Alley Oop. 360. Air to Fakie. Frontside 720…If you’re not familiar with these peculiar phrases then, you’d better catch up! With one year to go until the next Winter Olympics, the focus is firmly on freestyle snowsports – the technically challenging and incredibly exciting discipline currently taking Scotland by storm.
Of course, traditional alpine skiing and boarding will always be popular, but for the past few years there has been a shift happening in the UK and the three ski resorts in the Cairngorms National Park are providing a firm base for a host of future champions.
So, to get an insight into the future of freestyle and whether Scotland could be taking home some podium places next year, What’s On caught up with Neil MacGrain, Coach Education & Development Manager for Snowsport Scotland, the organisation mainly charged with grassroots development. They are taking this new wave of interest very seriously…
-So Neil, what specific work does Snowsports Scotland do to promote and grow Freestyle snowsports?
There are a number of different aspects to the promotion and development of the sport that we are working on. New for this season is a number of entry-level boxes, which have been partially sponsored by BASI. These will be moved around the Scottish Mountain Resorts in the winter and the artificial slopes in the summer to give the wider public the opportunity to participate in a lower risk environment and have regular access to a range of quality features.
There is also a new initiative called ‘LASS’, which is to promote female participation in freestyle skiing and snowboarding. An initial day was run last season at CairnGorm, which saw around 80 girls getting involved with coaching sessions, and it was great to see such a huge turnout.
Snowsport Scotland runs the Scottish Freeski and Freeski Development Teams for selected athletes, it also helps coordinate the GB Junior Snowboard Team; all which are feeders to the GB programs. We also support the competition pathway with the Scottish, Dryslope, Indoor and Freestyle Champs as well as the grass roots schools events, which covers a large range of athletes. In addition, we run coaching courses for those who are interested in becoming the coaches for the next generation of rippers – it’s non stop!
All of these areas are closely linked in with developing the freestyle community, and many of the individuals are involved in more than one aspect of it.
– Who are the current stars of Scottish Freestyle?
Ben Kilner competed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in snowboard halfpipe and is currently training towards competing in Sochi 2014 and Murray Buchan is also working on qualifying for ski halfpipe for the 2014 Olympics. Both of them are currently training in Colorado before heading off on the World Cup circuit this winter.
– And the future stars of the Sport?
On snowboards, Matt McCormick and Cairngorm’s Jamie Trinder have both recently been selected to the full GB Snowboard Team. These two have a great work ethic on and off the hill, and we look forward to seeing them develop over the next few years.
On the ski side then we have a number of athletes coming through. Anna Vincenti is competing at Europa Cup events and is currently training in Colorado with the GB Freeski Team. Harris Booth, Chris McCormick and Cal Sandieson are the next generation who have the potential, and want, to follow in the footsteps of GB Team and Slopestyle World Cup gold medalist James Woods.
– Are the Scottish ski resorts behind the Freestyle sport?
Very much so. All of the Scottish resorts have freestyle features but it does depend on the snow coverage, to what extent they are available. The resorts also host different freestyle events throughout the season. It takes a lot of snow and groomer time to build jumps, so the conditions have to be good in the first place, but rails and boxes require less snow so it is more common to find them out early season.
– Do you see Scotland having a big impact on the world of Freestyle? Is it already?
The UK has a number of athletes in both sports that are currently competing and winning on the international stage, so there is no reason why Scottish athletes cannot be doing that too. The athletes mentioned above have the skills to do so and with the right support have the chance to reach their goals. With facilities like Bearsden, Aberdeen and Snow Factor providing year round training with fast turnaround times, athletes can learn to spin all 4 ways before even hitting the snow. This puts them in a strong position to transfer their skills to a larger environment, at the resorts, having had a large volume of practice to consolidate the mechanics of the various manoeuvres. This is starting to be recognised outwith the UK with the recent influx in the number of magazines and film companies who have been to the UK for stories.
– How can we support our local athletes?
Well, if there are any companies out there looking to foster new partnerships in support of Scottish freestyle athletes, then we would be pleased if they got in touch! We need to support these athletes in every way possible so that we can help them get the best results possible.
So if you want to try out some freestyle this winter, or simply head over to Glenshee, CairnGorm or the Lecht to watch some of the pros practicing; get in touch with the resorts and check out competition dates and lesson info. Who knows, you could find you take to the rails like a duck to water…
For more information on snowsports in the National Park see: www.visitcairngorms.com/skiingandsnowboarding
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