Snowboarding: Gillings the best of British in a dangerous boarding school

British snowsport competitors are having an excellent winter. In the high-profile alpine events, the Scottish downhiller Finlay Mickel has grabbed five top-20 finishes, and Chemmy Alcott has consolidated the progress she made last year. But I bet you can't name the 19-year-old who is the highest-ranked Briton in the World Cup.

British snowsport competitors are having an excellent winter. In the high-profile alpine events, the Scottish downhiller Finlay Mickel has grabbed five top-20 finishes, and Chemmy Alcott has consolidated the progress she made last year. But I bet you can't name the 19-year-old who is the highest-ranked Briton in the World Cup.

She won the season's opening race last September in Chile, her only World Cup victory to date, and is currently fourth with three races to go; here's another clue, she is from that little-known alpine kindergarten, the Isle of Man. Struggling? Let me introduce you then to Zoë Gillings, Britain's No 1 snowboarder.

She hasn't done it the glamorous way, in the half-pipe or big-air events. Gillings' speciality is snowboardcross, or boardercross. In just four years, Gillings (pronounced "Jillings") has battled her way to the forefront of this, the rough-tough end of competitive boarding. In each race, four boarders compete against one another down a course of high-banked turns and jumps. They shove, they jostle and, often, they fall - to progress through the heats to the final race of each World Cup event takes a slice of luck, a bit of elbow and a lot of guts.

"I love riding next to my competitors," says Gillings. "I don't have too much technique, I'm still a bit crazy. It's not meant to be that physical, but you can sort of push them and get away with it. Most people are good sports about it." They probably have little choice: "I don't know my weight, but I'm quite strong," says the 5ft 7in Gillings. "You can be small and slip through the gaps [in races], but it doesn't happen that often."

Nevertheless, even robust competitors such as Gillings have had to face up to the sport's dangers. Last year the Swede Line Ostvold died from injuries sustained in training before the opening World Cup race in Chile (the race that Gillings went on to win).

"It brought home to me the possibility of serious injury," Gillings says. "You pick up a lot of speed, 50mph. Every course is different, and you can crash anywhere: on a jump, a big corner, or someone might fall over in front of you."

The hard work continues through the off-season, too. Anyone who still believes snowboarders are congenital slackers should read Gillings' online diary of her summer training, both at the English Institute of Sport in Bath and in the Alps: the gym work, the cycling... So there isn't much time for surfing with her friends, or her family, who run a hotel on the Isle of Man. "I'll go home for about nine days this year," says Gillings, who is based in Switzerland for the season. "Then I don't get to go home until after the Olympics."

Although it is still a minority discipline compared to the big alpine events, boardercross will be a full Olympic event next year in Turin. Which raises the possibility of that rare beast, a British Winter Olympic snowsports medal- winner. Her coach, Craig Smith, is bullish about Gillings' prospects, even comparing her with the most successful female snowboarder ever, the French racer Karine Ruby: "By 2010, Zoë would like to be in the same shoes as Karine and be able to say she's won as many World Cup races, maybe even more."

Gillings finished eighth in last season's boardercross World Cup; in January this year she had a disappointing World Championships, finishing 14th. But she is certainly a contender - with today's race in Lake Placid, Friday's in the Sierra Nevada in Spain and the following Thursday's finale in Sweden, Gillings still has a chance of winning this year's World Cup boardercross. "I'm hoping to try to get rid of that reputation of underachievement the British have [in snowsports]."

Then Gillings says something that, these days, sounds less daft from the lips of a British snowsports competitor: "There's no reason why I shouldn't win the World Cup."

News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat