Dave Ryding: Northern grit

Britain's first ever World Cup-winning skier is suddenly an Olympic contender, and there's a trend he's out to continue at Beijing 2022. He opens up on the grit and the grind in this interview.

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Dave Ryding has ripped up the alpine skiing record books, and at 35 years of age he's only just getting started.

When he won Great Britain's first ever FIS ski World Cup at the storied Kitzbuhel slalom in Austria just 12 days before the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, it was the peak of an improbable and inspirational rise.

A moment 55 years in the making for British ski came from a man who learned on a dry slope in Pendle, Lancashire, aged eight.

"Plastic bristles, very sore if you fall over on them," Ryding remembers, "like skiing on a yard brush, a full slope of yard brushes," says his dad Carl Ryding in this Athletes to Watch Beijing 2022 preview.

Dave Ryding was 12 before he skied on snow for the first time.

"I came from the UK and we don't have mountains," he says in a sit-down with Olympics.com, "from when I first started on the dry ski slope, I just tried to make the next step."

Competing on the dry until 21, he was 28 before he joined the world's top ski racing circuit and 35 before that monumental first World Cup win.

"I guess there's life in the old dog yet," he said in Austria, as the new 'King of Kitzbuhel' grabbed global headlines and fellow skiers' social media congratulations sent his name trending online.

"He's inspired a ton of little racers today," said U.S. superstar Mikaela Shiffrin, "you're now the favourite at the Olympics!" fellow slalomer Henrik Kristoffersen told Ryding.

Now he has a chance to win Britain's first ever alpine ski Olympic medal, and, there's a trend in recent Olympic slalom history that Ryding is keen to keep alive.

Dave Ryding: Northern grit

Born in Bretherton, Lancashire, less than an hour north of Liverpool and Manchester, Ryding is proud of where he comes from, and embraced the culture of grit and grind.

"Too many people give up too early, they're good when they're young, then it gets tough, then they don't have the Northern grit that I've got," he says.

His determination over three decades has taken him to where he is today.

"From when I first started on the dry ski slope, I just tried to make the next step. The next step was racing in a regional race and then a national race and then trying to win those national races.

"And then I went onto the snow and you're trying to win an FIS race, then you start doing well in FIS you go to Europa Cup. That's a heck of a step, the Europa Cup step."

"But once you start chipping off those results, then you're learning so much in Europa Cup and then you've got to make the next step to World Cup."

Ryding began racing in the FIS second tier Europa Cup competition in 2007, and by 2009 was already racing in the FIS World Cup alongside the best in the world.

"It's just chipping away the whole time, trying to make the next level."

Dave Ryding ski style: "All out, out the gate"

High speed, high risk, all in: Ryding's style is always an exhilarating watch.

"I do have a very intense way of skiing, I think it comes from the dry slopes," Ryding says, "because you get up to speed quick and they're a bit shorter, so I'm used to that."

A more careful approach doesn't work for him.

"Sometimes I try and not go as hard at the first 20 gates so I have more energy at the bottom, but then I never switch into the top gear anywhere, and I'm just rubbish the whole way," he laughs.

"So my logic is: Right. Go all out, out the gate and then if you get in tired at the bottom, you're going to have to cling on, it's just the way I ski.

"I've got to fully attack, full intensity the whole whole way or as long as I can, and that's the way I go about it."

Ryding celebrates his slalom win in Kitzbuhel on January 22, 2022. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

His first Olympic experience came at Vancouver 2010 where he finished 27th. Another step.

"Yeah, I'm still trying to make the next step, it's to be more consistently on the podium, and then after that it's more consistently first.

"They're the logical steps and you've just got to follow each step. And some people go through it quicker than others, the Henrik's, the Marcel's. These guys are pretty special, but they've still learnt it when they were young...

"For myself, I had to learn it later than than they did."

He didn't do it alone though, he's had support all around him, as he said in Kitzbuhel:

"I always believed I could do it, I always thought 'I can do this' I know my family at home, my fiancé at home will be over the moon and they've been on a hell of a ride with me, my coach has been with me for 12 years."

That coach is Tristan Glasse-Davies, who helped re-wire Ryding's technique after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, the two training in indoor snow parks for months on end to get it right.

In Kitzbuhel you could audibly hear Glasse-Davies roaring from the coaches area.

"I've got to say thanks to everyone," Ryding continued, "finally Britain has won a race and hopefully it makes it easier for the next guys because damn it was hard work."

The time that Dave Ryding made Marcel Hirscher cry

The story goes that on watching Ryding's story in a documentary, double Olympic champion ski great Marcel Hirscher was moved to tears.

"It's funny," says Ryding. "Marcel's three years younger than me, but he was on the World Cup probably five six, years before me and had won his overall title before I'd even scored any World Cup points.

"So I always saw Marcel as older than me... But I remember him saying that, and his father married a Dutch woman, he used to coach on the dry slopes there so he knows what dry slope skiing is about.

"And for him to say that about about me, that's one of the best things I've ever heard, because he is arguably the greatest of all time, eight overalls in a row.

"For me, he's the greatest. OK, I wasn't around for (Ingemar) Stenmark, so I don't fully sense it, but I raced Marcel, and he was an absolute animal and so difficult to beat, I only ever beat him in his last ever race.

"But yeah, for him to say that about me really, really touched me because he took an interest in my story and also understood it because of his father's roots on the dry ski slopes in the Netherlands.

"And now I'm marrying a Dutch girl as well!"

Dave Ryding Olympics

Now heading into his fourth Olympics as British team captain and a genuine medal threat, it could be history in the making once more.

And that Olympic trend that Ryding is out to continue?

When Andre Myhrer took slalom gold four years ago in PyeongChang he was 35 years old, the oldest winner ever.

Rewind four years further and it was Austria's Mario Matt on top of the podium in the Sochi 2014 slalom - at 34, he was the oldest winner ever.

Born in December 1985, should Ryding top the podium in Beijing he would be... You can fill in the rest.

"Yeah, I'll be thirty five and I'd love to keep that trend going," he says.

"But ya, like with anything you need experience, whether it's skiing Adelboden for the tenth time compared to your first time, it makes a difference and it's very underestimated the experience needed on these slopes.

"So for sure, I'll be at an advantage taking that (Previous Games experience) into the Olympics. I've still got to deal with the pressure, but hopefully I know more than what others will.

"I've never skied on the slope, same as anyone else. But yeah, I'd love to keep the trend of that age group going in Beijing."

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