Alex Tilley looks back on getting so close to achieving her season goals

The last race that Alex Tilley competed in last season was at the English Alpine Champs. It was the FIS Giant Slalom and Tilley produced a master class for the rest of the field to observe as she won the race by 2.13 seconds. This was her fourth win of the season as she won two Giant Slalom races and two Slalom races since starting the season in New Zealand. Just prior to the Bormio trip, Tilley had competed in some Nor-Am races in Canada and taken a win and runners up spot in Giant Slalom to give her a solid back up in terms of FIS points should she drop out of the top thirty in the World Cup at any stage next season.

Heading to Are for the last races of the season, Tilley sat in 29th on the Giant Slalom WCSL (World Cup Start List), a stated ambition for the season. Although she knew that the World Cup Finals, that had been slated in for Cortina d'Ampezzo, had already been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Tilley was feeling good bit how did she feel about the way the season ended? "I found it to be a massive shock in the way that we found out during the team captains meeting the night before our first race in Åre. I was already feeling a bit on edge and wondering if we have been pushing our luck up there trying to get the races off, but I desperately wanted for them to go ahead to try and improve my standing before the end of the season. The thing I actually found hardest was being hit by the reality that the season was over, and all of a sudden, I had to go back to square one and figure out how I was going to get something sorted for skiing next season, and at the worst possible time." explained Tilley.

Was it a mad panic and dash to get home once the call to abandon the season was made? Tilley explained: "For me not really, we had to pack up the van pretty quickly that evening and Tadej, my serviceman, started driving early the next morning. But I had to head back to Austria and pick up things to take home for fitness training, so it was a bit of a detour in the end. I did end up only getting a flight the day before the border’s shut though, so I guess things were starting to get a little tight!"

The season had been a strange one as the way the Women's World Cup technical races calendar had fallen saw a long period at the end of January with no World Cup races. Noel Baxter, Tilley's coach, along with Tilley, decided that in order to keep the racing in focus, it was best to head to Canada and take part in some Nor-Am races. There end result of this was a win and second place in Giant Slalom as well as a 12th in Slalom. After winning two Slalom's in Coronet Peak in September 2019, Tilley had sorted some good points early on in the season for Slalom. She went on to place 24th in the World Cup Slalom in Killington.

How did she feel about her season as she travelled up to Are? Did she feel that she was building up to a series of strong results or happy with the way her points finished up? "I was feeling really positive and really optimistic about the races up in Are. I had just made some tweaks with my equipment which had made really clear and positive changes, so I really do believe I could have done something good up there, in the GS in particular. But unfortunately that’s how it went, and I finished up 29 in the World Cup Standings and Start List. Given everything that this season has thrown at me, I’m proud to say I made it back into the top 30 when odds weren’t exactly in my favour, but I also look at a few races this season where I know I could have done a lot better.

Now that the season is over, how is she preparing for the next season in terms of fitness and looking after her sponsors and supporters? "I have just started up on my structured fitness programme for this summer, and it definitely looks a little different given the current “stay at home” circumstances, but I’m working hard to get back to my best shape in time for next year. I had a two month bout of Bronchitis from early November through until early January that really wiped out any ability to train outside of the limited skiing I could do at that time, so I have a lot of work to do now to get back to where I need to be.

Which was the race that gave her the most amount of satisfaction last season? "I feel like I say the same race every year, but it has to be Killington. I just love the atmosphere there and I feel like its the closest thing to a home race for me. It was my best result this season, with 17th in the end, and 2nd fastest in the second run, so that was a big confidence boost for me as well."

Did Tilley meet the goals she set for herself at the beginning of the season? "My biggest goal was to qualify for finals... and they were already cancelled a while before, but to do that I needed to be in the top 25, and I wasn’t, but I do believe there is a possibility I could have been had Åre gone ahead. So on paper, I didn’t meet it, but I definitely believe I was capable of."

With the support of sponsors, ski racing is an almost non starter. Tilley has been very fortunate to have a loyal collection of supporters and sponsors. From her early days at Gordon racers to being part of the British Ski Academy conveyer belt of talent, Tilley has always been very good in helping her sponsors in return for the support they give her.

Who has been her biggest supporter this season?

"It’s impossible for me to name just one person here. There were three people that really stood out for me this season, who helped get me out of the most difficult situations I’ve ever been in. Mark Quinn from my head sponsor Quinn Estates was a huge support for me this past season, he stood by me after a not so impressive season last year, and he believed in me when I felt like almost everyone else were turning their backs. Paul Telling at Evolution was also a massive support for me this season, in helping with logistics with my programme and coaching, but also just as someone who was there when things were tough, and never once stopped believing in what we were doing. And finally my coach for the past 5 years, Noel Baxter. I can’t explain how hard that guy had to work this season, and I am hugely grateful for that. We were faced with some serious hurdles this season, and almost always, he played a large part in getting past them. I can honestly hand on heart say that without these three guys, I don’t think that I would have been on skis this year past Solden."

While the Coronavirus Pandemic had stopped all sport for the foreseeable future, we asked Tilley how she feels British winter events could improve? "It’s difficult to say something that is really relevant across the board because I think each is different from the others. But I think generally they’re not doing too bad. Iwould like to see a time where athletes don’t have to pay so much to enter their own national championships, or if they do, then to make extra effort to ensure theconditions can be more consistent from first athlete until the later numbers too. But it’s not easy to do, and I’m sure these things have been spoken about.

With this in mind does she feel that the sport of alpine ski racing is innovative or proactive enough in terms of attracting a new audience and new participants? "I think they are trying, are they doing enough? I honestly don’t know. You see them experimenting more with the parallel events and trying to add new statistics on screen during races. I think if we’re looking at attracting new participants, then there has to be things put in place to make it more accessible to those with not such a wealthy background, because that is such a massive deterrent for the sport now, and it’s definitely not moving in the right direction on that front!"

What are Tilley's plans for the future? "I wish I could tell you “these are my plans and this is what I will do” but at the moment, I’m taking it day by day, talking to people to see what we can make work and then go from there. I want to have a similar situation to last year in working with the same coach and able to follow the World Cup tour, but funding it is a big ask right now, and in such uncertain times, it’s very difficult to get things in motion.

"For the very near future, the plan is get fit, and find money!"

The coronavirus and all its effects have thrown many things into confusion. One of the biggest issues that all athletes are having to deal with is the effect on their mental well being. How is Tilley looking after her mental health in this time of isolation? "My mental health is something that I have had to become very aware of and take a lot of care of over the past 3 years or 4 years. It’s definitely not easy in this situation, but I think it’s just so important to stay in the moment, focus on the task in hand and not worry too much about the future. At the moment, I am fully engrossing myself in my fitness programme and trying to work on the things I can do right now in order to move forward, and no stressing about things I’d like to do but can’t.

"Thankfully I also have 2 dogs at home so nothing every gets too boring with them around!"

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