Dashing through the snow
Scotland is gearing up to show that, in skiing, it is going downhill fast. The Scottish Schools' Ski Association has now named its team of 20 young skiers for the World Schools' Championships which will be staged at Pralognan, in the French Alps, from March 4-8.
The team will compete in the slalom and giant slalom races, which Scotland has shone at in recent years, bringing home silver and bronze medals.
Included in the team are three High School of Glasgow pupils - Keith Godley, Nicholas Palmer and Malcolm Roy - and the talented Pamela Thorburn of Glasgow Academy, who was last year's winner of the John Hynes Trophy for the most promising Scottish racer at under-14 level.
Five of the senior skiers are members of Scotland's alpine ski team, which recently returned from training in Norway. Most of the skiers will have spent holidays training on the slopes in preparation for the championships and, if conditions are favourable, will hope to get more training at Glenshee, Cairngorm or The Lecht.
The Scottish Schools' Championships are due to be held at The Lecht today, although if conditions are not good an alternative date of February 23 has been reserved, but the British championships will not take place until after the world championships, at the Nevis Range on March 19.
Skiing is an expensive business and there have been accusations that it is the preserve of private schools. But a look through the Scottish team shows that state schools are well represented.
"I don't think that is an accusation that holds these days," says Bruce Crawford, development manager for Snowsport Scotland. "There are cases where schools do not ski competitively and a youngster has learned skiing through ski clubs, so his or her school is not necessarily significant.
"We have about 40 clubs in Scotland now and youngsters are recruited as young as about six or eight. The clubs are providing excellent coaching and coaches are in touch with one another.
"Five years ago, we decided to change our coaching strategy and go with the Canadian model. Since then there has been a huge improvement.
"We have a cluster of good skiers now at under-18 and under-16 level and I believe the future is bright."
Perhaps Scotland's most famous skier of the past 10 years is Dunblane's Emma Carrick-Anderson, who improved her skills by attending school in Austria. Mr Crawford believes thatScotland's best young skiers need not go down that run. "To become a top skier what you need is time on snow and athletic ability," he argues.
"Alain Baxter, who was brought up in the shadow of Cairngorm, has shown that you don't have to go to school abroad to do well. Alain, who is now 26, just finished sixth in a World Cup event. But the important thing was he had access to a lot of snow time where he was living in Scotland. In his school years, he spent less time abroad than the top children today do.
"It can cost many parents an arm and a leg to send children to the likes of New Zealand during our summer and their winter to put them into camps and ensure they have plenty of snow time. But there is plenty of work you can do off piste in the summer here, such as strength and conditioning training, which are just as valuable."
The Scottish Schools' Skiing Association, as well as encouraging the most promising young skiers, believes in the ethos of sport for all. Lesley Hutchison, chairman of the SSSA, says: "We value the youngster making his or her first attempt at racing through poles as much as we do the seriously committed hotshot.
"Many skiers try racing for the first time in school races and this is something we are keen to encourage. School races are team races, a fact which makes them quite unusual in the sport. There is a heartening atmosphere of co-operation at school skiing events.
"Sometimes a school has one or two experienced skiers and two or three recreational skiers who are happy to give it a go. This results in a team effort that embraces very different levels of ability and where each member is valued for what he or she can contribute within their own sphere of competence."
Schools ski team.
Boys: Keith Godley, Nicholas Palmer (both High School of Glasgow), Christopher Mitchell (Millburn Acad), Andrew Noble (Edinburgh Academy), Donald Hall (Kingussie High).
Girls: Mairi Crawford (Oban High), Fiona Gardener (Portobello HS), Pennyghael Scott (Grantown Grammar), Lynn Sharp (Mearns Castle High), Laura Ann Wood (Aberdeen GS).
Boys: Campbell Beaton (Merchiston Castle), Tristan Glasse-Davies (McLaren High), Jan Michael Kochalski (Banchory Academy), Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Academy), Malcolm Roy (High School of Glasgow).
Girls: Flora McPhail (Rudolf Steiner), Melissa Harper (Strathallan), Claire Robb (Cults Academy), Gilli Storrie (George Watson's College), Pamela Thorburn (Glasgow Academy).