Its proper name is the Clashindarroch forest. In Huntly, they just call it the Clash. Either way, this remote corner of north-east Scotland has become one of Britain's more improbable Olympic breeding grounds.
There has not been much snow this winter to cover the Clash, but come Tuesday no one at the Huntly Ski Club will mind much, because their focus will be fixed far from home, on the Psekhako Ridge high in the mountains above Sochi. Here they have snow, and stockpiles of it too as, just like in Scotland, the winter weather does not always deliver what skiers want.
In the Clash they average 45 days of skiing a year – five years ago they enjoyed a bumper 118. That was the year Andrew Musgrave left Huntly for Norway, moving to the home of cross-country skiing. He left behind his sister Posy and his friends Andrew Young and Callum Smith. Now they are all back together; the Huntly Four are skiing for Britain in the Olympic Games. Tuesday is the big day when all four will compete in the sprint – Posy in the women's event, the other three in the men's – a 1.5km dash over four rounds culminating in finals.
"We have known each other since we were 10 years old and trained with each other since we were 10," says Andrew Musgrave of Young and Smith. "When one person starts getting better, it helps to boost the level of everyone else in the club. We all push each other in training sessions. Roy Young, the coach of the British team [and also here in Sochi], is actually from Huntly. So he was coaching at Huntly ski club before he became the British coach. That has had a massive impact on us."
The Musgraves learnt to ski as children in Alaska before the family moved back to Scotland and found their way to the club. The siblings – Andrew is four years Posy's junior – have egged each other on, each fiercely competitive. "I didn't want to be beaten by a girl," says Andrew.
He was 11 when the family moved to Huntly, and discovered two like minds in Smith and Young, Roy's son. The three boys would train for hour after hour, pushing each other on. Andrew Musgrave was the one who stood out, and so after leaving school he headed for Norway. Five years on, he is settled, mixing skiing for a club with studying for an engineering degree in Trondheim. And last month he became big in Norway.
In an Olympic year the Norwegian championships double as their national trials for the Games. They are shown live on TV and dominate the newspapers. Musgrave won the sprint, beating many men aiming for medals on Tuesday. That evening his extraordinary upset led the news on NRK, the national broadcaster. "All the Norwegian press were shocked that this British guy had beaten all their Olympic hopefuls," says Musgrave.
This will be his second Games. He came 51st in Vancouver four years ago, but his improvement over this Olympic cycle has been dramatic. "I don't really know what to expect," he says. "Definitely I feel like I should be able to qualify at least for the semi-finals. Once you reach the semi-finals, you have a good chance of qualifying to the final. Once you are in the final, anything can happen."Reuse content