The first British female skier to qualify for the World Cup Finals, win a run in a World Cup race and the British Land National Ski Championships six times in a row, Chemmy Alcott is, indisputably, Britain's fastest girl on skis.
Chemmy has competed in three consecutive Olympic Games, in Salt Lake City, Turin and then Vancouver - at both Turin and Vancouver she finished an impressive 11th place – and is looking forward to Sochi, despite a horrific leg-fracturing accident in Lake Louise in 2010 and, more recently, breaking her leg again training in Switzerland. During her road to recovery Chemmy, 31, took part in ITV’s Dancing on Ice and returned to skiing on the World Cup tour in 2012/13 and has become an ambassador for British skiing, encouraging younger athletes to pursue their dreams. She is currently ranked in the top 30 in the world for Super G and Giant Slalom. She is engaged to Dougie Crawford, ranked British number one in both speed events, downhill and super-G. Chemmy talks to Elaine Deed about life (and love) in the fast lane:
Currently you’re fund raising for the Olympics in Sochi. How much do you need?
I have some fantastic and supportive sponsors but no head (main) sponsor. For Dougie and I to ski in the Olympics, next year, it costs £110,000. I am trying to use my profile to get downhill British skiing back on the map and if the fund raiser goes well then I will make it a yearly event and hopefully raise funds for the future.
I guess fund raising isn’t every athlete’s idea of fun?
I have an amazing car from Landrover who have been so supportive of me and also Coutts as a sponsor, so people assume that I don’t need funding. Skiing is still viewed as an upper class sport and you have daddy’s money. For me it has never been like that - I have always been on my own paying my way.
So many athletes complain about minor things but I am here less than 120 days away from the Olympics without a head sponsor. I have to do it all on my own. I have to meet people, fight for them to listen to me, to believe in me. Basically sell myself. But I have learnt skills invaluable in later life.
So how did it all start? When did you first put on skis?
I started skiing when I was 18 months old. I am a very fast learner. Also I have three older brothers. By the time I was born they were already skiing. When you are young your siblings are just so cool you want to do whatever they are doing so I just followed them into the sport.
What does it take to go so fast?
I think it’s about being mentally really strong. But the most intelligent thing you can do is get rid of any intelligence at the start gate – and rely on confidence. There are so many variables; so many things you have to overcome. You can’t let fear be your enemy. Everyone can get scared, but make fear your friend.
So, as in Formula 1 and other fast sports, is it for the rush?
It’s about being in complete control and getting better, faster and stronger every day. And always challenging yourself. That is such a rush. Also, I am in complete control of any success or disappointment that is going to happen. It is all totally up to me.
Do you have time to think of anything going that fast?
No, if you have time to think then you are probably really slow.
But do you think about the next turn? What you have to do to win?
You visualise massively. You do an inspection and visualise but you also have to stay in the moment. Some of my best results have come when I have made a mistake at the top of the course. Then I have to go: right now I have made that mistake so I have to push it as hard as I can. You can’t stay in the past. If you are always thinking of that mistake then things catch up to you pretty quickly.
You have to be pretty tough when the going gets tough?
I think I have had the toughest mental challenge that an athlete will ever have to face. After I had a potentially career ending crash I went back for my first world cup and my first jump on the very same course that nearly ended my career. I came down and I was the only girl from the back to make World Cup points and I qualified for the Olympics in that event. If I ever needed any proof of how tough I am then that was it. And I think that was one of my proudest moments because of the adversity I had to overcome and the demons I had to address.
And, presumably you have to be very competitive?
I am the most massively competitive person. I need that kind of challenge to go out there and work harder than everyone else and be stronger and be tougher.
I do six hours a day training even with a broken leg – I had the BBC filming last week and they said they have never seen anyone work as hard as me although I was obviously injured. That was really flattering. People have this misconception that gravity pulls you down hill and that all you have to do is go. But you’ve got to be massively strong because you have to hold huge G forces.
Do you think you will win a place on the podium in Sochi?
I don’t know how I am going to do; I only know that just before I crashed, this year, I was skiing faster than I have ever skied before and without pain and that was just such an enlightening thing. But ask me that question again just before the games.
You have said you might retire after the Games?
It depends how it goes. I think I’ve been dealt some really tough cards over the past few years. But it has proved my fight, my determination. Now I just want to ski pain free and show everyone what I can do. So I want to give myself every possible chance of doing it – I have the rest of my life to retire but if I still have this fight in me and if I can financially afford to do it then I would love to keep going.
What would you do if you stopped competing?
I want to go into adventure TV. Obviously I have a few screws loose which helps being a ski racer and I’ve shown that you can be feminine and be fast. There is a big market out there for female explorers to show women what we can do. And men will watch it just to see if we can do it.
For many people it would seem you are living the dream. Is it ever a nightmare?
I guess the worst bits are when you push things too far and get injured. Physically I know I will always heal, mentally it’s getting back there, losing all the support and having to fight for it all over again. But when I think how far I’ve come, how much I’ve proved to people, how proud my mum would be and how lucky I am to live this life, then I try and live it, breathe it, appreciate it 100 percent of the time.
Is the potential injury at high speed why more women don’t do it?
Not many women in this country do it – but there are plenty of superstar women in downhill skiing in Europe and America. I think that it takes a huge amount of sacrifices and so many people in Britain ski as a hobby and for fun rather than take it to the next level.
How is it socially on the pro circuit?
All my best friends are the girls I race against. You are in an environment where you are racing 70 girls, but who are all kindred spirits. Because of the danger element you have so much respect for someone who comes down and beats you. I’m pretty sure half my wedding is going to be full of the World Cup ski tour.
Do you spend a lot of time with Dougie?
We see each other at the beginning and the end of the season. For the five months in between we never race or train together. We are on completely separate tours.
But does doing the same sport make it easier?
You need a unique personality to do this sport. And we are really on a par with each other. We have massively different personalities but the respect and understanding is there every day.
Do you have a favourite ski resort?
I love Flaine because we have our family place there. The skiing in Verbier is fantastic, But Valle Nevado in Chile is one of my favourite secret places.
Describe your perfect day in the mountains if you are not competing?
The night before it would have snowed a metre and a half. I would be up before sunrise and I’d skin to the top of the mountain, probably listening to Mumford and Sons, where no one else would be, I’d put on the fat boys and ski kilometres of vertical powder. Then maybe get a heli up to the top and do it again.
When you are not in racing Lycra, what do you like to wear on the slopes?
For me the brighter the better. The slopes are a great place where you can be expressive. You can’t go into the office in London wearing a neon pink all in one. I love clashing colours and will be wearing my Jack Wolfskin neon green and bright purple jacket this winter.
And off the slopes?
When I was on Dancing On Ice, I was called “big” (by judge, Katarina Witt). I did interviews after this to talk about how being athletic is really sexy. I wore a fitted Suzanne Neville dress to a premiere that looked amazing and then I opened London Fashion Week with a cropped top on and my abs out. It was actually a fantastic week for me.
Even though I have a very athletic body I used to wear baggy tracksuit bottoms all the time but they really do nothing for you. Now I wear leggings and jeggings as I am proud of my derriere. Some people get bum implants, I’ve got them naturally.
So will it be a white wedding with Dougie in the snow?
We’re planning the wedding for June, next year so it won’t be in the snow. But, currently, I have a lot on my plate so I can’t even think about it.
Do you have any advice for girls looking good on the slopes?
I taught my friend, Heidi Range from Sugar Babes, who I met on Dancing on Ice, to ski indoors at Skiplex. Then, last winter, she started dating a guy who really liked skiing and they were going to the mountains so I gave her one of my Poc helmets and my kit to wear . She said, Chemmy I can’t wear this stuff it makes me looks too good but I replied, Heidi just own it, act like you are meant to be that person, enjoy the feeling. Besides with the fabrics’ technical performance you’re not going to get cold. Anyway, she had the best time and I ended up giving her my helmet for her 30th because she loved it so much.
Get all the kit, safety first, be warm, layer up and then just own it.
So if you look the part, you’ll feel good and ski better?
Yes, absolutely. Also, if I am having a tough day or I am in pain and I think of being happy, I end up feeling great again. A lot of my psychology is on imitating the best in the world.