allow. These sessions are instructor-led and designed to improve performance and ability, but first and foremost, they’re meant to be fun.
More experienced skiers can join the school’s ski race programme, with many going on to represent Gordonstoun in the Scottish Schools Snowsports Association Alpine Series. The junior school regularly enters teams into school races running throughout the Scottish ski season. Overseas trips add to the offering: pupils can get stuck into instructor training (and even bag a qualification at the end), racing, Nordic and backcountry skiing. The senior boys’ team recently snagged second place in the open boys’ team category at the Canada Cup, and another Year 9 pupil has been selected to join the British children’s ski team for the 2022-23 season.
‘Skiing has many developmental benefits, including improving physical literacy in regard to movement skills, strength conditioning, muscular endurance and flexibility and learning new technical skills,’ says the school. ‘And obviously it’s a huge amount of fun too.’
Despite a Covid-induced break from competing, Caterham pupils are renowned for their successes on the ski-race competition circuit and regularly clear up on the silverware front. At the most recent Independent Schools Ski Championships, one Year 8 pupil won silver in the slalom competition – and in previous years, the school’s senior team have bagged gold at the groups stages, while the junior team have picked up a bronze medal.
Caterham offers an elite athletes’ programme for sports scholars, with many of the school’s top skiers benefitting. The programme links budding talents with a mentor who is on hand to ensure pupils maintain a balance between sport and schoolwork, and provide nutrition, physio and sports-psychology advice – meaning the additional support provided is unrivalled. ‘By being part of the ski team, pupils are able to extend and improve a sport they are passionate about,’ says the school.
Skiing is big business at Cranleigh, and the team here has two tiers: the elite skiers and the development squad. The elite skiers regularly head off to compete in national events, packing in plenty of skiing and training on local dry-ski slopes all year round. But when the ski season is in full swing, they’re granted up to 12 days off school each academic year to head off to snowier climes and compete in slalom, giant slalom and parallel slalom events. At the end of last year, a group of 51 skiers made the trip out to Sestriere in Italy for the Independent Schools Ski Championships. The slalom was a hugely successful event for Cranleighans, who won five podium spots in the slalom team events, as well as a glut of trophies. They also retained the parallel slalom top spot, having won it at the previous event in 2019, before Covid hit.
‘Skiing pushes all participants out of their comfort zone,’ says Dan Reed, the school’s former skiing lead. ‘The team spirit is unrivalled, and the atmosphere at the parallel slalom – the blue ribbon event of any championship – is always electric.’
Then there’s the development squad, which is open to anyone keen to dip their toe into ski racing (the only requirement is that pupils must be proficient and confident skiers). Training takes place primarily on snow, with regular, confidence-boosting team trips to Italy. ‘We travel away with the prep school, so it is a great opportunity for pupils to get to know children and staff in the senior school, making the subsequent step up far less daunting,’ adds Mr Reed.
By the summer term, the school hopes to expand its skiing provision even further by launching training sessions at Aldershot dry-ski slope during the off-season, with sessions led by external instructors from Impulse Racing, one of the UK’s most prestigious alpine-training organisations.
Whitgift’s sports facilities and provision may be first class, but there’s plenty for the team-sport-averse too, including golf (the school has its own driving range), fencing, modern pentathlon, swimming – and skiing. Incredibly well established on the competition circuit, the school’s ski team has been racing for 15 years and regularly competes in international slalom, giant slalom and dual slalom events.
For anyone keen to join the team, training takes place in Holland over four days in October. Here, pupils are put through their paces by expert coaches from Impulse Racing, as well as head of outdoor education Mr Green and outdoor activities assistant Mr Gilkinson – both of whom have plenty of past race experience. Then, in the summer term, pupils sign up for trials at Hemel Hempstead in order to whittle down and select the final team.
There are plenty of successes to shout about. Last year, 37 pupils took part in the Independent Schools Ski Championships, winning senior team silver in slalom, senior team silver in combined and – most excitingly – the gold medal in the senior team giant slalom, in turn crowning them national champions.
During the recent Christmas break, one lucky group of Benenden pupils travelled to Jasper in Canada to train and race in the Canada Cup competition. Open to select British schools, the event is designed to give pupils the opportunity to ski in one of the world’s top ski areas – and open to skiers with a wide range of ability, it’s one example of how pupils here can get stuck into the sport during their time at the school.
While some pupils who travelled to Canada are at the top of their game and ski with external clubs both in and outside of the UK, many just happen to be ski enthusiasts. After five days of race training, Benenden pupils came third in the Girls’ Schools Cup – a brilliant outcome for the school’s very first outing to the event. While on the trip, four pupils also achieved their level-one CSIA ski-instructor qualification, which has piqued the interest of many more students keen to secure their level-two qualification next year.
But it’s not just about racing. ‘We have some students going to the British Girls’ Championships at the end of the month, and we are currently putting together an invitation letter to generate a larger team to take to the Interschool Championships in Pila for the first time in March,’ says Sarah Wood, a housemistress and the lead staff member on the recent Canada trip. ‘Racing is very individual, requiring a great deal of physical and mental strength. But cheering each other on, celebrating each other’s successes, empathising with the failures and travelling and living together all generate real friendships.’
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