TWO Scottish girl skiers, Alex Tilley and Charlie Guest, who have been friends and rivals since the age of 11 and are now both completing their first season on the British Ski Team, have been the outstanding performers at what has been a slightly downbeat Delancey British National Alpine Ski Championships in Meribel, France.
But it is the two 18-year-olds’ results on the international circuit in Europe over the last three months which suggest they have the potential to follow up on the World Cup successes of Finlay Mickel, Alain Baxter and Chemmy Alcott. In fact the duo have been strongly influenced by encouragement and coaching on the Scottish Ski Team from Mickel, who retired three years ago as Britain’s most consistently successful World Cup downhiller with ten top-20 finishes and a best of tenth on the Lauberhorn in 2006.
“The enjoyment I have seen displayed by both of them and the progression I have seen with Alex Tilley and Charlie Guest – two skiers I worked with very strongly on my first two years since I stopped racing – to see them getting into the British team quickly and owning the podium this week is very exciting,” Mickel said in Meribel this week.
But Tilley and Guest are very much a minority when it comes to promise and success. Alpine racing suffered a devastating blow when the British Ski and Snowboard Federation imploded two years ago. After two uncertain years, the emerging organisation British Ski and Snowboard is finding its feet, but cannot provide any real funding support to athletes, and long time team sponsors British Land gave notice two years ago that they would end their support after 18 years, at the end of this season.
“It is a challenging time for the British team.” Mickel continued. “There is great talent coming through, but will it be as well supported as when I was on the team? I can’t answer that. I look back at my time on the team and we were in luck that it happened the way it did. We had a head coach in Austrian Christian Schwaiger who brought a new level of professionalism.”
Schwaiger, who went on to coach the very successful German World Cup women’s team, was an inspirational figure who brought British skiers self belief and a cohesive, focused programme with top-level coaching. Mickel, in his own way, has taken a lot of what he learned under Schwaiger but is applying his own enthusiasm and experience to bring on home based Scottish alpine skiers on the Scottish Ski Team.
Working alongside Scotland’s head coach Ross Gardner and coach Chris Mitchell, they have been addressing some of athletic and movement deficits they see which are the product of the inadequate physical education programme in schools, seeking to produce fit, strong, dynamic athletes who they can encourage and coach to become ski racers. “The major problem I see is us not developing athletes in the right way.
“They need to be athletes first. We have an issue with our physical education in our schools which is ongoing and other countries get that right. We don’t and we need to address that gap. We need to get our athletes doing these things they lack, then they can catch up on the skiing later, and they can maximise their time on snow.”