The BRITS 2014
Video editor Tom Dixon and first-time blogger James Street headed out to Tignes last Friday for the ultimate snowsports festival of the year – The BRITS. Not only is this event home to an incredible music line-up, lively après bars and enough fantastic skiing to last a season, it also hosts the British Snowboard and Freeski Championships. This is a prestigious competition, showcasing the best that Britain has to offer in the way of up-and-coming freestyle athletes. Find out how Tom and James’ time was at this year’s event…
After lugging our luggage around St Pancras International, through security and onto the train, we finally get a chance to relax for the next 10 hours in our seats on the Eurostar overnight train to Bourg St. Maurice. This mode of transport is certainly comfortable, with large, padded seats complete with headrests that stop your head rolling around, extensive legroom and sockets to keep your laptop running and the DVDs flowing. For overnight travellers, you also receive a ‘night-pack’, consisting of a blanket, earplugs and a facemask to help block out the sights and sounds of your fellow passengers when ready for sleep, as they pass by on the way to the bar carriage to stock up on booze for the night ahead. Come midnight, when the bar closes shop for the night, things begin to die down as everyone takes their seats for the remaining 6 hours of the journey as the train continues through rural France towards it’s snowy destination. This terminus separates the Eurostar from other modes of holiday transport – nowhere else do you get that excitement of knowing that when you wake up, you’ll be at the foot of some of the best skiing France has to offer.
On arrival at Bourg St. Maurice the following morning, we meet a number of the staff that are working at this year’s BRITS festival, as we climb into a minibus that gets us up to Tignes in no time. The resort seems quiet today but being the day before the festival kicks off, you definitely get the impression that this is the quiet before the storm. After a quick meet and greet with the organisers, Soul Sports, we are given our accommodation info and lift passes for the week. At this stage it’s only 9:30 am and with no work to be done yet and no festival goers racking up the chairlift queues, there really does only seem to be one thing we could do – go ski.
Tignes big. It’s really big – especially when combined with the adjoining Val’d’Isere ski area. The long, well-groomed runs give you enough time to really get into the swing of things as you take your pick from one of the many chairlifts that whisk you away to high up, scenic peaks. Our chair of choice so far has been Grattalu – a fast, 6-man chairlift that goes up beside the BRITS competition courses. The courses look immaculate, combining to form a more than worthy platform to stage Britain’s best freestylers in the coming days. From the top of this chair, you can also access any of the three different towns that combine to make up Tignes resort – Val Claret (where we are based, near the BRITS Halfpipe), Le Lac and, the slightly more distant, Le Lavachet.
Our first evening is mellow – just a couple of beers watching the footy in one of the local bars (Couloir) that will surely be bombarded for the next week by a barrage of British visitors. After a quick pizza following the football, we all ship off to bed, ready for Freeski and Snowboard practices on Sunday morning.
Tom and I ventured over to the halfpipe to film some snowcast footage first thing before heading over to the practises. The pipe looks fantastic this year and will surely see some incredible riding over the coming days.
Although no BRITS bibs had been given out yet to competing athletes, making them harder to spot, we skied over to the slopestyle course and ‘bangers and cash’ rail set-up to see what and whom we could find. What we found was an energetic buzz amongst a sea of British riders, taking it in turns to speed check the jumps and test the rails out. There were kids of all ages on skis and boards, displaying stickers from different snow domes and dry slopes around the UK, all together on one mountain doing what they love to do. It’s an atmosphere of pure enjoyment and ease, emphasizing the positive effect that freestyle culture projects onto these riders’ lives. Tom and I watch kids as young as 9 hit the competition jumps, witnessing spins and flips in every direction. If today is anything to go by, slopestyle is going to be awe-inspiring when it takes place on Wednesday and Thursday.
After our day on the mountain, we retreat to Le Coffee for the first après session of the BRITS. We decided to take this opportunity to get some words in with the guys making the competition happen, including the Soul Sports directors, Dave Edwards of BSS and a number of the ‘Grom’ kids coming through the freestyle ranks. You’ll be able to catch these interviews on Ski Club TV soon and in the event round-up news story. A common theme between the interviewees’ responses to our questions was how important the BRITS are for nurturing British freestyle talent. It offers an opportunity to anyone looking to make it into the big leagues of Team GB, whilst staying true to the essence of the freestyle – having fun.
Towards the end of the first après session, I feel inspired to take part in the action and sign up for the skiercross, taking place the following day. Stay tuned to know how this goes for me – my guess is pretty awful.
Up and out to the skiercross course first thing for practice runs. The course is fast, bendy, steep in parts, full of rollers and long enough to ensure your legs are burning nicely when you come to a stop at the bottom – so pretty much the perfect skiercross course! Each rider gets two timed runs (solo runs) and the best time counts. This then got compared against the time of the other skiers in my category, with the top 8 going through to the semis. My competition consists of seasoned racers, waxing their racing skis and psyching themselves up for their runs. I was on unwaxed twin-tip skis with a slight hangover – it was never going to go well for me. I won’t tell you my score but lets just say I didn’t qualify for the semis… There were guest appearances from Ed Drake and Emily Sarsfield, both winning the gold medals in their respective categories, which was a great, added touch to the event. The amount of young athletes pushing themselves was a fantastic sight too. There seems to be so much promise for our young-gun riders, many I’m sure that have been inspired by the rise of winter sports in the UK, post-Sochi.
After the skiercross was done and dusted (and the crazy Snowboard ‘bangers and cash’ rail jam taking place at the same time), we headed back to the resort for the first official prize giving of the BRITS, where the podium finishers got on stage one by one with beaming smiles on their faces and rightly so – it was a very tough competition. Tomorrow brings the Freeski ‘bangers and cash’ competition, featuring Team GB member James Machon, which is set up to be hours of incredible freestyle skiing on the rails.
Tuesday brought glorious sunshine once again to Tignes, as the boardercross championships and Freeski ‘bangers and cash’ rail jam practices got underway. I spent most the day at the rail competition, soaking up the sun with a can of Monster Energy in one hand and a hotdog in the other. The standard of riding was nothing short of incredible. Honorable mentions have to be given to Andy Collin and James Machon, with a whole bag of tricks each that left the crowd hungry for more. However, George Walton prevailed as the champ, demonstrating jut how technical British riders are becoming when it comes to rails. It was also awesome to see the women take to the rail garden, with my personal highlight being Sarah Hoefflin front-flipping off the U-rail (which also won her the event for the women’s category).
Overall, the comp was great to be a part of and the ‘feel-good’ factor that oozed out of it was so infectious you couldn’t help but be in the best mood possible for the après session about to take place down the mountain. This evening was hosted by us, the Ski Club, and included an awesome cover band (The Dominos) playing everything from Prince to Bastille. The band, together with a couple of beers, conjured up a party-atmosphere and topped off an all-round amazing day on the mountain.
I woke up to find my face looked liked a wonky tomato, due to an uneven balaclava burn/tan mark, but nothing was going to dampen my spirits today – Freeski slopestyle was on!
The stage was set for an epic contest- the clouds had parted and the sun was shining on the line of kickers and rails. I was up by the judging table, being the best vantage point of the course, alongside all the parents of the riders competing and a handful of general spectators. One thing I noticed is a real sense of friendship amongst the competitors’ parents. Regardless of whose kid is on course, everyone is screaming the rider’s name, whooping and cheering them along as they tackle their runs.
In the end it was Dave White, Tignes local, who took the overall title for the men, throwing double front and backflips on the bottom two jumps, prompting the biggest crowd noises of the day. It was great to see some our younger British freeskiers keeping up with older guys too. 13 year-old Haydyn Fiori (who ended up second after qualifying first) was just one of many ‘Grom’ kids who is showing real promise for GB freestyle. Another is Madi Rowlands, a 13 year-old female skier, who took home the gold in the women’s slopestyle. These two are definitely names to look out for in the future …
I also managed to catch the tail end of the Snowboard halfpipe championships once the Freeski slopestyle was wrapped up. The stand out performance came from Lewis Courtier-Jones who won the men’s overall and junior competition – not a bad week for the guy having podiumed in ‘bangers and cash’ on the first day of events too!
Day 5 also featured the Whitelines/Downdays rail jam at the après session, bringing together some of our top rail riders as well as a few beginners – I spoke to one of the guys hitting the rail set-up and he told me he had only been on skis for 3 days! However, amongst the many bails from ‘tipsy’ beginners were some real gems of talent. Will Gilmore was on fire, a true one-to-watch when it comes to Snowboard freestyle. Best moment was when he got given a bottle of champagne to spray as a reward for his crowd pleasing display on the rails, which was quickly snatched from him by (I assume) his coach when he started downing it.
Little bit too young for that I think, mate… Don’t worry though, sure they’ll be plenty of champers ceremonies to come.
The weather had finally given way to clouds and wind today for the last day of competition, here, at the BRITS 2014. I got out pretty late today (nothing to do with the night before…) and got myself straight to the Freeski halfpipe event that had already started. Although many of the riders were throwing down clean, impressive runs, there was one name that stood out at this comp – James Machon, Team GB halfpipe skier and Sochi athlete. His winning run was nothing short of brilliant as he showed his dominance, boosting high out of the pipe, showcasing the vast array of tricks he has in his bag.
Madi Rowlands was crowned the queen of halfpipe, adding to her slopestyle gold that she picked up earlier in the week.
It was also nice to see all the younger riders come together at the end for a big group photo too, emphasising the alliances and camaraderie amongst our up and coming freestyle athletes.
Snowboard slopestyle was the event that got hit the worst by the weather conditions – the wind and cloud forcing the organisers to shorten the course. Still…2 huge kickers a 3 technical rail zones isn’t to be snubbed! Besides, it seemed apparent that the riders agreed with this course adjustment, so all was good and the athletes were ready to do what they do best. In the end, Jamie Trinder took the title for the men while Nathalie Silkstone won the women’s contest.
The day ended in the usual fashion; beers and music out on the terrace at Le Coffee. With the championship element over, you could feel a real sense of accomplishment from everyone involved in this year’s event – and rightly so. It has been an epic couple of days of competition and it simply just wouldn’t have been able to happen without the dedication of the masses that have graced Tignes this week. From the BRITS organisers to the parents of competing riders, from sponsors to judges – great effort guys, great effort.
Reflecting back on my time here at the BRITS this year, I feel assured that the future of British freestyle is in very good hands. The event has demonstrated the unquestionable passion and the hard work that is present in the ski and snowboard industry perfectly, encapsulating all that is (and should be) freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Sochi saw great success for Team GB and a lot of peoples’ expectations were exceeded, with numerous top 10 finishes and that infamous Jenny Jones gold medal. From what I’ve seen here this week, Great Britain is on the path to bigger and better things within skiing and snowboarding. When you compare the age of the athletes that have competed here with the tricks they are performing, the potential is really quite scary. Line these kids up alongside likes of (now) high profile athletes such as Woodsy, Billy Morgan and Jamie Nicholls and you can’t doubt that we are building a team of snowsport superstars. It’s also worth mentioning that there are many promising athletes (some, arguably, more so than those who did compete at this years’ BRITS) that couldn’t make the competition this time round that fall into this category too.
Not only has the BRITS acted as the ultimate British platform for our future stars of freestyle, it has been the home of a weeklong party for people of all ages. I arrived expecting and endless sea of ‘gap year-ers’ and uni students necking Jaegerbombs left, right and centre but experienced something much more encompassing. Although the BRITS caters for this group flawlessly, there are festival-goers here that span across all types that appear to be having the time of their lives – no one is out of place. You can really shape the week into what you want it to be, and although people may choose different ways to spend their time here, the result will always be the same for all – An incredible week in the mountains that you’ll never forget.