Dave Ryding’s legacy | A look at British ski racing at the end of the ’24 season

ski racer turns around gate, in front of audience, mouth open in concentration

British ski racers always dreamed of becoming world class. Then Dave made it happen… Graham Bell takes a look at the 2024 season of British ski racing in his Speed Freaks column

Dave the Rocket Ryding is Britain’s best Alpine skier and, at 37, is still at the top of his game. His performance curve started slowly, on Pendle dry ski slope, only racing on snow at 13. Through “hard work and sacrifice” Ryding has gone on to score seven World Cup podiums and one World Cup victory.

He started the 2024 season with a 4th place in the opening World Cup in Gürgl, Austria, and before Christmas took a podium in the classic night slalom in Madonna di Campiglio. He became the second oldest skier to place on a World Cup Slalom podium, and in his post-race interview credited his teammates Billy Major and Laurie Taylor for pushing him so hard in training.

Dave continued that rich run of form scoring six more top 15 results, finishing the season ranked 7th in the world, his best ever World Cup placing.

Both Billy and Laurie had breakthrough seasons – Billy scored a personal best of 13th at the famous Hahnenkamm race in Kitzbuhel in January, with Dave and Laurie placing 5th and 19th, it was the first time ever that three Brits had placed in the top 20 in a world cup race. Laurie then went on to score and personal best of 8th in Aspen in March.

All this off the back of a total Lottery funding cut by UK Sport post Beijing 2022. Money is tight, and there is no performance pathway to speak of, but there is a bizarre generational vortex happening that could lead to even greater success.

My ex-British team mates’ offspring have now become the future of British skiing. My niece, Reece Bell, who grew up in Vail, Colorado, was the first of the next generation to break through. In her very first FIS race at 16 years old, she started dead last and won. She raced her first World at 19 in Leinz and placed 43rd, missing the 2nd run by just .46. As Martin is quick to point out, two ACL injuries and a broken shoulder have knocked her performance graph back by three seasons, but she is still light years ahead of where Dave Ryding was at 22.

In the 1980s, it was Martin’s string of top 10 World Cup results that brought in key sponsorship, which in turn helped fund the early careers of Alain Baxter and Emma Carrick-Anderson. Alain went on to place third in the 2002 Olympic Games and became Dave Ryding’s inspiration when he first joined the British team in 2004. Recently, Alain has re-joined the British team in a coaching role, working with Laurie Taylor. Alain’s daughter, Brooke, is currently racing at U16 level.

Meanwhile, Emma retired from ski racing in 2003 after competing in four Olympic Games and set up Snoworks ski school in Tignes with her husband Phil Smith, himself a former dry slope ski racer and coach. Their three boys Luca, Freddy and Zak Carrick-Smith grew up in France, living and breathing ski racing and their progress has been phenomenal.

Luca, at 19, has been racing at FIS level for three seasons. Twins Freddy and Zak are 17 and have hit the ground running in their first year of FIS competition. Starting from the back in rutted courses they have both achieved amazing results and are now ranked 1st and 2nd in the world for their age in Giant Slalom.

In the early years, Emma and Phil would alternate between teaching their clients and coaching the boys, but now they are both full-time coaches for Team Carrick-Smith.

family having a group hug, against a blue sky, standing on the snow in ski boots
Carrick-Smith racing family

I know a thing or two about sibling rivalry, but the twins seem to take it to another level, constantly pushing each other.

With only one quota spot available for the 2024 Youth Olympic Games in South Korea, Zak got the selection over Freddy, based on his Super G skills and the chance of a medal in the Combined. Shortly after, Freddy scored a Slalom result that puts his performance curve ahead of the great Marcel Hirscher at that age. Zak went on to win two Golds and a Silver at the Youth Olympics, the first British skier ever to win Gold at the Youth Olympics. Freddy, not to be outdone by his brother, went to the Junior Worlds and came 1st in the Under 18s.

For years British ski racers had hopes and dreams of becoming world class. Dave Ryding turned those hopes into reality, and with the right support, Reece, Luca, Freddy and Zak have the potential to do the same.

The three Carrick-Smith Boys have a GoFundMe page set up to help with the financing of the ski racing. 

Young ski racer Zac Carrick-Smith holds up inflatable teddy, holding a gold medal, in celebration - as he stands on the snow
Zak Carrick Smith