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At Her Peak

With the Winter Olympics taking place in South Korea this month, Paul Critcher asks British all-time great, Chemmy Alcott, about her life on the slopes.

With three sports-mad older brothers (one of whom had been selected as a potential ski racer), a rugby-playing father and a mother who swam competitively, a career in sport was always on the cards for Chemmy Alcott.

Now retired from competitive ski racing, Chemmy is still very much involved in the sport. She presents Ski Sunday, runs a coaching company with her husband Dougie Crawford (a champion ski racer in his own right), and was recently honoured with the Presidency of the Ski Club of Great Britain. A year ago she also became a mother and is now looking to see her son follow in her ski tracks.

“We were definitely sports mad and I’m still like that. I mean, I married a ski racer. I’m breeding that environment in the future for my little boy because Dougie and I compete at everything – we had a fierce game of Monopoly last night!”

Chemmy went to the Winter Olympics four times, had a career high ranking of eighth in the world, was British National Overall Champion seven times and the only British female skier to ever win a run in a World Cup. She is undoubtedly the UK’s most successful female ski racer of all time, but what does she see as her greatest achievement in the sport?

“When I won the second run in Sölden in a World Cup in front of 30,000 Austrian fans – that was when I proved to myself that in the right situation, without injury, I did have what it took to win. I dedicated a lot of time and energy into being the best, but through a few psychological issues – fear of failure, because I had so many people invested in me – I was slightly blocked, and then obviously the injuries came. But that was the run where everything tied together, so that was a highlight for me.”

Some would say that British skiers don’t really compete on a level playing field because they have fewer opportunities to ski, but Chemmy takes the view that there is plenty of opportunity to get out on the slopes and that Brits can still compete at a high level in skiing.

“Historically the Norwegians skied to school and had skiing as part of their school programmes like we have rugby, football, netball and hockey. But now in the UK we have dry ski slopes, there’s one at Sandown, and indoor snowdomes and rotating ski slopes like the one at Chel-ski. So there are many facilities available for us to teach our children this amazing sport. It’s a great sport because it’s not just about learning something new; it really does give you life skills. It’s one of the hardest sports to learn and you do fall over, so in order to progress you have to keep picking yourself up. You learn perseverance, resilience and gain the confidence it takes to try something new when there is that dangerous element.”

Chemmy herself had her fair share of injuries. She suffered a broken neck early in her career (when she was 11), and later in her career had several significant injuries but she consistently fought to get back. What inspired her to carry on?

“I had so much passion for the sport. I never did it because I thought it was a way to earn money or to become famous, it was just something that I loved doing and I still love doing it. In fact, the reason I retired is that I want to keep skiing until I’m 80. I’ve married a fellow ski racer and it’s something that we love doing together – we love coaching, we set up our own racing team and that’s why I retired. I think that’s how I got back from every injury – the fact that I didn’t want to do anything else. You have to push yourself to know what you’re capable of and unfortunately in a sport like skiing, sometimes that does involve a helicopter ride off a mountain.”

Chemmy is optimistic about British prospects at the Olympics. “As a nation I think we are building a pathway from grassroots right to world class and we’ve got a fantastic Team GB athlete selection, so we’re hoping this will be our best Olympics ever. Dave Ryding, who comes from Pendle Dry Ski Slope, won a silver medal last year in the World Cup in Kitzbühel, which is one of the biggest World Cups of the year, so everyone is taking notice. The talent pool we have in our country is amazing.”

In between visits to the slopes, Chemmy’s world centres on life locally in Hampton Court with her husband and son. “I grew up in Twickenham and used to cycle along the river to Surbiton High School every day, and went to primary school at Newland House in Twickenham. Dougie and I got married at Syon Park and I love it here – you’ve got the river and London and the airports are so accessible. I love Bushy Park and the river. Ten years ago when no one was doing it, I was the weird lady going up and down the Thames at Kingston on a paddle board and now the sport’s taken off.”

But what about her new life following her retirement from competitive skiing? “I had to retire. I wanted to do one more Olympics, but then I saw the guy who did the last surgery on my leg and he told me the risk I was taking by continuing to ski race. I decided that it was too high a risk but I still had all this passion for skiing which was why I set up CDC Performance – I want to inspire young people to be their best and to learn through sport. It’s not always about winning. I learned so many imperative life skills through trying to be the best I could be and that’s what I want to teach young people, whether that’s through my passion for the sport at elite level or through commentating and hosting Ski Sunday. That’s why being honoured with the Presidency of the Ski Club of Great Britain is so fantastic, because I’m very proud to be British, I’m very proud of the heritage we have in the sport in general and it’s a big honour. I love the different skills I need to wear all these different hats. I still love going into schools and talking about the power of sport as well.”

TOP TIPS

Chemmy’s advice for amateur skiers:

  • Get fit before you go – a lot of people don’t get the most out of their ski holidays because they get out there and forget how exerting it is on the body, so do a little bit work before you go – it will mean you can ski longer. Try my Fit to Ski workouts and warm ups at www.skiclub.co.uk.
  •  Also do some prep work before you go at one of the snow domes or at Chel-ski where’s there’s an amazing rotating slope. Not only will it help get you physically ready, it will help get your technique up to speed.
At Her PeakAt Her Peak