SCOTS skier Kirsteen McGibbon, one of Britain's brightest hopes for the next Olympics, died yesterday after falling in the Alps.

The reigning British downhill champion, Miss McGibbon, 20, of Clarkston, Glasgow, suffered severe head injuries when she fell at high speed on a heavily-iced section of the piste at Altenmarkt, about 30 miles south-east of Salzburg, Austria.

She crashed on a treacherous section of the downhill course during a training run with other members of the British Alpine ski team.

She tumbled head over heels before a safety net cushioned her fall. Spectators came to her aid and paramedics at the high-altitude resort were on the scene within seconds. Miss McGibbon was unconscious as she was airlifted from the scene. She died on her way to Schwarzach Hospital, south of Salzburg.

A doctor at the hospital said she had received extensive injuries in the crash and a post-mortem examination would be be carried out.

Her parents, William and Lorna, and her elder sister, Shona, 22, were last night trying to come to terms with the tragedy.

Mr McGibbon said: ``The family is devastated. Skiing was her life.

``It's no consolation but it's better she died that way than being knocked down in a traffic accident. She never talked about a situation like this.

``Normally it was a bump, a slide, then she got up and waved. Safety is very good now in skiing.

``We last saw her at Christmas and New Year. We were so proud of her. She talked excitedly about the races this season. She was so sure she could improve her times. It was her ambition to be in the British team and she was aiming to ski at this year's Olympics.''

Miss McGibbon, who won two international races in France last year, was enjoying her first year as a full-time member of the British Alpine ski team of 20. She had recently returned from training with the team in the US and was in Austria preparing for the Lowlanders Race series, due to start today.

Mr McGibbon added: ``We have been told it was an accident in training. She slipped

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and was taken off the hill but was found to be dead on arrival at hospital.''

He said his daughter had flown back from the US for Christmas but the family had seen her for only a few hours as they were off on a skiing holiday to Europe. The whole family are skiers.

The eight other female team members last night voted unanimously to return home from Austria. Male members of the ski team, scheduled to race today, will wear black arm bands as a tribute.

British Ski Federation chairman Mike Jardine said: ``Not surprisingly, the girls have decided to come home.

``They have all been deeply shocked. Those who have to race today have indicated their willingness to do so. They say it is what Kirsteen would have wanted.''

He added: ``We are all devastated. She was such a talented young skier and such a lively girl. She feared nothing and could have gone all the way. The entire team is shattered.

``It was the first training run for the competition. From what we know, she hit a major turn which was quite icy and lost it while going quite fast.

``It was an accident and accidents happen.......but that can't bring someone back. This is a tragic loss. She was an incredibly determined and really lively person.

``She had all the right attributes for doing well. She would have been a strong contender for competing at the next Winter Olympics.''

The Scottish team coach who groomed Miss McGibbon for potential World Cup glory was in tears last night after he heard of the tragedy.

Mr John Clark, of Aviemore, said he had shared a ``magical'' evening with the UK girl skiers in the Austrian resort of Kitzbuhel last weekend.

He said: ``Kirsteen was in fine form, the life and soul of the party as always. It is hard to take it in that she is no longer with us.

``She lived for skiing, it was her whole life, and she had the potential to go all the way. She was proud, gutsy, and indomitable.

``She was a treasured jewel in the crown of the Scottish team and we were sad to lose her to the national side - but proud that she had the talent to make it there.''

He added: ``Racing drivers are protected by fortified chassis - a downhill skier has just themselves and the elements. It is a terribly vulnerable position to be in but by and large the better you are the safer you are and Kirsteen was one of the best.''

The accident happened on the same Altenmarkt World Cup track where the Austrian World Cup skier Peter Wirnsberger II was killed more than three years ago.

Miss McGibbon, a former pupil at Williamwood High School, was ranked 414th in the world.