A few obstacles lie between Alain Baxter and the new bike that has just been delivered to his home at Dunmore, near Stirling. One is the interview he is just about to give. Another is his son, Kerr, who at two-and-a-half years old is in the habit of constantly piling on top of him and demanding attention. "My little boy," he marvels when we meet in a café at the Stirling University campus, "was running riot just as I left home." There's the parents' evening, too, at Kerr's nursery later that day. And there is daughter, Brooke, who, at nine months, is vying for dad-time and already looks like "shes going to be wild".

So it would seem that, considering he also has a meeting with his ski sponsors in Manchester on Wednesday, plus a fashion shoot on Thursday, Baxter will not get to ride the new super-light, carbon-frame cycle for at least another four days. Which is quite some delay given that the bike is, for him, the equivalent of a new set of skis. It is his new toy. And it represents a possible new future, one that involves wheels and gears, rather than cambers and bindings.

Surely he cant wait to give it a spin? Especially given the announcement he made at the British Championships last month. He declared that after chalking up the most successful and longest career in British skiing history, he was retiring and suggested that, now that it was over between him and the piste, he might just give track-cycling a try. Now, however, he is emphasising that the whole cycling thing has been "blown out of proportion". "All I said was that it had been at the back of my head for a while. I'm from a cycling background, but I've never really taken it to that different level, and I want to try myself out on a track. But it has opened up a whole can of worms. They're making comparisons with Chris Hoy."

Baxter seems bemused by how the story has snowballed. It's as if the fact he is news- worthy has taken him unawares, just as it did in 2002 when he became the first Briton to win an Olympic medal for skiing and came home to a hero's welcome; and just as it did when the glory turned to scandal and that medal was taken from him, all because he bought a US version of the Vicks inhaler he normally used, but which contained a chemical which was the mirror image of the banned stimulant methamphetamine. Of the substance in Baxter's inhaler, an expert at the time said: "You could take a bucket-load of with minimal effect."

Still, even after a lengthy appeal against the International Olympic Committee, in which it was, effectively, established that the chemical he had taken really had no place on the banned list, the medal was not returned. Though the system had been proved at fault, Baxter was still guilty of infringing the rules. It took another appeal to get his eligibility to compete in the Olympics restored. In a sense, the damage had already been done. A stake had been hammered through Baxter's career during his initial post-Olympics ban from the sport, and that short time out had seen him plummet down the world rankings.

When he arrives at the café attached to the Scottish Institute of Sport facilities at Stirling University, I'm disappointed he hasn't come on two wheels. Instead of Lycra, he's in baggy jeans, biceps knotting out from underneath a T-shirt sleeve to reveal a hint of a tattoo band. It's not hard to see why one of the post-skiing careers he's thinking of is modelling.

All the sharp, clean lines of years of training are still there and he has an easy, gentle charm. He orders water, not coffee. "I've never drunk coffee in my life," he says. "Just don't like it." One of the stories that went round at the time of his drug scandal, was that here was this guy who was so clean, he didn't even drink caffeine - what were the chances he had deliberately taken drugs? There was some truth in it. Baxter was known for following the rules. He knew, for instance, when to party and when not to.

"Aviemore," he says, "where I come from, is a party place and it's actually hard not to do too much. But you come to control that. You work out what time you need to recover." On his last race at the British Championships in France, he decided to sign off in true party style. He put on a kilt, skied half-way down the course, stopped for a drink, and then waited for the other skiers to go down before finishing it.

What pushed Baxter into retirement was a back problem; not a dramatic injury, but a progressive one which has been worsening over the last decade and restricting his movement so he can no longer do the sharp turns he once did without feeling pain. Baxter thinks it may have its starting point in a small car crash. The final push to quit came when, on January 14, he hurt himself on the first of 10 races. "I thought, OK, let's take three or four days off, get some physio and I should be back training and racing next week. But I did that and I still didn't feel right."

Back home with his wife, Sheila, he mulled over whether it was worth continuing. He had planned to compete until the Olympics in 2010, then think about whether to carry on for another few seasons, but now that seemed less appealing. He didn't want to keep racing if he didn't feel that he really could win. "Then there was the question, do I go on for another few years and then hurt myself really bad? Jeopardise playing sport for the rest of my life?"

Currently, his back causes no problems. He can do pretty much everything he wants - tennis, cycling, squash, shinty. Baxter really is an all-round sportsman, as he proved when he won Superstars, the TV challenge in which athletes from different disciplines compete against each other in a range of sports.

Baxter's life had been changing anyway. It had another focus, and he had more reasons to be home in Scotland than on the road competing. There were nappies to change, babies to bath, golf balls to knock around with his son. Fatherhood is an important element in Baxter's life. He met his wife, Sheila Dow, a businesswoman whose family run a waste-management company, at a wedding in 2005.

Within a year the two were walking through an arch of skis carried by an eight-man guard of honour at their wedding in Dornoch. A photograph of the day on his website is captioned: "The happiest day of my life." Happier than the day he won that medal? "Well, they're two different types of happiness," he tells me.

Baxter has an air of just-about-tamed domesticity. He talks of how he and Sheila love to garden at their Stirlingshire home. He digs the holes, she puts the plants in them. In an interview several years ago, he spoke of how he had never been on a skiing holiday. That has changed. Two years ago, he went with Sheila to Courcheval, where his mother runs a skiing school, and they hit the slopes as a couple while granny babysat Kerr. Then, at the World Championships in Val D'Isere in February, which, due to injury, Baxter was attending as a spectator, he saw Kerr's first go on skis. "He stood up on them," Baxter says, "and he went down the hill and I ran alongside to catch him at the bottom. He did well, he did well."

Baxter's story is bound up with the time and place he grew up. To understand how he found the self-belief to become Scotland's first truly successful international skier, you have to look at his background. The story starts with Chic and Mae Baxter, his paternal grandparents, pioneers of outdoor sports in the Aviemore area. Long before there were ski-lifts they were on the slopes of the Cairngorms, with a tractor and rope to help them up the hill.

He seems to have their spirit of adventure. "I guess it rubbed off. All their grandchildren are very physical, outdoor types. My cousin, Lesley McKenna the women's snowboarding champion, my brother, Noel also a British team skier, and my little sister as well." But the real growth in British skiing was in Baxter's parents' generation. His mother and father, Sue and Iain, though members of the British ski team, skied at a time when most Britons who did compete were the rich, who could afford to spend time on the European slopes, rather than comparatively poor, struggling, outdoor types like themselves.

Growing up in Aviemore at a time when it was developing as a ski resort was, as Baxter recalls, as close as you might get in Britain to living in the Alps: an environment where anyone, rich or poor, might be put on skis from the time they could walk. Snow was pretty much guaranteed then. "You grow up pretty tough," he says. "The conditions in the Cairngorms can be really nasty." Then there was that other aspect of his childhood, which was character-building. His parents separated when he was two, and his mother took him to live in a caravan. "The caravan site was like a little community. There were quite a few kids up there and chickens underneath the caravan. We would collect the eggs and all that."

Life has certainly changed since then. Baxter shrugs as he ponders where the 18 years of his career has gone. At 17, he was driving around Europe, entering competitions, sleeping in his car. It was, he recalls, "an amazing learning experience. You grow up quickly". Now his existence seems much calmer. He describes it as "a normal life", though by most people's standards it is far from it. He lays a slick, black business card down on the table. On it is a list of new enterprises that includes "TV & Media, Personal Appearances, Modelling, Photo Shoots, Journalism, Ski with Alain and Golf". His wife, he says, is responsible for these cards, and the website promoting his business. "It's all her," he says. "She's a lot more business-like than me. She keeps me on my toes."

Sheila is also given much of the credit for his move into modelling. The idea came when the couple decided it might be worth making a promotional calendar. When they visited the photographer Trevor Yerbury to arrange a shoot, they noticed that many of the pictures on his wall were nudes. "Trevor asked: Would you be interested in doing something like that?' Sheila was like, Yeah, go for it.'" The result was a black and white calendar of sculpted six packs, rippling tattoos and comic crotch-masking. More recently, the modelling idea grew when a cousin, who works for the BBC, spoke to someone from the Model Team agency. "What's Alain doing?" asked the scout. "Is he still in good shape or is he fat now?"

This retirement is a time of looking back for him. Even now, he recognises how much his whole skiing career has been coloured by that 2002 drugs test. He never regained the form he lost, that high of being 11th in the world. He recalls that he had to come back fast following his three-month ban, and he did. In his first race he came third. But after that, things started to go wrong. He lost his consistency and, in trying to work out how to regain it, he would "just drive myself bananas". For a while he saw a sports psychologist, focusing less on sporting techniques and more on personal issues. "It didn't really help that much," he says. Thinking too much would get in the way: "It takes away some of my natural ability."

Baxter was never really one for medals and trophies. His mum once said that if she didn't have them on display they'd be in a box in his garage. Yet, as he signs off on his career, he must feel it would be good to have that bronze. "Yeah, I'd love to have the medal in my living room. But the damage was done back then. Looking back, I wonder if I could have fought the case further, but at the time I just wanted to get on with my career. I felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall."

Now there is the training bike, in the back of his car. It represents a blank slate, a possibility of starting all over again, without, perhaps, that mental block. Riding it will form part of a training regime which is a continuation of the sort of fitness work he had been doing before with the British ski team, of around 15 hours a week. Regular drivers on the quieter Stirlingshire roads are used to seeing him speeding along. At Sheriffmuir, a hill near his home, they may well have seen him pushing himself up through hill sprints.

At 35, he knows he is a little old for a sporting career change, although cycling is a sport in which there are late flourishers. "If I was 10 years younger and it was just me without my family, I would go 100% and do it. But it's not as easy as all that. I'm not as young any more. I've got a family at home. I need to earn money." But there are, he points out, people who have swapped one sport for another. "The most recent one I'm aware of is Rebecca Romero who went from rowing to cycling and came away with a medal in the Olympics. So, no pressure on me."