The Brits – More Than a Comp
Harriet discovers that The Brits in Laax is about much more than just competition when she travels to Switzerland for the event.
The idea of family trickles through into every element of the British freeski and snowboard championship so that within fifteen minutes of arriving in Laax, Switzerland, it’s fairly clear – the Brits is about family on every level.
Whole families attend year on year, whether they are competing, coaching or just along for the ride. Kirsty and Fiona Muir’s mum proudly watches on as her daughters win spaces in the podium in every event they compete in, joining Olympic icons like Katie Summerhayes. The Summerhayes sisters are just one example of what can be achieved when these freestyle dynasties commit time and effort to the sport. The Rowlands are also all at the Brits, from brother Mikey who has just joined the GB Park and Pipe programme, Madi, sassy and fresh to the squad from the top of the youth circuit and their 13-year-old sister Lexi who follows in their footsteps to nab podiums throughout the week. You’d be forgiven for thinking there was an error on the competitor lists for all of the identical second names – brothers Chris and Matt McCormick are on the podium in almost every ski and snowboard event they compete in. Jamie Nicholls chats with pride in his voice about the achievements of his cousin Katie Ormerod. Neither are competing at the event, but it’s clear how much the Brits means to them. Jamie cruises in the half pipe and Katie sings Bruno Mars, wooing the judges and winning the infamous Famous First Words karaoke night.
Mums and dads are present too – as the kids dance on the tables in the Indy Bar, parents belt out classics on stage and the crowds cheer them on. Some compete in the seniors category – Ski Sunday’s Ed Leigh is frequently seen throwing himself into events.
The family bonds reach further than namesakes though. Woodsy affectionately calls the ever present Pat Sharples “Uncle Sharples”. Pat and Lesley McKenna’s daughter calls Katie Summerhayes a ‘sister’, and many of the athletes celebrated her third birthday with frozen songs and cake right before the comp.
The team regularly reminisce about growing up together, spending long nights at snow centres to keep out of trouble, with the Brits being the pinnacle of each of those formative years. Some have returned year on year, like Billy Morgan who’s competed for the past 10 years and Jamie who has hung out here for 13. Jamie credits the organisers for their help with his career. As he speaks about Stuart Brass and Spencer Claridge, the emotion is evident in his voice.
Experienced athletes rub shoulders with and share stories with rookies. Older athletes, who may have starred their careers at the Brits, are equally stoked to share the podium with those who are younger. On the first day, Billy and Chris are joined on the podium by 14-year-old Leon Drynan, who says it was the highlight of his week. Lesley McKenna is convinced to participate in the snowboard superpipe, and ends up winning ahead of fellow Olympian Aimee Fuller and up and coming 10-year-old Mia Brooks.
There are kids to watch and it’s clear after the first couple of comps that some young guns are on a roll, snatching multiple medals from big air to slopestyle. Cerys Allen, Amber Cordingley, The Muirs sisters, The Drynan brothers, Mia Brooks, I could go on, keep an ear out for those names. These groms have all been inspired by their seniors, but also now posing real competition to their idols – the original fridge kids. As freeski big air finals begin, Katie Summerhayes turns to me and says she’s fairly sure Kirsty Muir might snatch the gold ahead of her.
The first three days of the competition are almost completely shrouded in cloud but it’s no exaggeration to say that did not dim the spirits of the comp. Start times were pushed back and finals had to be cancelled for some events and yet, the atmosphere was still one of sheer excitement. By the time the sun did come out on the final day, it was almost as though it were joining in the final festivities, with drinks on the grass in the sun and the daily prize giving packed.
The whole resort is built for freestyle and I couldn’t picture the competition anywhere else. From the world’s longest super-pipe to the lengthy park, Laax has everything and more than these kids can imagine. It’s almost hard to comprehend that these are home grown British kids – these are children who practice day in day out on kickers at dry slopes or boxes in snow centres. To see them perform in the mountain environment alongside Olympians is exceptional. Be it their first year of their 13th, everyone is stoked to be there and to support each other – the GB Park and Pipe family is there to support one another, and that’s really what the scene should be about.