Brit Charlie Raposo Is The 21-Year-Old Ski Racer Charging Into The Winter Olympics

The UK doesn’t have much in the way of pistes but there’s a new wave of talent breaking into skiing’s top flight – Charlie Raposo Reveals How He’s Fighting To Become The Best

There aren’t many examples of successful British ski racers but that hasn’t stopped Raposo pursuing an unlikely dream to take on the rest of the world. He finished 6th in the Grand Slalom Junior World Champs last year, the best ever British result in that event. He reveals to RISING his approach for building the skills needed to break through, and push past the limits...

RISING The UK doesn’t have a big history of top ski racers, so how did you get into the sport in the first place? CHARLIE RAPOSO, SKI RACER ‘I had a lot of ski instructors when living in Verbier and the last one said to my parents: “You’re kind of just paying me to have a fun day with your kid – I think he should start ski racing.” So, I started racing at 11 and I had a massive passion for it – not just being on the mountain and skiing – I wanted to know everything about the sport, I knew so much about the world cup skiers long before I was even meeting anyone who wasn’t anything to do with British skiing.’

RISING A lot of skiers your age were drawn to freeskiing and freestyle though? CR ‘I also have a massive passion for big mountain skiing – freeskiing, not freestyle so much, I don’t have that in the air, upside-down body awareness ability. These days you get a lot of gymnasts who are able to go into freeskiing or snowboarding and they are really good – I was never a gymnast so it was always going to be ski racing. And with big mountain skiing it’s who’s got the biggest balls really, so ski racing is a bit more suitable to me!’

RISING So, your early efforts came at a time when ski racing in the UK was at rock bottom? CR ‘When I went to America I was travelling with guys who were 10 years older than me – I was 14. It made me grow up fast, that’s something I’m very grateful for and it helped me with my ski racing. At that time British skiing was very much disassembled. The old federation had gone bankrupt, the new one was just getting going and Dave Ryding (British World Cup skier) hadn’t seen his World Cup success start yet. I started skiing with American and Swedish guys who were pretty high level, top 100 in the world when I was only 13 years old, so it was quite young to have that exposure.’

The fine line in sport, this element of The Zone, I believe is very real

RISING Is that because ski racing is a bit more open than some sports? CR ‘There are very few sports where you can get the exposure that you do in ski racing – for example if you’re a footballer and you’re 13 then you’re never going to be practicing on the same pitch as Ronaldo, but in ski racing you get 13 year old kids who are training on the course directly next to the best in the world, and that’s because at the end of the day it’s a mountain not an enclosed football pitch.’

RISING How have your drive changed as your career’s developed? CR ‘It changes as you grow up and what I loved about it at 15 is very different to now, being 21, having it as a profession, what I’m doing for a living and what I am trying to succeed in. I’m far away from being the best in the world but at the same time close – you know it’s a realistic goal to work to for the next ten years.’

RISING Where’s does the buzz come from in ski racing? CR ‘When you’re on the very limit and things are going your way in a race – when you find that fine line of where things could go really wrong or really right. That’s the fine line in sport, this element of The Zone, I believe is very real, and I couldn’t tell you how to find it because sometimes it’s there and sometimes it isn’t. It’s almost like you wake up and you either you’ve got it or you don’t. Finding that fine line and having it pay off is everything.’

RISING What does being in The Zone feel like? CR ‘When you’re in The Zone there’s nothing absolutely nothing in your mind, everything happens naturally – I have goosebumps right now trying to explain it. It’s letting go of that lefthand-side of your brain, the Monkey sitting on your shoulder saying: “You might not be able to do this,” or “you shouldn’t do that, or you should be conscious of this, or feel guilty for that.” That guy goes away, it’s purely your body doing what it knows how to do. That’s everything – the time this happened to me last year I finished 6th at the World Junior Championships.’

RISING You were seventh before your second run – how did being in the Zone help you to make up a place? CR ‘In the second run the top was decent but it wasn’t really that Zone and then I came off the first eight gates of a steep pitch and my goal was to have a medal, that’s what I wanted. And I said to myself: “If you want to win this race you need to fucking go!” That’s literally the thought that goes on in my head and from there on down it was the limit by every means of what I could do – you know, every piece of blind terrain, cutting everything off, planning through my inspection. An inspection is like our risk management for us when you look at a course: how can I go as fast as possible and take the most risks without it being too much.’

RISING Does taking too much risk leave you unable to push the limits? CR ‘Even the best guys crash, or DNF, or get that fine line wrong, but that’s what it is and it’s very relatable to motor racing. Those guys are so on the limit when they try to pass sometimes and it’s the same with a lot of sports – you have to find that limit. That’s the buzz and I am not saying you always find it but that’s where you really start to enjoy things.’

You have to embody what you’re trying to achieve in any form of life, and especially in sport

RISING In ski racing the winning margins are in hundredths of a second, so how do you stay motivated to fight for tiny gains? CR ‘Sometimes you get on the mountain and you’re so concerned about how you get faster and faster that you’re not appreciating the beautiful surroundings around you, which is the best thing – not being in an office, it changes everything. That’s what keeps me ticking over, and the love for the work. And wanting to succeed at it – wanting it to really be my life and what I am. You have to embody what you are trying to achieve, I think in any form of life and especially in sport, and there’s where I am at now.’

RISING The Winter Olympics are in February 2018 – how are you goal setting for them? CP ‘As much as it’s the highlight of the season and a massive goal it doesn’t really change anything about how we are preparing. At the end of the day there are still European and World Cups – important races that people are just as focussed on as they are on the Olympics. At the same time this year might be my first Olympics and I’m not going there to participate – I’m not going there for the experience, I am going to go there and try to push and find that limit. However that goes is however that goes.’

RISING Do you target specific results? CP ’I don’t put a lot of emphasis on goals. My goal is to be able to continue to say to myself: “I’m working hard, I’m doing everything I can to do to get better, while finding balance in life and then being able to also say I am progressing or even being able to say I’m not progressing because I am not doing this quite right.”’

RISING It sounds like goal setting can become counter-productive? CP ‘I don’t see it as saying I want to get this result here and that one there because you just can’t control that, and to some extent that is setting forms of expectation that I very much believe can result in failure. They can result in disappointment a lot more than just, “let’s see what’s going to happen.” I’d rather focus on what I need to do rather than performance goals.’

I was slalom training the other day for 45 seconds and my heart rate was 188 bpm

RISING What kind of physical conditioning do you do for fast skiing? CP ‘Skiing is a sport that requires an all-around athletic focus – you need an aerobic base but you also need that anaerobic side. You need to be able to push 45-90 seconds really hard – I was slalom training the other day for 45 seconds and my heart rate was 188bpm at the end. We’re doing six of those a day so we’re effectively doing aerobic power intervals, but you need that aerobic base to be able to build that up.’

RISING What work do you have to do in the gym? CP ‘Conditioning in the off season is five days a week, twice a day with generally three lifting sessions a week. That always changes between weights, sets and reps, depending on what we are trying to achieve that week. Mostly lower body but you’re also looking upper body. We have to be proportionate – you’re not going to just squat, squat, deadlift, clean – you’re going to have to do a bit of variety and a lot of things complement each other. So, the push press also works on explosive power through the hips.’

RISING What does the cardio work look like to build that aerobic base? CP ‘This year has been really eye-opening to me in terms of the science of really specific heart rate training and what we’re trying to achieve. Every cardio session is different, we’re not just trying to run for an hour – it’s a specific heart rate for different times and rest periods, and that changes as we go through the off season.’

‘That’s done on the road bike because running can really impact on you – I enjoy running and I went running the other day for about 8km but I was hurting the next day because the impact can really do things to you that aren’t a good idea. There’s something about hammering out on a road bike that’s a lot of fun. Weirdly enough the sports transfer into each other.’

Pole plant in the middle of the turn is going to help you move up and over your skis

RISING If our readers only do one thing to progress their skiing, then what should it be? CP ‘Pole plant in the middle of the turn is going to help you move up and over your skis to the next turn. So you’re in a tall position, your ass isn’t back and you’re in the middle of your skis. This summer I have put a lot of work into my slalom to try and transform that, and I have thought non-stop all summer about pole plant, and now when I ski slalom all I think about is pole plant. From the very beginning of skiing to competing at some of the top levels in the world, pole plant is one of the most important things.’

WHAT NEXT? Read more about the new wave of British Alpine skiing at British Ski And Snowboard.

British Alpine Ski Racer Charlie Raposo was attending the 2017 Ski and Snowboard Show at London’s Battersea Park

Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.