Chorley might not be the most obvious location to produce Britain’s premier skiing talent but Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding has been defying the norm his entire life.
Reaching speeds of 80mph on the slopes, risking life and limb along the way, Bretherton-born Ryding has been to three Winter Olympics and four World Championships. Not bad for a guy who only got into the sport so his parents would take him on holiday when he was six.
“Basically I wasn’t allowed to go away on a family ski holiday until I was able to ski,” the British men’s slalom no.1 tells The Sportsman. “My parents didn’t want to ruin their holiday by having a kid who couldn’t ski. It was simply ‘learn or stay home!’”
Perhaps if he knew exactly how much of an underdog mission he was signing up for he might have skipped the holiday. His nationality and the relative lack of snow available to him has been a restriction, and even that first glimpse at the world of alpine skiing came later than for many of his fierce competitors.
“Six isn’t actually that young when you compare yourself with the Austrians. I didn’t actually start skiing and training on snow until I was around 12 or 13,” Ryding explains.
“On the dry slopes I could only train slalom in the UK, so that had an effect. There was a time when I was doing all of the disciplines but as I got older we decided to just focus on one, and slalom was my best discipline so it was the obvious choice.”
The level of competition Ryding faced was intimidating when initially faced with athletes who have literally been birthed on the snow, but he is not the type to worry about not belonging in unfamiliar surroundings.
“You go to races in Austria and they’re all very good skiers and you think ‘Crikey, this is tough’ but year by year you get a bit better and you work your way through the rankings from there.
“You compare yourself to them and sometimes you’re faster than them or you aim to improve to be faster than them.
“Over time you get more used to racing against these Alpine nations and they also expect you to be as good as them now.”
On a typical training day, Dave will ski for around three or four hours early in the morning, before conditioning fitness work becomes the focus on an afternoon: “When I’m back in the UK, I’m doing my fitness sessions six days a week, twice a day. You’re always trying to improve.”
“Motivation goes up and down whatever you do, but it’s the commitment to do it, to do the training. I don’t always want to get to the gym at 8am but it’s that commitment. It’s not motivation it’s commitment that keeps you going at the age of 32.”
Skiing isn’t the easiest of activities to get into in the United Kingdom, but there are now 120 clubs and facilities in England alone. But Ryding concedes that taking his passion to a professional level has been a fair undertaking.
“I’ve had the same coach now for 10 years, he’s certainly one of the reasons I’ve got to where I’ve got to,” he adds. “I can’t do it without sponsors - who have been with me throughout my whole career - as I have to travel the world. But I can call it my job, which is good.
“The sport in the UK is getting better. The federation is in a much better position than it used to be and I’ve proven that you can do it from the dry slopes, you don’t have to be on the snow from five years old like the Austrians, we do have facilities in the UK which you can train at.”
Dave has competed in the slalom, the giant slalom, and the parallel slalom, when you’re racing next to an opponent from the gate: “When you’re at the start waiting for the marshal to give you the signal and you’ve got 55,000 Austrians chanting for some other Austrian’s name, it’s quite daunting and personally I found it hard to focus on the race.
“Over time it doesn’t really come into the thoughts so much. Obviously you do your bit for the crowd because you’re also there to entertain them. It is a cool feeling, and knowing that you’re on the biggest stage for your sport is always a proud place to be.”
Ryding also runs the Boskins Cafe in Tarleton with his fiancée, who he will marry next year on his favourite slope, but most of his time is spent competing in events across the world: “Obviously I feel a bit harsh on her when I’m complaining that things aren’t going so easy for me on the road. It’s tough out here but I’m seeing and doing the things that I want to do.”
He’s not about to head behind the counter permanently just yet though: “I don’t have any plans to stop just yet. I’m 32, I’m in the prime of physical shape, but it's trying to get those results more consistently. Going from once every two years to hitting highs once every year.”
There’s an alpine skier from Chorley? Sure, there is. And there will be for a little while yet.