Downhill boarder

MAKING a last minute adjustment to her snug fitting helmet, a nervous tug on the mirrored goggles that masks the emotion surging through her veins and a brief nod of her head to the starting official, she is away.

Pushing out of the frozen start gate and whipping down onto the Giant Slalom course at Perisher combining precision and speed, emerging snow boarder, Ailis MacRae, took the courageous leap into competitive snow boarding last week.

Strapping on the board for her first taste of interschool snowsports competition, the 11-year-old Tumut Public School student converged with hundreds of other skiers and boarders who were representing their schools and seeking individual success at the Subaru ACT and Southern NSW Championships last week.

Students can compete in seven snowsport disciplines with the aim of moving  through from the initial regional championships, like the Perisher event, onto the State and National levels. The degree of difficulty and expertise required increasing with each stage.

Ailis competed in the Giant Slalom and Snowboard Cross disciplines. She followed her race plan to perfection of strong steady runs and was thrilled to finish in eighth position in Boarder Cross and tenth position in Giant Slalom.

These impressive results have earned the quietly spoken Ailis, along with her school, an invitation to compete at the NSW State Championships at Thredbo in August.

Braving cold snowy days with bone chattering icy winds have become the norm for Ailis who spends as many hours as her mum will allow her on the frosty slopes pursuing her passion of snowboarding.

“I discovered boarding after my older brother, Gus, took up the sport two years ago,” Ailis said. “I spend every weekend possible during the snow season strapped in and chillin out at Mt Selwyn Snowfields.

“I started snowboarding because I thought it looked cool and I wanted to try it out. It was difficult to start with and I spent a lot of time falling over and getting up again, but I kept trying and I didn’t give up.”

Despite being so close to one of Mother Nature’s magnificent playgrounds, very few local children compete in snowsports.

One of 78 snowboarders from southern schools who were competing in the junior division from Kindergarten to Year eight at Blue Cow and Guthega, the experience for Ailis has been nothing short of wonderful.

Female competitors in the junior age groups are quiet low in numbers compared to the boys but after spending considerable hours on the slopes with her brother and his mates, Ailis was unfazed.

The events that Ailis competed in required her to race through flags on a challenging downhill run  whilst the clock was ticking for the Snowboard Giant Slalom and then in the Boarder cross event she was timed as she scooted downhill on a course featuring berms and rollers, similar to a motocross course.

“Before the race I felt nervous but once I did my first run, I wasn’t nervous any more and I was able to relax and enjoy it,” Ailis said. “I enjoyed it and I liked meeting other girls that snowboard because not many girls board you usually don’t get to meet many of them. I enjoyed my day boarding on the big runs in the fresh snow at Perisher as well, it was fun.”

Ailis has been training for the event under the guidance of coach Chris Barkley, a South African instructor who works for the Snowsports School at Mt Selwyn snowfields.

Chris worked with Ailis developing core skills and race techniques, increasing the degree of difficulty over the season to prepare her for the challenges of the Giant Slalom and Snowboard Cross disciplines.

“I am very happy to have had the opportunity of working with Ailis in improving her general snowboarding skills,” Chris said. “Ailis has made some significant progress during the two weeks that I have had her for training, our main focus was structuring our turn shape and picking lines for racing gates. We also worked on blending vertical absorption skills for holding an edge in carved turns, something that Ailis was able to achieve with ease.”

As the sole representative for her school in the interschools championships, Chris was full of praise for the young boarder, noting the courage required to undertake such a task.

“Her love of Snowboarding and dedication to the sport is inspiring,” Chris said. “As Ailis’ favourite subject in school is Art, the following analogy to describe her future in Snowboarding seems fitting.

“Snowboarding can be thought of as an oil painting consisting of many complex colours, layers, shades and details. Ailis has just begun to outline her composition in black and white, but with enough training and perseverance I know that Ailis is capable of creating a masterpiece.”

Ailis will continue to train for the upcoming state event, heading up the mountain to train and improve her technique and speed.

She is one of the few people who keeps her fingers constantly crossed, praying for the freezing weather to continue and for the snow to fall in abundance.