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'Mr Nice' - The Nelson Pratt Interview

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Portrait: Natalie Mayer

Interview: Marcus Chapman & Ed Blomfield

N.B. This interview was published in issue 84 of Whitelines (Spring 2009)

I think if there was a global competition for the ‘World’s Nicest Chap’ I would struggle to think of anyone who could pip Nelson to the title. I know this intro is supposed to be all about his snowboarding, but there’s so much more to this rider than just his undisputed snowboarding talent.

I first met Nelson when he was just 18, and I’m astounded his body has lasted this long. In our first season, a normal day for Nelson would go something like this: wake up, eat a bowl of cereal big enough to satisfy the Honey Monster, watch the latest snowboarding movie and then try to learn every new trick on it – that day! He had absolutely no fear and a massive appetite for jumps – sometimes hitting kickers blind, always going huge and normally inverted. After a couple of serious injuries (more on these later) he started to really hone his skills and his talent shined through.

Nelson has always let his snowboard do the talking – well, it sings rather than talks. When Nelson rides anywhere people always stop and watch; he has incredible board control, a boggling array of tricks, a smooth natural style and a great eye for a quirky line. The fact he was judged by his peers to be in the Top 20 Greatest UK Snowboarders of all time is testament alone of his riding prowess. And let’s not forget, this is not through being media savvy or throwing himself in front of the lens… in fact Nelson is probably more scared of opening an email than facing a blind 100 foot road gap.

Nelson is a true friend, and I will forever be inspired by both his snowboarding and his humility. I just hope he forgives me for making him do a speech at my wedding – he tells me he has never been more scared…. He nailed it, though, in true gentlemanly fashion – and unfortunately my Mum now has a major crush on him!

- Marcus

BS 720, Kaunertal Gap / Photo: Dan Milner

How did you first get into snowboarding? Through skating or erm… (gulp) Skiing?

The usual really. I was into skateboarding when I was about 10, I’d been skiing with my parents a few times and picked up a leaflet in a shop with a few snowboards in it and thought, ‘I want to have a go at that!’

You were into ski racing with your brother weren’t you?

That was more my bother really, not me!

Come on Nels don’t lie, we’ve seen pictures of you in your lycra suit (and not just at weekends)!

I’d rather not talk about that!

We’ve all got skeletons in the closet!

I know, I know, but I don’t have a lycra suit in the closet!

Whatever, well let’s talk about your first season. You and I met on our first season in Tignes, right?

My first season I hadn’t planned it to be a season. I first planned to go out and do a BASI [instructors course] and I bumped into you and ended up staying for the whole 6 months!

What are your memories of those early days?

Erm… going to the Wobbly Rabbit Pub with the barman who got arrested and sent down to Albertville.

Ha! We used to take our toothbrush there just in case we got arrested as well!

That was it, yeah, ‘don’t forget your toothbrush’, exactly!

What was he arrested for!?

Oh I think he was running some kind of drugs racket in Tignes.

Ha! the Wobbly rabbit drug racket!

(laughs) That and the Palafour run, the big run, that was the big memory. I still think of that as my favourite place to snowboard anywhere.

Mt Baker Frontside / Photo: James McPhail

What keeps you motivated now? You’ve had a long career as far British or any riders go.

Weird and as cheesy as it sounds, I just love the feeling of being on my snowboard, getting in an edge and getting in the air really. Sometimes when I go back home I think, “I’ll be finished with that soon,” but as soon as I get back out I just love snowboarding.

Are you starting to look towards the end of your career then?

Not at all at the moment. I just know I don’t want to be snowboarding when my ankles are completely knackered and I can’t bend too well, full time anyway. But I’ve got no immediate plans to stop.

You’ve had some pretty funny injuries in your time too. Like the Montana handrail incident in Tignes, I understand you bruised a certain “cigar” on the rail, tell us what happened that night!

(Laughing) I don’t believe YOU called it a cigar, my girlfriend calls it -

- a Hamlet cigar or a fat cigar?!

(still laughing) A bloody Cuban alright!

Is it dark skinned like a Cuban, almost tanned?!

Well, after this handrail incident there was some discolouration! It was slightly darker.

Tell us what exactly happened.

Me and yourself were out behind the Montana Hotel, which anyone who’s done a season in Tignes will know has got the only do-able handrail in the resort. I wasn’t that good at rails then and I’m still not now really! I went up to it and caught an edge underneath the rail, I got the chink of death but I didn’t launch over it, I actually stuck behind the first bit and impaled myself over the rail.

You had sex with the rail!

I just landed on my cock basically! After that I was obviously concerned about my child rearing potential and we went to Tignes Hospital, where I unfortunately got seen by the only female nurse.

I promised you the whole way it would be the 5ft balding French Doctor but she was 6ft 2”, blonde…

Yeah she was actually very fit which made it more than a little embarrassing.

Nelson the Ninja, Gulmarg, Kashmir / Photo: Natalie Mayer

Another injury you had was the punctured lung! That really affected your confidence for a bit. How did you get over that?

That was a real eye opener for me, because I was keen to huck in my first few seasons. When I did my lung it was one of the first times I realised you could have something seriously go wrong with you, and it was something internal which scared me. It was a bit of a wake up call.

How do you get back on the horse after something like that?

Well just by… I sort of had to do a bit less hucking. I had to become better and learn a bit of technique.

You made it into the top twenty riders Great Brit rider poll in the last month. Are you pretty stoked to have made it into that list?

I’m amazed, I haven’t actually seen it yet!

You’re amongst people like Steve Bailey, James Stentiford, Stu Brass…

Bloody hell!

Spencer [Claridge] wrote a quote in there. He said, “Nelson never really cared for the media game.” Do you think that’s a fair comment? How do you feel about that whole circus?

Well, I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to be anti-media or anything, I just was, and still am, not fond of doing too many interviews.

You never courted it basically?

Yeah, I never felt the urge to portray myself or put myself on a stage really, I don’t know. It is nice to be appreciated and get recognition for what you do, but I think a lot of people enjoy being famous more or something.

Night riding, Breckenridge / Photo: Natalie Mayer

Tell us a bit about your role with coaching the British team. How did that come about and how does it work?

Well, I help Hamish McKnight do the slopestyle coaching. Guys like Ed Gunn and Jack Shackleton, who are amazing riders, it involves giving them a bit of feedback. They can say to me when they try something, ‘how did that look?’ or ‘what did I do wrong?’ without feeling bad about it. You know you don’t always want to ask that stuff when you’re riding. My ankle doesn’t let me hammer the park day in day out for 6 hours a day, so I will go in, learn the trick that I want to learn and then just watch people.

You put your whistle and your shorts on!

Well basically yeah, that’s it!

Do you think after snowboarding and what have you, that you’ll go back to work on the family farm?

When I first started doing seasons I thought no, it’s not for me. But as I got older, you know I’ve come home each summer to work on the farm and really enjoyed it! I’m probably going to do a few courses at agricultural college and yeah, get into it.

St Anton Slash / Photo: Dan Milner

This sounds a bit fruity, but tell us about the Pratt’s Rape lube, and the Rapeseed oil you and your brother are making.

Well, I can’t claim any kind of credit for this, this is my brother’s thing. On the farm we grow a lot of oilseed rape, the yellow fields you see at home. My brother has started a company making cold pressed oil. It’s on the high end culinary market.

I heard you wanted to make an offshoot of it, possibly for the porn industry? You were going to call it ‘Pratt’s Rape Lube’, is that true?

This is you guys, you came up with that!

It’s a great name though isn’t it?

I thought I could use the rape oil for err…

Pillaging?

As a chain lubricant.

And the regular stuff, that’s on the shelves now isn’t it?

Yeah, well you can order over the internet on prattsfood.co.uk. Can you put that in?

Done. So what is your perfect riding day? Does it begin with a big breakfast?

Yeah, breakfast would have to feature pretty heavily. I love building powder kickers – when you know the spot you’re going to, you’re waiting at the lift for it, you’ve got a crew there, you’ve mostly built it the day before, you get there and the sun’s out and the snow’s still good. That would be it. After having a bit of a session, hopefully landing a couple of tricks and riding down at the end of the day with my backpack on. A bit of a glory run home at the end of the day after having got a couple of shots’ worth.

There was one kicker in particular that Whitelines readers may remember, the ‘Nelson’s Nipples’ in Kashmir. That was a pretty big jump wasn’t it?

Yeah, that was a fair distance.

Snowboard-Photo-Nelson-Pratt-Kashmir-by-Natalie-Mayer

'Nelson's Nipples', Gulmarg, Kashmir / Photo: Natalie Mayer

Do you think it might be the biggest jump you’ve ever done?

I don’t know really, it’s difficult to say. I think, probably gap wise, yeah.

Did it cross your mind that it was an hour’s drive down a sketchy road to some backstreet hospital in the middle of a war zone?

With that one, I wasn’t too bad because I thought, ‘It’s gona hurt if I land short but it won’t be too bad.’ I would probably be more scared if there was a real road involved, or something more solid.

On kickers and jumps and stuff you’ve always had a pretty good style. Is that something you’ve deliberately worked on through the years?

In terms of style I’ve always tried to tweak my tricks as much as I can but there’s only a certain amount that my stiff legs will allow sometimes, so I think my style is more born through function and trying to get a smooth feeling, than concentrating on how it is.

Do you remember the summer you moulded your boots yourself in the microwave and melted your back boot so it gave you a knock knee? Your style wasn’t so great that summer!

I remember my style that summer because you were calling me ‘the cow with 12 udders’. You said that I rode like a cow with 12 udders. I’m blaming my dad for the boot moulding because it said on the thing that it could be convection heat moulded or whatever, and he said “Oh, well we’ve got that function on the oven.”

On a different tack, do you know Jenny Jones has won gold at the X-games?

Yeah I did, I just heard that.

Since you’re involved with coaching, what do you think it’s going to take to see a UK guy on the podium? Do you think it’s possible?

I actually do think that it is possible. It doesn’t matter anymore if your parents are ski instructors or not, it’s very possible, it could happen. In years to come the X Games winner could be British.

Off the top of your head, who are your top three newcomers?

Ed Gunner, Jack Shackleton – I’m impressed with their riding newcomer wise. And there’s Jamie Nicholls, who’s a great snowboarder and if he keeps his enthusiasm up, who knows what he can do in the future?

Gulmarg powder turn, Kashmir / Photo: Natalie Mayer

You used to always try and get me off 25 metre kickers and I never would, and I always tried to get you off cliffs and you never would. Cliffs were never really your thing were they?

I do enjoy doing a few cliffs, but I’ve never really enjoyed survival freeriding. Having said that I do love being in the backcountry.

I think that’s a good way of putting it Nels, “survival freeriding”…

I mean it’s not that I don’t enjoy riding around, especially now with my ankle giving me more gyp. I do enjoy getting those days when you get to ride some untracked powder.

We all love powder, but we just don’t want to die doing it.

That’s how I am, I love it but I’m not passionate enough about that side of it to take risks with stuff I don’t know about.

If you can remember one top tip that someone’s said to you as far as your riding goes, what is it? Apart from ‘don’t bang your cock on a rail’.

At the moment with the army coaching, I’m working a lot with getting their overall body position sorted, so having a solid body position when you’re riding, and bending your knees.

Bend ze knees, bend ze knees! Now, favourite trick. What’s your favourite trick?

Favourite trick? Well it always changes. But I would say a really tweaked out back seven, or a front three.

Good answer. Favourite shot you’ve ever had published?

I was really proud of the back rodeo seven in the Val D’Isère bowls.

Yeah, that’s a sick shot. Now describe the smell that goes on with your thermals, your Helly Hansen thermals.

Well you see I know what you want me to say, and it’s minge! I’ve just said that loudly and there’s loads of people in this pub.

(ED) What’s this Marcus tells me about you spending a week eating Antelope and Ostrich?

Oh, we were snowed in in Saas Fee. It was freak weather conditions, it snowed solidly for three days, and Marcus managed to score us one of the top Crystal hotels in the resort, where there was a chef called Alan. All the supermarkets were closed and the roads were washed away, and the only thing that we had to eat was at the bottom of the deep freeze. I remember was some sort of frozen, fried cheese that you put in the deep fat fryer, and, err, Ostrich. But it was good, it tasted alright.

Now, you’re quite famous for your own cook-ups. What would be your best dish if there could be a dish of the day?

A good cook-up is going to involve pasta and tuna in a fish medley. If you’re lucky it might involve Frankfurters as well. It’s definitely gonna be coated with Emmental cheese as well.

We’re gonna have to call that Frankfurter Surprise. I always remember that you wanted to open your own restaurant called Double Helpings because you always felt you didn’t get enough at restaurants, is that still an idea?

That will be a dream yeah, in food and cooking, I’m definitely not ruling that out.

Digger supreme / Photo: Dan Milner

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