Flèche d’Or

Letter from Rodion Zaitsev:

Two winters ago still aged only 10, I achieved the level of “Fleche d’Or” in giant slalom racing in France.
I have skied in France most years since starting skiing at age 4, but have only skied for a few weeks each year so reaching a good level in racing is something that I’m very proud of. 

“Fleche d’Or” means “Golden Arrow” in English. This is the top level recognised by the French educational system. The test uses elite racers who are nationally calibrated at the beginning of each season and they set the required pace for the race. For this reason the results are linked to international racing standards. The testing is very accurate and the standard is very high. The race test is open to all ages and all skiers. Ski instructors use the race to gain practice and to check their level.
Racing is a recognised part of professional ski teaching in Europe and French based instructors must also pass a racing test called the European Speed Test.

I have always had the same teacher in France and was able to progress quickly. He taught me that good technique is the key to enjoying skiing at all levels. Ian is English speaking and comes from Scotland – he cannot speak Russian so I have always spoken to him in English. Each morning I’d say to him first thing, “When do we go to the race course?”. Time passes very quickly in the race course because there is a lot to think about and a lot to learn, plus it’s a lot of fun.
My mother and father both ski. My father is a good athlete and loves to play ice hockey and football every week. My mother is also a good athlete but sometimes loses her confidence. When she is fit and confident she skis very well and enjoys skiing off piste. We all ski together off-piste but always with our instructor for safety. Timothy, my little brother is also learning how to ski and was able to ski off-piste in his first week.
My instructor explained that racing is difficult at 10 years old because it’s very hard to go fast. When you are small and light the air slows you down easily. I often have to skate long distances on the flat when we are off piste and the adults leave me behind. The only way to achieve the Felche d’Or was to have very good technique. My instructor does not teach the same way as normal ski school. He is very scientific. One of the first things he taught me was that I shouldn’t try to stay in balance. Skis work by trying to fall over. This took me a while to learn because I didn’t believe it to begin with and found it difficult to let myself do it. The funny thing is that the more that you try to fall over the better you ski. The ski always picks you back up – that’s what it’s designed to do. I learned that my job was to fall over and the ski’s job was to bring me up. It works. Most people think that they have to try to stay upright and not fall over. We spent a lot of time working on skating though the whole turn and preventing unwanted rotation. Learning “leg retraction” also helped me to go faster. Sometimes you have to push up through the end of a turn and other times the opposite (retract). I just go by feel. The same things work off-piste and in the bumps. Last year we spent a lot of time in the bumps and I learned to be able to control the turn using either edge of my ski. In bumps we keep the feet together and in the race course feet apart – this is connected to which edge of the ski we are using. Bumps skiing helps to get a better feeling so that you know what to do with your legs in a race course. I’ve learned how to stay soft with my legs and not “resist” with a lot of unnecessary tension. The short turns in the bumps also helps to learn to separate the upper from the lower body. I could go faster because I’m still not able to hit the poles in the race course – they would slow me down too much at my weight – so I take a longer line. 

I enjoy everything about skiing because it is fun and exciting but not too dangerous. I like how I can understand what I’m doing and work out how to change things. When my coach tells me something new I can usually do it straight away because it is building on everything else.

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