Robert Holmes had never been to Panorama before. He’d never been to Canada before, for that matter. Or North America at all. Born in East Lancashire, the 19-year-old was in the village to do one thing: to throw himself down a perilously steep 190m slope made of ice at speeds best conducted in a vehicle. A vehicle with brakes.
In Panorama for the World Junior Alpine Ski Championships in March, the trip was the culmination of a 17-year skiing career for Rob. He first tried the sport as a two-year-old after his parents decided on a family ski holiday for their honeymoon. He was utterly hooked.
“I loved the speed,” says Rob, now one of Britain’s most promising alpine ski racers. “As soon as I started, I loved going as fast as I could through the poles. It was the adrenaline and the challenge of the sport and the feeling of freedom which comes with being in the mountains somewhere.
“It’s amazing,” he adds. “You get this real sense of adventure, especially when you try out new runs. That feeling never really leaves you, but you really get it back when you go to new places or hills for the first time.”
Following the family holiday to Schladming, Austria, Rob joined Pendle Ski Club, showing an immediate natural talent. He was soon taking regular lessons and, before long, his summers consisted of competing on artificial ski slopes across the UK, earning him a number of national titles.
“I’m not from a family of skiers, we just started skiing for enjoyment after my parents’ honeymoon,” explains Rob. “I was in the race squad at Pendle by about five or six and I started to get a sense that I was talented when it came to skiing at about 12 or 13 when I started on the national circuit in the UK racing on the dry slopes.”
Despite having only just started competing in an alpine environment, Rob’s aptitude for the sport shone through and he was offered a place on the prestigious Team Evolution race programme.
“Being part of Team Evolution made me realise that skiing was getting more serious for me and really made me realise it was what I wanted to do,” says Rob. “From then on, I knew skiing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
National selection to represent both the GB Children’s Team in the Czech Republic and the ESSKIA ISF Team at L'Aquila, Italy and Chamrousse, France followed as Rob saw his skiing come on leaps and bounds.
“I started a little later compared to others and I’d never taken it as seriously as some other kids do from an early age, so I was always trying to catch up, but I enjoyed the challenge,” says Rob. “I’d be racing every weekend in the summer and going to all these different places and racing with Team Evolution, which gave me a lot of confidence.
“Being scouted made me realise that people were noticing how well I was doing, which was a massive step forward for me in my career,” he adds. “I saw massive progression in my skiing ability as well during that time - I was skiing day-in, day-out, so the sheer volume of training was just much greater than what I could do before.
“I’ve made big steps and become proficient in something new each year.”
Having gone on to compete at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, become the youngest British man to start a European Cup race, and be named both British and English dry-slope champion, Rob’s ultimate goal is to compete at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.
“Representing Team GB at any level is great,” he says. “Usually I’m representing my club and my team, so to go a level up from there and represent such an amazing country with some great skiers makes me really proud. Team GB is a bit of an underdog in winter sports, which is nice because we can have a shot at some of the very best.
“The unknown really allows you to test yourself and it’s an amazing sport for locations,” he adds. “We get to visit some incredible places and see some gorgeous sights. It makes me feel very lucky.”
Selected as part of an eight-person team representing Great Britain at the World Junior Alpine Ski Championships in Panorama, Rob competed in four events - the slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and alpine combined. Still relatively green in terms of experience, he says that this year was all about learning.
“The world juniors was something which I’d been targeting and to finally achieve that goal was amazing,” he says. “It was a different world over there in terms of ski racing and the snow conditions were different too, so that was really interesting.
“Reflecting on how I got on, I’m not as happy as I could’ve been with the way I skied in my super-G and GS because I made some mistakes,” he adds. “But in the slalom, which is my strongest discipline, I showed glimpses of my best skiing, which I’m happy with.
“It wasn’t easy because I’d not been in an environment like it before,” Rob explains. “Some of the lads there have been competing at the junior champs for two or three years, whereas this was my first one, so I was happy to show some of my best skiing.
“It was more about the experience and making sure I learn from mistakes and I feel like I’ve come away with a lot to take into next year’s games.”
Having since returned to the UK following the comp, Rob’s focus has turned to funding - he currently receives no financial support from GBSnowsport, the national governing body, who only support a select few athletes.
Consequently, Rob is always open to new sponsorship opportunities and has completed his Snowsport England coaching and instructor licences, which has given him the invaluable experience of being able to work with the next generation of skiers and learn more about the sport, too.
“At the moment, I’m not funded at all by the governing body,” explains Rob. “In British skiing, there’s very little money around and currently only the top two British athletes are receiving funding.
“That makes the pathway quite difficult, so I’m always looking for sponsorship as I’m pretty much completely funded by my mum and dad,” he adds. “Any other support would be great.”
In terms of inspiration, however, Rob is in no short supply. One of his best friends in the sport is fellow Lancastrian Dave Ryding, who competed at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, demonstrating that Olympic ambitions are far from a pipe-dream.
“I’ve literally always dreamt about representing Team GB at the Olympics, so it’d be amazing if I could get to 2026,” says Rob. “But that’s a long way off and I still have some really big steps to make, but at the rate I’m progressing at the moment, I’m pretty sure I can give it a really good shot.
“If it happens, it’ll be amazing.”