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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
Though chalet holidays are the bread and butter of British skiing, not everyone likes to go for the full catered holiday experience. Though many of us love to try the local cuisine, and count down the days until our week of cheese, meat and wine in France, or sausage, potato and Jägermeister in Austria, some people still pine for the food of home on their travels.
Surely the ultimate British dish on a ski holiday has to be the Sunday roast, it's warming, filling and is stacked with carbs, protein and veg — perfect for your body and mind. So where exactly are the best Sunday roasts in the Alps? Well I took to Twitter this week and bugged our expert sales team to find out where best to recommend for rosbif and Yorkshire pud.
My personal favourite for a Sunday roast in the Skilodge in La Tania. They only do a roast out of peak season (so not during the New Year holidays and Feb), but they combine a great British atmosphere, good portions and the all important lunch-time kick-off of Premiership football or Six Nations rugby. They also do a cracking Christmas Day roast, if you can get a table!
Another restaurant to get a few mentions in the Courchevel Valley is La Marmotte Rouge in Bozel. The venue was opened last winter by a British couple and is already developing a great reputation for their roast dinners with the locals, so much so, people will happily get the bus ride from Courchevel!
Evolution in Meribel, just across from the Chaudanne has also been getting a few tweets for their Sunday fare. The great thing about Evo, apart from the friendly staff and Jez's dog, is the food and location. Having not eaten in Evo for a couple years now, it's great to hear they are still getting rave reviews for their food and being just across from the slopes it makes for a great lunchtime or evening stop to indulge in a good old Sunday roast.
Another Courchevel restaurant that the Twittersphere recommended is l'Oeil de Boeuf, in Courchevel 1550 — I see a Three Valleys theme developing here! The restaurant is quite quaint, with a sun terrace at the bottom of the Tovets piste. The name says it all really, this is where a serving of rosbif will surely be at it's best.
Finally it is time to leave the Three Valleys and head to Tignes and the Clin d'Oeil. Rumour has it this place would have a Michelin star, but for not being open enough days of the year, and having eaten here, the food is exquisite. The restaurant is near to the Aeroski lift and the Tourist office and only has about 8 tables, offering an intimate experience to go with the fabulous food and attentive service.
Moving over to Les Arcs' village of Peisey Vallandry and the Bar Mont Blanc gets a shout from Crispin, one of our new ski experts. The roast usually consist of a choice of chicken or beef and if they don't take your fancy, they also do a mean burger. The ski in/out location and the great views across the valley all add to this stunning spot for a mountainside Sunday lunch.
Our last spot for France is Les Deux Alpes' renowned Tex-Mex bar, Smokey Joes. Robin, another of our ski tea, recommends this place due to its location, at the base of the Jandari Express and White Egg lifts, as well as the awesome food. I wonder if they do a roast dinner burrito?
Last, but by no means least is another Planetski recommendation, with the Clin d'Oeil being the first, the Chez Vrony in Zermatt. According to the friendly ski news specialist, the sun terrace has great views of the Matterhorn, as well as a decent Sunday roast.
So, here a few recommendations from Iglu and our Twitter followers, but I'm sure there are plenty of goose fat roast potatoes, perfect cooked pieces or meat and ample servings of veggies and gravy that we've yet to discover, so feel free to fill us in with anywhere we've missed at @igluski.
A new, regular feature from our in-house games master, Gale Van Rye, who talks about memorable skiing and winter sports games. This week: Slalom (Arcade, 1986 | Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987).
"The heating's broke — use this" Mum said, holding out an extra blanket. I scowled and let her drop it at my bedside. She'd just interrupted my best run yet through Snowy Hill. I skimmed a mogul off-balance and collided with a tree; the worn, sweat-covered pad slumped down into my lap and I reached for the blanket. It was Christmas '91, four years after the release of Rare's Slalom — and yet it didn't feel old or dated — it felt fresh, fast and fun.
Rareware would later go on to be the famed pixel perfectionists behind Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye. This was their first NES game, yet it played like they were aging pros. It pushed the limit of the NES to the edge, their coding trickery producing the kind of the 3D effects that would not look out of place on Nintendo's follow-up console, the SNES.
It was quick, too. And not just in the computing sense, but in the way that it immediately immersed you from the second your left thumb pressed Up on the d-pad and you ramped up the pace. The slopes either side of you would zip by as you carved the mountain, with the pixilated backdrop range swaying gently in distance. It was that quality of immersion that kept you hooked. Time after time you'd come back, convincing yourself that this time you'll land every jump and add digits to your highscore.
Perhaps it was the satisfaction of whizzing off a mogul, pulling back a trick and then landing gracefully whilst still flying along at full speed that was the biggest pull. Or perhaps it was that despite crashing into the snow after clashing with a sledder, the delay before being back up to top speed isn't long enough to frustrate you into quitting.
It sounds like rose-tinted nostalgia, yet, it still stands proud today. I found myself immediately obsessed again and surprisingly impressed by its ability to captivate me. Since the release of the iPhone, the bedroom programmers are king again. Short, fun games that aren't graphically-obsessed are the ones making all the money. Slalom would hook you in an instant were it on the App Store.
I couldn't go without mentioning the music, either. In those days every bit of data was essential and music had to be crammed in. The skill was to compose something short but that could repeat for long periods of time without sounding annoying. You get sick of repetitive blips and beeps eventually, but Slalom's music was pleasing on the ear, suited the gameplay and helped to draw you in.
Perhaps Slalom's downfall was the inability to save your scores on the NES. It meant lots of scribbling down scores on some paper next to the console. Naturally, you'd need an independent verifier to confirm the score at the time of completion to prevent arguments, as in those days cheating was rife. I still can't help but think of Slalom at Christmas time. Now, where's that blanket?
Images via nestimes.net
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