Photo Credit: @Dutchie
Hailing from a ski-mad family, British ski cross athlete Pam Thorburn has been throwing herself down snowy mountains since the age of three. A former Team GB alpine skier and British Alpine Champion, she switched to ski cross in 2010, adding British Ski Cross champion to her CV. After several bumps in the road – including breaking her neck, both hips and dislocating her shoulder more than 20 times! – Pam now has February’s 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang in her sights.
Here, the 31-year-old Ellis Brigham ambassador talks about the thrills and spills involved in the high speed world of ski cross, her typical training diary and how she’s feeling as PyeongChang approaches.
You’ve been skiing since you were three – do you come from a family of skiers?
Yes! My family are massive skiers who got me started young. I would always try to race my older brother, Scott, so I’ve really been racing since the beginning.
You competed in the senior British Alpine team from the age of 17 – was that a fun thing to do as a teenager or was training pretty intense?
It was always what I wanted to do. I spent all of my teenage years training and playing sports. In a way I missed out on a lot, most of the school parties and hanging with friends, but I wouldn’t change any of it.
You originally competed in Alpine skiing. How did your switch to ski cross come about?
I switched after missing out on the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (Snowsport GBwho funded the athletes went bust). I was totally heartbroken and needed a change. Oh wow, was it a learning curve… the biggest one of my life! I would love to say I made an easy crossover but moving from what I knew to a new sport with a totally different focus and no coach, I definitely felt lost for a while.
Can you explain what ski cross is, for those who don’t know?
Ski cross is the ultimate extreme sport. It’s four people battling it out against each other racing to the finish down a course of icy turns, sharp rollers and massive jumps. Every course is different, you never know what you’re going to get.
What is it you enjoy about ski cross?
The total adrenaline rush I get every time I step in the start gate; the head-to-head competition; that feeling when you’re flying through the air!
What kind of physical fitness do you need to be a successful ski cross athlete?
You need some of everything. The reason why I got into Crossfit (Pam is a qualified crossfit coach) was for the total body workout it gave me. Ski cross is a fast, powerful sport but there are many rounds involved so you need a good aerobic and anaerobic base. I train a lot of legs and core, and for ski cross, having power pulling out of the start also [about having a strong] upper body.
What was your training like over the summer in the off-season?
Unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with injuries for many years now so most of my summer training includes rehabbing and putting my body back together. This year was no different, I had knee surgery in April, I have nerve damage in my neck and I still have a frozen shoulder from surgeries two seasons ago. So with that, I have to be extra creative to be able to rehab and heal, but also build strength. I enjoy the challenge!
What kind of strength sessions do you do as part of your training? Do you do squats, lunges, plyometrics etc?
Yes, all of those! At the end of winter season/early summer, my strength sessions will be more low weight, high rep training. Towards the middle/end of summer that will change to high weight, low rep. Saying that, I also spice it up and throw in a mixture while under fatigue. For me, it’s important to keep shocking the system, mentally and physically.
Now that the season’s underway, where will you be based in the run-up to the Olympics?
I’m always based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands but at the moment we’re just moving from country to country. We have a ‘Cross Alps’ tour all of December, and then head to Sweden, Canada and Russia after New Year!
What does a typical day look like for you in the run-up to the season?
It’s kind of a maintenance stage, so I focus on recovery training and being healthy for the competition period that’s about to start. I’m quite an early riser so I like to train in the morning, come back to eat, recovery spin in the afternoon, eat some more… and stretch! Loads of stretching.
What does a typical week’s training look like at the moment?
During a race week it’s pretty much the same:
Monday – Heavy lifting, core work, intensity interval work
Tuesday – Travel to competition, recovery spin on the bike, core and stretching
Wednesday – Freeski, training day on the race course, recovery spin on bike, core and stretching
Thursday – Training day on the race course, physio, recovery spin on the bike, core and stretching
Friday – Race Qualification day! Recovery spin and stretching
Saturday – Race Finals day. Recovery spin, short high intensity workout, stretching
Sunday – Rest day! Travel to the next training/racing location
What effect does ski cross have on your body – are the hard landings pretty brutal?
Oh man, the hard landings suck! Especially if it has snowed and the track is running a little too slow so there isn’t enough speed for the big jumps… actually I stress fractured both of my shins that way. Repetitive flat landings – not the best!
You’ve broken a serious load of bones during your ski career. Which has been your scariest injury?
I’ve had a lot of injuries yes – 13 surgeries in total, but I find the head injuries the worst. I think they are so bad because you can’t see anything physically wrong, but on the inside everything is wrong. I’ve noticed how much longer it takes to recover every time I hit my head now, the long-term damage is totally unknown and that’s the scariest thing.
Have there been any moments where you questioned getting back on skis?
I have never questioned getting back on my skis, it’s my biggest passion and I will ski for as long as my body will let me. Hopefully until I’m old and grey!
Have you fully recovered from your shoulder injury now?
Not yet, but I’m working on it. I will focus much more on it after this season… can’t wait to be able to use it properly again.
Do you ever get nervous before a big race?
Nerves are good at the right time, if channelled in the right way. I’ve read some good books lately that have helped me with some tips. Music also helps to chill me out or rev me up!
Do you do anything specific to prepare for a race?
I use visualisation and music. I have playlists on my phone for different situations, and my race playlist is awesome! Although my friends don’t like it! It includes things like: System of a Down – Chop Suey, Papa Roach – Last Resort, Limp Bizkit – Break Stuff, and Iron Maiden – The Number of The Beast.
The Winter Olympics is less than two months away! How are you feeling about it?
Ahh, it’s so soon! Training is going really well and I’m finally making some big steps forward, I just wish I had another 3 months of training before the racing starts but I’m excited to get started.
What are your favourite items of kit for training and competing?
Oh, so many favourites! My absolute favourite kit from Ellis Brigham is all my Ortovox avalanche gear. When I’m not training and racing, I’m freeriding and that kit can save my life!
Where is your favourite place in the world to ski?
My favourite will always be Alberta, Canada. My family used to have a house over in Canmore and we had the best of times at all of the ski resorts around. I actually love going over to Wanaka, New Zealand to ski. It’s far, but a lot of fun!
You can follow Pam on social media as she prepares for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games via www.instagram.com/pamthorburn, www.twitter.com/pamthorburn, www.facebook.com/pamthorburnski and via Pam’s website, www.pamelathorburn.com.
Pam is sponsored by Ellis Brigham. For a copy of the Ellis Brigham White Book in which she features go to https://www.ellis-brigham.com/advice-inspiration/about-us/catalogues