Jade Etherington and guide Caroline Powell completed a whirlwind journey from total strangers to Winter Paralympic medallists in 11 months by winning silver in the women's downhill in Sochi on Saturday.

The pair marked only their third competitive downhill run together by claiming Great Britain's first Paralympic medal on snow for 20 years.

It got Britain's Games off to a flying start and ensured that less than an hour into day one they had already exceeded their medal haul from four years ago in Vancouver and were halfway to their UK Sport target of at least two.

The pair became the first British women ever to win a Paralympic skiing medal, their rise all the more remarkable given how little time they have had to build a relationship, which is key to success in visually-impaired skiing.

It was only last April that they first got to know each other, August they first skied competitively together and January this year they first competed as a pair in a downhill.

Etherington, who celebrates her 23rd birthday on Sunday, said: "I knew we could do it. I said to her (when we met), 'Come on, we can do this, we're going to get a medal'."

The duo, whose previous two downhill races both yielded gold medals at a World Cup event in Tignes, did not even get a training run on Friday because the session was cancelled, and a crash curtailed a previous attempt.

But Etherington said: "I actually was really happy there was no training run, because personally I feel if you're going to be scared for your life you might as well get a result at the end of it."

And the Lincoln athlete did just that, finishing in one minute 34.28 seconds, 2.73secs behind Slovakian winner Henrieta Farkasova at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.

She crashed into a barrier at the side of the course after crossing the line but was unhurt, with the medal joy more than making up for the bruises.

"I was so happy I'd finished and then couldn't stop I was going that fast," she said.

The feat drew praise from Prime Minister David Cameron, who Tweeted to say he was "proud" of the pair's achievement.

Etherington communicates with Powell down the course via radio, meaning complete trust is crucial to the partnership working.

Powell, who is 19, said: "It's basically a friendship so you have to build a friendship and that can take years.

"In our case we had to build it within a short space of time, but we were really honest with each other from the beginning. She taught me so much about guiding, I just went with what she said and it's worked. It's come together now and we're so happy."

Team-mate Kelly Gallagher, who with guide Charlotte Evans could only finish sixth, paid tribute to Etherington, saying: "Jade has the guts of somebody a lot bigger than her. She is a little lady but she has got it.

"She has put her trust in Caroline and just thrown herself down those hills."

And things should only get better for the pair over the coming week, with four more events to come, including the super-G, in which Etherington won bronze at last year's IPC World Championships, with a different guide.

Gallagher and Evans were also grateful for four more chances for a medal.

Evans, who was in tears, said: "I am the blubbering wreck, but our communication was awesome and we have no excuse. You can see my disappointment, but we will come back fighting."

Sit-skier Anna Turney also suffered disappointment after crashing out on the "bumpy course".

"I think I got the line slightly wrong, it was so bumpy and I just popped out," said Turney, who was unhurt.

"I don't think it was unsafe, but it was definitely challenging. This is an extreme downhill."

The course, which has come in for criticism in the build-up for its "slushy snow", did appear to grow increasingly tricky as the day went on, though.

American Tyler Walker crashed spectacularly in the final event of the morning, the men's sitting, and had to be airlifted from the slopes.

The 27-year-old cartwheeled several times, wrecking his monoski, before coming to a halt and being attended to by medical staff on the snow.

US Paralympics later announced on Twitter he was "stable and conscious".

In total, nine of the 22 starters in the race failed to finish.