Not all downhill for winter Blues

The Blues race bears the distinction of being the world’s oldest team ski event with a tradition which dates back to 1896. There are three men’s teams and two women’s teams – six skiers on each team. All skiers ski both slalom and giant slalom (GS) disciplines. Each racer has two runs on each course and their times from these two runs are combined so that each racer has an overall slalom and an overall GS time. The top four combined times in each team for each discipline are then added up to give the teams overall time, which is then compared against the corresponding Cambridge team’s time.

Normally GS is raced in the morning and slalom in the evening but due to an avalanche across the stade where the course was being set for the races, no races could take place in the morning. So we started with the slalom in the afternoon, by which point the cloud had cleared and the conditions were looking good. The Women’s Blues team went down first, Anouk Dey (Exeter) raced first, setting a phenomenally good time of 40.55 seconds, which was only beaten by Peter Calvert of Cambridge out of all of the mens and womens teams.

Ex-Welsh national skier Aimee Broughton (Jesus) skied next for Oxford, again setting an excellent time. Abby Willward (St Catherine’s) and Alice Kelway-Bamber (LMH) both put down two very good runs and made up the third and fourth fastest slalom times. By this stage the Women’s Blues team was over 17 seconds ahead of Cambridge which is a very large margin – last year the men won the overall varsity match by less than a second.

The next team to race was the Women’s 2nd team who put down fast times, notably Katie Mountain (Queen’s) skied excellently, beating one of Cambridge’s Blues women. The Women’s 2nd team’s combined times for the slalom gave them more than a 20 sec lead over Cambridge which again was an excellent result, probably best ever for Oxford Women’s 2nd team.

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The Men’s 1st team, who were looking strong, were next to race. Richard Murphy (Worcester) went down first for the dark blue men setting good safe times in both of his runs. Andre de Haes (BNC) raced next setting a very fast time of 39.85 seconds in his first run and his second run was looking strong until a few gates from the finish when he skied out and was disqualified.

This put more pressure on the remaining Oxford men to complete without disqualification because if only three skiers out of the six in each team complete large time penalties ensue. Billy Henson (LMH) and Ed Grieg-Gran (St Hugh’s) rose to this pressure and set strong times. Unfortunately Ewen Maclean (Hertford) the Men’s captain was disqualified and Tom Dalton had a fall meaning he lost valuable seconds. So despite Oxford fielding a very strong blue’s team their bad luck meant that after the slalom Cambridge was ahead by over 16 seconds.

The luck reversed for the men’s second team and Cambridge had three of their team disqualified giving Oxford a comfortable lead. The Men’s 3rd team skied well but were a long way behind due to poor team selection by Cambridge – their 3rds team was stronger than their 2nds team – some 3rds men even beating Blue’s skiers!

The following day the post-poned GS races were held, again in good weather. The men’s 2nd team managed to increase their lead with good GS performances eventually winning by an impressive margin of over a minute.

The men’s first team skied hard in the GS to try to pull back the lead from Cambridge. They managed to beat them by over 7 seconds but it wasn’t enough to make up the time they had lost in the slalom the day before and the 2009 Varsity Men’s skiing match was won by Cambridge.

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After fantastic performances by both teams the day before in the slalom morale was high in the Oxford women’s camp. Anouk Dey and Aimee Broughton again raced excellently showing their wealth of racing experience, recording very fast times. Federica Nocera (Univ) and Amelia Davies (St Hugh’s) the women’s captains, also both put in strong performances meaning that Oxford had all four women in with quicker times than the 2nd quickest Cambridge women, a very impressive feat.

This cemented their lead, giving them a 34 second win overall, one of the best results in the history of women’s Varsity ski racing. The Women’s 2nd team also furthered their lead in the GS, winning by a very comfortable margin. The women’s performance this year was very impressive, and is unparalleled by any win – men or women – in the Varsity ski race.