Dave Ryding: From plastic ski slopes to Olympic medal hopes

(CNN)In skiing terms, Dave Ryding is something of an anomaly.

While most pros were raised in Alpine countries, or Scandinavia or North America, Britain’s Ryding first found his skiing legs on a dry, plastic slope in northwest England.
Forget groomed pistes and cozy alpine huts — you’re unlikely to see even a smattering of snow at the Pendle Ski Club in Lancashire.
    But, from these humble beginnings, Ryding has worked his way onto the international circuit and is already making history for Britain.
    The slalom racer enjoyed a major breakthrough at the start of 2017 when he finished second in one of skiing’s most prestigious World Cup events — the Kitzbuhel slalom in Austria.
    “My life changed in Austria after that, people started to recognize me which was a different stress because you’re trying to train and people are coming up for photos,” Ryding tells CNN Alpine Edge.
    “But it’s what you dream of as a kid.
    “All the good guys were coming up to me and congratulating me and telling me what a great journey I’ve had. They were appreciative of where I’ve come from.”

    Olympic dream

    Ryding returns to Kitzbuhel this week with hopes of replicating, or even bettering, last year’s blistering run. There’s an added incentive of performing this year with an Olympic Games just around the corner.
    “I only ever dreamed of competing at the Olympics when I was a kid. I never dreamed of a medal,” he says.

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    “It would mean the world to me … I try not to think too much about it. I’ll start dreaming coming up to it and try and live it on the day.”
    He may be 31, but Ryding has produced some of his best ever performances this season, finishing in the top 10 at World Cup slalom events in Zagreb, Croatia and Madonna di Campiglio, Italy.
    That race in Kitzbuhel was the best World Cup finish in 36 years for a British athlete, and Ryding came agonizingly close to going one better earlier this season when a crash on his second run cost him his comfortable lead in Levi, Finland.

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    Ryding admits that transitioning onto snow, which he first did at the age of 12, takes some getting used to after years of skiing on the same dry slope.
    “It’s slightly different. You can transfer it to snow and, OK, you have to learn the rolls, the steeps, the ice, the slush — the variables that come with snow,” he says.
    Having started his skiing career on what’s essentially a stretch of carpet — or, in his own words, “a lot of toothbrushes” that give “a hell of a friction burn if you crash” — Ryding is reluctant to stray too far from what he knows best during the off-season as he heads indoors to practice.
    “People laugh at me for going indoors because [the runs are] short, it’s in like a fridge, and it’s not the nice surroundings we have in the mountains,” he says.
    “But I like it, I was brought up on 120 meters of ski slope and making it work. So I go there and do the same thing.”

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