It’s no secret that being a professional snow-sports athlete is an expensive affair, with winters spent travelling the world to compete and summer months occupied by training camps. Following the recent successes of our athletes British Ski and Snowboard has got more funding than ever before, however many of the athletes must still contribute to their costs.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang just a few months away, Team GB’s athletes are focused on qualifying for the Games – and some have had no choice but to call on the general public to help them supplement their income so they can represent their country on the global stage in South Korea.
One of these is 19-year-old Molly Summerhayes, a member of the GB Park and Pipe team and one of Team GB’s most promising halfpipe skiers. But that doesn't mean she has full backing for training and travel - in order to fund her Olympic dream she has been working full time in McDonald's for the past two years.
But now, to supplement her fast food income and to be more certain of joining her older sister Katie, a fixture on the Park and Pipe team, Summerhayes has launched a crowdfunding campaign with PledgeSports to raise some money towards her travel and competition costs.
Summerhayes has been competing around the UK and in the British Championships since she was 12 years old. When she turned 15 she spent her first season on the international circuit and was crowned World Junior Freestyle Ski Halfpipe Champion. Unfortunately this whirlwind season was followed by a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, a knee injury that put her in rehab for nearly a year.
Now recovered, Summerhayes is eager to qualify for the Winter Olympics, which involves an expensive trip to New Zealand this month with the GB Park and Pipe team for a training camp and World Cup event. She isn’t funded by UK Sport and the National Lottery, unlike some of her fellow athletes, so has had to resort to flipping burgers and is now asking the public for additional help.
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At the time of publication £595 has been pledged to Summerhayes's goal, 40 per cent of her target. A £10 donation buys 165 miles, approximately enough to get her from her home in Sheffield to Heathrow airport ready to fly; she needs £1,000 to get all the way to New Zealand for the training camp and home again. And that’s just the beginning of what’s set to be a very busy and expensive winter season.
Summerhayes is not the only member of Team GB who has turned to the public for financial support. Billy Major, a promising downhill skier, also launched a fundraising campaign recently. Although he receives some funding from British Ski and Snowboard through its sponsor Delancey, this isn’t enough for Major to compete on the notoriously expensive downhill circuit – even the USA ski team resorted to selling a naked calendar in order to raise funds last season. So 21-year-old Major has to personally contribute £33,500 a year to his training and competition costs.
“We get a certain amount from BSS that is put into our team of four alpine athletes [including downhill and slalom skiing for example] and two coaches and split. Then we as athletes have to put in £33,500 each per year ourselves,” explained Major.
Major represented Great Britain in the Winter Youth Olympics in 2013, was British junior champion in 2014 and also won the British under-21 downhill and super G titles in 2015. He now competes for the British Europa Cup Squad and is current British Men’s Alpine Champion, hoping to emulate the success of fellow downhill skier Dave Ryding – but is yet to attract the support of a large sponsor.
“It’s a lot harder than it sounds to find sponsors willing to put in a lot money. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be interested, but it’s hard to find and get in touch with them. I might contact 100 people and only one will come back to me,” said Major.
“It’s definitely the financial thing that’s the main worry for me. My parents help out as much as they can but it’s not enough - it’s a constant worry to find the money to keep training. Crowdfunding is really good but it’s not reliable and we can’t do it every year.”
Luckily for Major, whose campaign ended this week, his Just Giving page earnt him £11,185 towards the upcoming season, 39 per cent over the original target, thanks to 170 generous donations.
It’s not only current Team GB athletes who are looking for public support, up-and-coming athletes are also crowdfunding. Take 12-year-old freestyle skier Bradley Fry from Nottingham - his long-term success depends on being able to fund travelling the world to compete in the biggest competitions and attend the best training camps.
Fry has been crowned the under-12 British, English and Scottish freestyle ski champion for the past three years and, on moving to the under 16s category last season took the English slopestyle championship title. He has also performed on the 50ft real-snow kicker at The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Show in Battersea Park for the past three years.
Fry and his family, along with supporters such as the Warren Smith Ski Academy, whose coaches have trained him for the past five years, are encouraging people to pledge money. The funds raised will go towards travel, accommodation, competition and coaching fees, helping him with his ambition to become one of the rising stars of British snow sports.
How are athletes funded?
British Ski and Snowboard is the national governing body for skiing and snowboarding in the UK, and has 16 athletes across three disciplines who are funded by UK Sport and the National Lottery. These include Summerhayes’s sister Katie and team mates skiers Madi Rowlands, James ‘Woodsy’ Woods and snowboarders Katie Ormerod, Aimee Fuller and Billy Morgan.
"Funding for British snowsports has increased significantly over the past year. Parts of our programme are supported by UK Sport and this has increased recently with more disciplines being funded. Additional fund raising schemes have also been created as we seek to establish Britain as a top snowsport nation," said British Ski and Snowboard chairman Rory Tapner.
Last summer British Ski and Snowboard also launched two new funding initiatives to help Winter Olympic athletes. The British Ski and Snowboard Fund gives holidaymakers booking ski trips with operators such as Crystal, Inghams and the Ski Club of Great Britain, the opportunity to contribute to the fund as part of their booking.
The British Ski and Snowboard National Foundation is a grant-making charity that focuses on discovering and financially backing talented youngsters through larger donations.
The first round of funding from both will be announced in early September, and the money raised will be distributed to the disciplines - such as Park and Pipe - that have a clear plan and realistic chances of success for PyeongChang 2018.
Other official funding initiatives include individual donors who wish to support specific programmes or athletes, or British Ski and Snowboard as a whole. There is also Solidarity Funding from the British Olympic Association and the International Olympic Committee available, currently received by the likes of British ski cross athlete Emily Sarsfield.