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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us