Fern Cates’ story is one of a kind.
A fourteen year old from Bridgnorth, United Kingdom first found out what cross country skiing looks like watching the Vancouver Olympics on TV. UK’s Midlands is hardly a sort of place that is natural habitat of a cross country skier – but Fern had made up her mind.
It sounds incredible, but it took Ms. Cates only 6 years from the very first ‘taster session’ on rollerski as a gift for her 15th birthday to becoming a full member of the Senior British Nordic Ski Team . Together with Andrew Musgrave and Andrew Young, among the others, Fern was wearing Team GB colours at the Lahti World Championships earlier this year.
The Daily Skier spoke to Fern Cates about her training, her determination – and her views and ideas on how to promote the beautiful sport of cross country skiing.
1.You’re from the Midlands – hardly a natural habitat of budding elite ski racers- at least, not quite yet. So, why cross country skiing?
I’ve always chosen sports and competitions that push me to my
limit. So when I first watched xc skiing on TV at the Olympics, I saw
the perfect combination of endurance (that I had developed as a
competitive open-water swimmer) and speed on snow (from my background
in alpine skiing). The fact that I was from the middle of England with
no snow should have deterred me from taking up the sport, instead
however, it gave me greater motivation to become successful.
2. What does moving to Falun gave/gives you for our development?
A year after finishing school in England, I discovered that a town
in Sweden, Falun, was about to host a World Championships in a stadium
next to a university campus with a course in the subject that I wanted
to study! So I went to visit Falun and knew straight away i would be
happy there. The center of the town is surrounded by a nature reserve,
ideal roads for rollerskiing and xc ski tracks in the winter. It’s
home to so many like minded people to me, i’m lucky enough to train
alongside some of the world’s best athletes and live in a town/country
where xc skiing is part of their culture!
3. You say you do circa 850 training hours a year. What/when was the worst one of them – and why?
The worst moment of last year’s training cycle was most definitely
during an altitude training camp in Tignes, France. We were on skate
rollerskis doing intervals up a winding mountain pass. Our coach told
us to take a left turn on route to keep the climbing up the road…
But i missed the turning and started picking up A LOT of speed as the
road started going back downhill! Trying to slow down was hopeless and
there was no grass verge to dive into so i ended up screaming down the
mountain with my arms in the air until a man came running out to the
road from a house up ahead, before we knew it I came towards him and
he grabbed me! When I asked him where the road continued, he said
“10km and a few 1000m’s straight back down the valley”. I was sure i
was going to have a nasty accident so I was shaking for a while
afterwards as I tried to catch back up with the rest of my interval
session and my teammates that didn’t have a clue. So embarrassing!
4. What piece of training equipment you always wanted to try?
I think i’ve tried most now, but i’m all for tying out new methods.
I have seen a machine called the ‘Thorax Trainer’, which is a bit like
a SkiErg or rowing machine for skiers and looks like it would be
useful for double poling technique- an area i’m focusing on this
5. You were an open water swimmer before switching to cross country skiing. Is there a correlation between two sports?
There’s not usually much connection for the two sports but for me:
I like to race 5-10km in both sports and the endurance strength gained.
There’s a similar feeling to getting in cold, choppy water in a
swimsuit and snowstorms in a thin Lycra suit.
Both require a great level of mental toughness to put in the long
training hours and battle against the elements.
They are very individual, solitary sports where the training and
racing is a challenge against myself.
6. For uninitiated, describe in one phrase what’s it like to be skiing on a gletcher late spring/summer?
Like heaven! Getting to combine the feeling of skiing with hot
sunny summer weather.. What more could you want, right? – Apart from
maybe more oxygen as the glaciers are often located at altitude and
training there is extra tough!
7. Which country’s team got the best looking race suits?
I’m always jealous of the Swiss women’s suit, it’s like the
‘classic LBD’ (little black dress) of race outfits- as an athlete it
must be easy to have an all black suit and it looks so flattering!
Generally I like suits that clearly show the athlete’s country, but i
also really like the latest Finnish suits- the blue to pink pattern in
the women’s suits is so nice, very me!
8. …and who looks the best w/out suites i.e. on those must-have flesh baring Instagram photos
Good question! I’ll have to say, we may not be blessed with the
most bronzed bods from our main summer training camp in Scotland.. But
the British Nordic athletes are doing pretty well!
Other than that, I
will have to do my research and a keep a look out online.. haha!
9. Save for Petter Northug and Therese Johaug, the cross country skiers are not exactly ruling social media, they are not terribly popular compared to other sportswomen & men. Which is a tad strange given how all-around well-developed and well-shaped the skiers, both female and male, really are. What gives?
I think there’s a fine line on social media between looking like a
‘poser’ to ‘staying humble’ and coming across ‘aloof’ to just being
‘cringey’. In my experience, xc skiers often tend to show introverted
traits, leading them to want to just get on with things like training,
rather than make a big deal of it. I think many skiers self
consciousness deter them from opening up to audiences online and I
don’t know what can be done for this, all i can say is that…
For me, my lifestyle now is so different to my friends, family and
what I have grown up with that i just want to document and share it!
It’s how I keep up to date with everyone and i’m not worried about
saying how hard I work or happy I am because it’s what keeps me
grounded to keep trying to do better. I’ve received some really lovely
feedback/ messages of support as well as an income and various
opportunities with companies now, not because I’m promoting myself as
the best at anything.. Just an ordinary girl trying to do something a
little bit out of the ordinary!
10. What needs to be done to promote the Nordic skiing better – so there are more and more fern cates from England & beyond come to the sport?
XC skiing has a bit of a stigma of being boring (to people not in
the know).. Or at least in the UK anyway. Brands seem to be
experimenting with more fashionable clothing and equipment for the
sport now which i hope will help, as well as new platforms such as The
Daily Skier, bringing a fun element and discussion that skiers like me
would be interested in rather than just race results and technique
drills.. xc skiing is an entire culture and way of life i’m happy to
have found but i can’t say i expect many more like me from the
Midland’s anytime soon!