Ed Drake has his sights set on breaking the top 32 and a surprise ski cross medal at the World Freestyle Skiing Championship in Austria this week.
The 29-year-old from Kingston, who represented Great Britain in alpine skiing at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, switched disciplines two years ago but is yet to make it through the qualifying rounds at 14 World Cup meetings.
His best finish to date is 36th in Kreischberg – the venue for the World Championships – last year, while he also came 42nd at the 2013 World Championships.
In qualifying, skiers individually race down a course involving tight turns and big jumps, with the top 32 going through to the high-octane crash-filled knock-out races, a stage Drake, the reigning British champion, is eager to make.
“As long as you can make the final 32, anything can happen,” he said.
“The guy who won bronze in Sochi qualified in 29th place, so it just highlights the exciting nature of the sport.
“It’s not so cut and dry as alpine skiing.”
His final preparations for the World Championships saw him compete in two World Cup events in Val Thorens earlier this month, finishing 58th in the first and failing to finish in the second.
“The first race in Val Thorens was poor,” he added.
“But in the second race, my splits were good enough to put me in the top 18. It was a shame I didn’t finish the race.”
Having already competed at one Olympic Winter Games, Drake has his eyes on another when the Games go to Pyeongchang in South Korea in 2018.
“It’s a bit too early to speculate as the Olympics is three years away, but I would definitely love to go there,” he said.
“With ski cross too, it’s hard to look too far ahead. You need to take each race as it comes.”
To compete in the sport, Drake has to self-fund himself, spending his summers working to cover his costs staying with friends when abroad.
“I compete because I absolutely love doing it,” he said.
“I don’t do it for the money. I want to become the best ski cross competitor I can.
“But of course it is difficult being self-funded and having to support myself, especially when my competitors turn up with coaches and masseurs.”
Drake is hoping as well to increase the profile of ski cross in the UK after setting up the country’s first – and only – ski cross club in Hemel Hempstead – SXPC.
Millions of Brits hit the slopes every year for skiing holidays but that hobby has not transferred to the racing scene, which Drake wants to change.
“I set up SXPC last year and it’s been going well so far – it’s been popular and there are some talented skiers out there in terms of ski cross,” he said.
“Whenever I attend events, skiers ask me how to get involved in the sport and I want to give them the chance to get involved.”
Qualification for the ski cross finals takes place on Saturday, January 24, with the finals the following day.
Pictures of Ed Drake courtesy of British Ski & Snowboard, with thanks