A SCOTTISH teenager has emerged as the UK’s brightest skiing hope in years after sweeping the board at the British championships.
At just 18, Alexandra Tilley took all five titles at Meribel, France, even beating male competitors to be crowned overall event champion.
Alexandra left school at 16 to dedicate her life to the sport and her family have dug deep into their pockets, spending £30,000 a year to fund her training.
Sports chiefs say the girl from Torphins, Aberdeenshire, is the “future” of British skiing, talented enough to give international rivals a genuine challenge for medals at the winter Olympics in Russia in 2014.
They even whisper that she may provide British skiing’s answer to Andy Murray.
She said: “I absolutely love skiing, it gives me such a fantastic feeling that I wouldn’t swap for anything.
“My love of the sport has kept me going throughout all the financial strain.
“Successes, such as most recently at the British Championships, make it all worth it,” she said.
Alex’s career has seen her travel around the world, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s top skiers at some of the sport’s most glamorous ski slopes.
From the French Alps to New Zealand, Alex has seen parts of the world many Scots teens can only dream of.
She said: “It’s amazing to be out skiing in competitions and to see my name on trophies, especially with the support of my family and knowing they are behind me all the way.”
Alex’s father, Dave, added: “It is hard at times and it is a financial struggle. You do worry about injuries and it’s hard to justify the expense at times when everything is going ‘pear shaped’.”
The oil rig worker added: “But everyone in the game seems to believe that Alex has not reached anywhere close to her full potential yet, which is very exciting.
“She also has sponsorship for her skis equipment from Atomic for next season which is a relief.
“Alex has now matured as a person she knows the additional sacrifices that she will have to make to reach her full potential in ski racing, and what is very comforting is that she wants it more than anyone – and badly, which makes coughing up the cash a bit easier.”
Alex is currently a member of the Scottish full time team and British Junior team, and won a clutch of under-18 British championship titles before her British championship win last month.
The young skier, who races at speeds of up to 80mph, fell into the sport almost by accident after a family friend persuaded the Tilleys to go on a ski holiday ten years ago.
Mr Tilley said: “Our family friends were actually very keen skiers and persuaded us to go with them on a ski holiday. Alex took to it well and was keen right from the start.”
When the family returned to Aberdeen, Mr Tilley signed his daughter up to local lessons before she joined local race club, Gordon Skiers.
Alex soon went to race camps abroad and won a bursary to attend the British Ski Academy. As her skiing developed she was selected for the British Children’s Ski Team at the age of 12, and after leaving school at the age of 16 has seen her career take off.
Mr Tilley said: “It was a bit of a dilemma to take Alex out of school but in the end we took the view ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, and it is a life developing experience for her, she is getting to see the world.
He said the fear of Alex suffering an injury was always a concern for the family. “She received a suspected broken neck in 2005 caused by a mechanical failure on a T Bar lift and though she has been lucky so far, we are very conscious of the possibility of her having a serious injury. It is a worry,” he said.
Gordon Ritchie, director of Snow Sports Scotland said Alex’s success at the British Championships was “exceptional”.
He added: “A clean sweep of all five events just shows how good she is.
“Two years ago Alex couldn’t finish a race, she wasn’t in the frame but she spent two years training seven days a week and came back stronger, she cleaned up at the British Championships and now I think its fair to say she represents the future of British skiing.
“She is in the frame for the next Olympics and there is a real chance that Alex will perform well on the world stage. She had the technical expertise and has proven she is a winner. She completely walked the British Championships and is a great role model for other young skiers.
“She has shown other skiers that Scotland could win. She is a normal, hard working girl and it would be great if she could be the skiing equivalent to Andy Murray in tennis.”
Ross Gardner, national performance manager at Snow Sport Scotland added: “Alex is a very talented skier and is progressing well. She is still a young athlete and has a lot of potential. She is a confident skier and has still not reached her full potential. This is a very exciting time for Scottish skiing.”
Mr Tilley said: “Alex is very open and honest about her progress and we totally respect her for that, even when she doesn’t finish a race for months on end, we know that things are still improving in training and that provides a degree of comfort – it’s just a matter of time.”