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Youngsters get off to a racing start

A ski club offering children race training could, in time, bring on Scotland's next Alain Baxter. Roddy Mackenzie reports.

A lack of snow this year may have led to the Scottish Schools Ski Championships being rescheduled from the end of January to March 1, but it has not hit the number of children heading for the artificial slopes.

The Midlothian Ski Centre at Hillend in Edinburgh reports a good number of young skiers are using the facility and has set up a scheme to offer children a race training programme under coach Tony Kuwall. It has taken school skiing a stage further than basic lessons and promises to provide a fresh wave of competitive skiers.

The Midlothian Snowsport Club was formed last May to cater for children in the area and by November the club committee of 13 parents was fully established.

"It is a classic development model," enthuses Bruce Crawford, development manager of Snowsport Scotland. "The club was set up by our development officer, Jane Rhodes, but has been passed on to the parents to run.

"There were 52 children registered in the club last year and the ski centre took on the financial burden of paying for their registrations, which worked out at pound;20 each. It may look like a bold move, but these are all children who live in the area and will hopefully continue to use the facilities. It was important to get the club up and running.

"The advantages of the children being involved in a club is that they can subsidise their programme with fund-raising activities such as coffee mornings and get access to other discounts."

Ms Rhodes believes the key to the club working successfully is to have the parents involved.

"We have had great help from primary and secondary teachers in Midlothian. This started out as a leisure services and education project three years ago but we were incurring costs. The support we receive from the ski centre and the education department are important," she says.

By offering the children race training every Wednesday for an hour-and-a-half, their skiing standards have improved dramatically. "The kids are really responding to the race training programme," she says. "We now have four groups and just under 60 kids."

Snowsport Scotland offers taster sessions for schoolchildren aged six to S6 to see who has an aptitude for skiing. The sessions are open to all children who live or go to school in Midlothian. The children can also take part in the Lothian Ski Racing Association programme.

In addition to skiing, next month will see the first taster programme to be offered in snowboarding. Elliot Green, who holds a number of championship records including world speed record for snowboarding on an artificial slope, will coach the group, with Tony Kuwall giving guidance on health and fitness.

The Midlothian club model is likely to be copied elsewhere. The Scottish Schools Ski Association recognises that it will undoubtedly lead to new talent coming up through the sport.

"The scheme has done a great job of getting schoolchildren out on skis," says Lesley Hutchison, chairman of the SSSA. "It's not the top skiers that have been dealt with but the children who would not normally ski and whose families do not have the resources to go to Cairngorm every weekend.

"But, having said that, some of the skiers that have come through the coaching are now doing well in schools competitions."

A new Highland Snowsport development officer will be appointed shortly to bring the total of full-time development officers in Scotland to three. (Gillian Glover is Snowsport development officer for the west.) "The Midlothian initiative is certainly likely to be considered when the new person is in place in Highland," says Mr Crawford. "It is an area where we are very strong in terms of facilities but have not always had the people in place to make it happen."

The SSSA is hoping plenty of snow will fall soon. In addition to the Scottish Schools Championships at the Lecht being postponed, the Scottish Schools Minors Ski Championships had to be called off earlier this month due to high winds. The Scottish Prep Schools Ski Championships are due to be held at Glenshee on March 4 and the Scottish Children's Ski Championships at Cairngorm on March 16-17.

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