This weekend saw Britain's largest UK snowsports event and the first FIS Big Air competition of the season, with the Freeze Festival at Battersea power station, London. Not only did the weekend showcase some of Britain's best skiers and snowboarders in Friday's Battle of Britain competitions, but two of our 2014 Winter Olympic medal hopes made it into the final, narrowly missing out on the podium.
Battle of Britain
The weekend got underway with the Battle of Britain ski competition, followed shortly by the snowboard competition. This is the largest event in the UK and gives us a sneak peak of who to watch out for at the Brits, in Flims Laax, come March.
In the skiing competition James Woods proved to be a class above everyone, just check out the clip below, and it was a real shame that he didn't make it into the afternoon's International Freestyle Ski Big Air, as I'm sure he would have turned a few heads.
James Woods showing how far British freestyle skiing has come in recent years.
The snowboarding competition looked to be a closer contest, even if Jamie Nicholls' sponsor(s) had asked him to sit it out. Last year's winner, Billy Morgan, was up against experienced pro, Dom Harrington, and Brit regulars, Mike Austin, Ian Ashmore and Andy Nudds. Dom Harrington laid down a respectful run to gain second place and youngster, Lewis Courtier Jones, showed himself to be another one-to-watch, but the plaudits were out for last year's winner once again. Billy Morgan's fearless style and huge corked 1080 bought him a second BoB title in two years, and he is fast becoming a Brit favourite.
Billy Morgan again proving that he prefers to be inverted in mid-air, as opposed to on snow, while snowboarding!
International Freestyle Ski Big Air
Though the likes of James Woods and James Machon wouldn't have looked out of place in the International Freestyle Ski Big Air, the overall standards of the day rose pretty quickly once the competition got under way. With the line-up including Kiwi skier Jossi Wells, the eventual winner, and Swedish skiing sensation Jon Olsson, the skiing was incredible to watch, and that's coming from a snowboarder.
Snowboard FIS World Cup Big Air
Saturday was the day everyone was waiting for and the big event of the weekend, the Snowboard FIS World Cup Big Air. This event has brought big names to London over the past few seasons with the likes of Danny Kass, Stefan Gimpl, Seb Toots and Torstein Horgmo in attendance. And this year's riders didn't disappoint, with last year's top three of Marko Grilc, Seppe Smitts and Staale Sandbech joined by Janne Korpi, Jamie Nicholls and Petja Piiroinen — the younger brother of TTR world champion Peetu.
This year's qualifying offered runs that would have made it into last year's final, with many riders having to pull out their big tricks just to make the top 12. Having seen a few big names looking nervous, it was both exciting and a relief to see Brits Jamie Nicholls and Ben Kilner make it into the final. With a fast run-in and what looked like an even faster landing, the final made for some entertaining riding, though Janne Korpi and Seppe Smits were a class above the rest. It soon turned into the battle of the double cork vs the 1260 and with at least half the riders not landing one of their first two tricks the final round of jumps was tense. By this point Ben Kilner was already out of the running and it was looking tight for Nicholls, who'd dropped one of his landings.
With Korpi and Smits both posted scores of 90+ in one of their two first runs (the score is made up of the best of the first two runs and the score of the final run), the race for third place was between Holland's Joris Ouwerkerk, Nicholls, last year's runner up Staale Sandbech and Torgeir Bergrem, who had also posted a score of over 90. With the final round of jumps Bergrem mistimed his landing, dropping him down to 6th, with Sandbech throwing a disappointing, by his standards, score of 70. Jamie Nicholls had looked good to podium with his first score of 80.8, but the judges didn't like his final 1080 and he finished in fourth place, though still his highest finish at the competition.
Janne Korpi's styled out 1260.
With the final run approaching Korpi held a slim lead over Smits, 93 to 92, so it was down to the last trick. The rules stipulate that the two tricks must differ, so it was the battle of the 1260 and 1080 cork combos. Seppe Smits stepped up with a huge 90.2 score, but soon after Janne Korpi landed his 1260 and Christian Stevenson, the competition's MC, declared it as the winning trick, before the judges even finished the scoring. Stevenson was right that his 91.0 score meant he'd picked up the win by 1.8 points!
The Best Of The Rest
The Big Air events may have offered the crowd pleasers, but in between their show stopping antics and once the slopes were closed for the day, there was plenty more entertainment on offer. Friday night's headline act on the main stage was Groove Armada, presenting their latest album, with Saturday night being the other end of the spectrum, with The Streets playing their last ever live show.
For me the highlight was the après ski tent, complete with filled ski racks and live DJs. There seemed to be a serious lack of Jägermeister on offer, so it was down to the French resort favourite, Desperados tequila beer, to lubricate the crowds. As you would expect there was dancing, drinking and silly hats galore and the post Big Air final set from A. Skillz kept the crowds entertained until the evening came to a close.
The shopping village offered people the chance to check out new kit, get a massage and to visit the Big Snow Festival bar, with live DJs, more Despies and a very friendly Yeti. There was also some great food on offer, including the Jumping Bean burrito stand, where the staff danced away to Drum & Bass and Hip Hop day and night, while fuelling the masses with their Mexican fare.
As always the Freeze Festival was a great weekend to get into the winter mood and has me counting down the days until my first trip to the snow, though I'll be sticking to the après ski as opposed to the 60 foot jumps!
All photos © Igluski