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PATHWAY TO SUCCESS - Jane Peel, Laax, Switzerland
Tuesday April 11, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

How can young skiers or snowboarders become the next James Woods or Katie Ormerod? PlanetSKI looks at the system that nurtures and coaches up-and-coming British freestylers.

Talent, passion and the drive to take it to the next level.

It's what GB Park and Pipe - the freestyle bit of British Ski and Snowboard - requires of youngsters who want to set out on the road to success , the road it calls its "Performance Pathway".

It all begins with the very young messing around on the rails at their local indoor or dry slope, joining a club and competing in the UK.

Indoor skiing in the UK On the rails in the UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those with the talent are usually spotted early on by the slopes' own instructors. But, increasingly, the kids are coming onto the radar of the coaching staff at GB Park and Pipe itself, thanks to the online video league competition launched last spring and about to go into its second season.

Championship Ski & Snowboard sees teams from indoor and dry slopes take on each other to win the league, their trick runs being filmed and judged by a specialist panel of top coaches. See our report as the 2016 CSS League concluded.

Young freestylers identified as having potential start out on the first stage of the Pathway.  They become Home Nations athletes under the auspices of Snowsport England, Snowsport Scotland or Snowsport Wales.

At this level, they are still largely training and competing in the UK with occasional on-snow camps abroad.

From there, if they prove themselves, it's on to the GB Park and Pipe development programme - the National Academy.

The Academy is just one step away from the elite GB Park and Pipe Squad, which is home to Britain's Olympians and World Cup competitors.

In the past, the National Academy has operated by running a series of training camps in the mountains.

This winter, for the first time, its athletes have been based in Laax in Switzerland full-time from January to April with free access to top coaches.

They've been able to take advantage of the facilities at what is widely considered to be the premier freestyle resort in Europe.

Laax has the biggest halfpipe in the world, incredible slopestyle features and a world-class indoor training centre, the Freestyle Academy.

Laax HalfpipeLaax Halfpipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laax SnowparkLaax Slopestyle Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laax Freestyle AcademyLaax Freestyle Academy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PlanetSKI spoke to the National Academy's Snowboard Coach, Ben Kinnear, in Laax during The Brits, the British Snowboard & Freeski Championships, which took place between April 4th and 7th. The event brings together everyone from the UK's top freestylers to competition novices.

He told us more about how the Pathway works:

For those in the National Academy, the goal is to make it to the top level of their sport.  They are only there because they are considered to have the potential to get into the main GB Park and Pipe Squad within two years.

Chris McCormick is an 18-year-old Scottish skier who is a student of the National Academy and who competes on the Europa Cup circuit, one level down from the World Cup.

Chris McCormick at The Brits 2017Chris McCormick - photo Bluebird Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his older snowboarding brother,  Matt, who's 20, and has made it into the GB Park and Pipe Squad.

He spoke to PlanetSKI in Laax:

The costs of being part of the National Academy are not insignificant - and Laax is certainly not cheap - but they are kept as low as possible.

While students pay nothing for their coaching they do (or their parents do) have to foot the bill for their day to day costs as well as travel to competitions.

Accommodation for the winter works out at on average £2,000 per person.  The students benefit from a great deal on a season's lift pass, which costs them the equivalent of about £350.  Chris McCormick says careful budgeting and shopping means that his weekly dinner bill can be as little as £35 a week.

Still, it's a big commitment, and not just financially.

Snowboarder Ciaran Tucker is 17 and has been in the Academy for two years.

Ciaran TuckerCiaran Tucker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciaran is still in school and, while in Laax for the winter, has to do all his work remotely.

"I'm trying to study here.  They give me a lot of work to take out and keep me updated with what they are doing," he says.

"They give me homework to do and I send it back.  When I go back I have got to do some tests.  There are two weeks until my exams in Maths and Business Studies."

It's Ciaran's last year at school and he plans to take a few years out of education to concentrate on his snowboarding.

"If I end up making it, I'll probably go to university once I am retired," he tells me.

He's doing pretty well right now.  He picked up two under-18 gold medals at The Brits and an overall bronze in the Big Air.

"I love it," he says of life in the mountains.

"It's so much better.  A lot more chilled out.  I prefer it so much more to the UK. You get up and go snowboarding all day!"

Ciaran Tucker Ciaran Tucker - photo Ciaran Tucker Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciaran is an example of how you don't have to start snowboarding or skiing as soon as you can walk in order to achieve.  

He got hooked on snowboarding after a family holiday when he was 13.  His dad signed him up to his local club in Glasgow - an hour's drive away from his home - and a year later he was in his first competition.

Ciaran Tucker in 2015On his local dry slope in 2015 - Photo Ciaran Tucker Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Ciaran came relatively late to snowboarding, that is certainly not true of the incredible mini-shredder that is Mia Brookes.

At 10-years-old she is already a veteran; a multiple British champion in the under-12s category, and overall bronze medallist in the halfpipe at The Brits 2017.

She is the youngest athlete in the National Academy and stays in Laax for the winter with her family.

Mia Brookes in the Big Air at The Brits 2017Mia Brookes, aged 10 - photo MotionStoppers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mia Brookes wins SB slopestyle under-12s goldMia Brookes in her usual spot on top of the podium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mia's skiing equivalent in the National Academy is 12-year-old Kirsty Muir, who dominated the Under-16s category at this year's Brits - her first year in the age group - and took two overall silver medals.

Kirsty Muir at The Brits 2017Kirsty Muir, aged 12 - photo Bluebird Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kirsty MuirKirsty Muir on the podium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Academy - which currently has 17 skiers and 15 snowboarders -  isn't right for everyone as young as Mia and Kirsty.  They are very much the exceptions.

Other youngsters deemed talented enough are invited out to week-long camps during the school holidays while honing their skills the rest of the time in the UK.

That's no bad thing. It is, after all, where the very best of British freestylers began - World Cup champions, X Games medallists and Olympians among them.  

James 'Woodsy' Woods and Katie Summerhayes first skied at their local dry slope in Sheffield.  Snowboarders Jamie Nicholls and his cousin Katie Ormerod were regulars at Halifax dry slope. 

The GB Park and Pipe Performance Pathway gives freestyle's rising stars the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these big names and, perhaps, to join them on the podium in elite competitions in the future.

It's been so successful that other ski and snowboard disciplines are looking to emulate it.

"I am very, very encouraged by the unified and productive pathway that we and the Home Nations are now managing for the Park and Pipe athletes," the Chief Executive of British Ski & Snowboard, Dave Edwards told PlanetSKI at The Brits.

"This event is clear evidence of the breadth of talent that is coming through and we will be seeking to replicate the success in other disciplines.

"We are already working with the Home Nations on how that might be done."

British Ski and Snowboard is the sport's governing body.  Its goal is for Britain to be in the top five snowsports nations by 2030.

In 2030 Mia Brookes will be 23-years-old. Kirsty Muir will be 25.

It is quite possible that they will both be household names by then.

*****

FEATURED ATHLETES - BRITS 2017 MEDAL TALLY

Chris McCormick

Bronze - Overall Ski Slopestyle

Bronze - Overall Ski Halfpipe

Ciaran Tucker

Gold - Under-18 Snowboard Slopestyle

Gold - Under-18 Snowboard Big Air

Bronze - Overall Snowboard Big Air

1st prize - Delancey Championship Ski and Snowboard award for Best Snowboard Big Air trick for under 18s

Mia Brookes

Gold - Under-12 Snowboard Slopestyle

Gold - Under-12 Snowboard Cross

Gold - Under-12 Snowboard Big Air

Gold - Under-12 Snowboard Halfpipe

Bronze - Overall Snowboard Halfpipe

2nd prize - Delancey Championship Ski and Snowboard award for Best Snowboard Big Air trick for under-18s.

Kirsty Muir

Gold - Under-16 Ski Slopestyle

Gold - Under-16 Ski Halfpipe

Gold - Under-16 Ski Big Air

Silver - Overall Ski Slopestyle

Silver - Overall Ski Big Air

Bronze - Overall Ski Halfpipe

1st prize - Delancey Championship Ski and Snowboard award for Best Ski Big Air trick for under-18s.

*****

The Brits put together these short edits of the under-18s tricks in the Delancey Championship Ski and Snowboard contests.  They include some impressive crashes and the winning tricks. They're well worth a look:

 

 

The video below was filmed for GB Park and Pipe in Laax in March. Graduates of the National Academy - Matt McCormick, Tyler Jay Harding and Fin Bremner  - dropped in to shred with its current crop of athletes, Jake Simpson, Scott Walsh, Ciaran Tucker, Tom Greenway and Mason Ferebee.

 

And here's Tyler Jay Harding giving a demo of the Slopestyle Course at The Brits 2017:

MAIN PHOTO:  MotionStoppers.com

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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