John Addison, with an expression typical of anyone taking on the flatbar. Photo: Sam Longmire
We've just had word that Aberdeen Snowsports Centre's notorious 'flatbar' has finally been retired.
This article first appeared in Whitelines Issue 98, published back in November 2011. Somehow the old girl avoided the hangman's noose for another four years, but now the inevitable has happened.
We're going to miss you, flatbar. Rust in pieces.
Garthdee dry slope in Aberdeen has one permanent feature that stands out among the rest. It’s one of the most iconic, and most terrifying, installations at any dry slope in the UK - and indeed the world. If you’re not (un)lucky enough to have had a go on the ‘flatbar’ as it’s known, you might have seen it crop up in movies such as This is Britain. Now plans are afoot to tear it down.
"The flatbar represents something that seems to be slipping away from snowboarding in general – sketchiness"
Looking at it, you wonder how it even got built in the first place. The front end of it requires a big ollie on, and has claimed the nose of many a good rider’s board. By today’s standards the metal that wraps around the top is seriously sticky, so a good deal of speed is a must. Also, the bar remains perfectly flat while the ground underneath it slopes away - if you manage to get all the way to the end, you’ve got a formidable drop down to the floor waiting for you.
Then there’s the landing; as a relatively underused section of the slope, it’s prone to serious algae infestation in the summer months, making it not unlike landing on a pile of mouldy doormats. Also, the bar is angled to the right, pointing you straight at the moguls. Get it slightly wrong on a blind landing and there’s a good chance you’ll be peeling yourself off one of the bastards, winded or worse.
Surely the space could be better used by something less imposing. After all, in its current state, who’d want to keep it as it is?
Well, me for one. The flatbar represents something that seems to be slipping away from snowboarding in general – sketchiness. Airbags, foam pits, immaculately groomed booters and wide Perspex-topped boxes are great but, in the course of snowboarding’s history, it’s the sketchy stuff that tends to capture the imagination.
Let’s not forget that the early pioneers made countless first descents with nothing but bungee cords to keep their feet attached to their sticks. Then there was Ingemar Backman’s mind-boggling backside air at Riksgränsen in 1996, Joni Malmi trying rodeos on to rails in True Life, and countless other heart-in-mouth moments. Bringing it back to drymat, the first 900s put down on an artificial surface were on Dendix. Tell that to a grom these days and they’ll suspect you’re either winding them up, or that they’re witnessing early onset dementia.
"There’s nothing quite like the feeling of stomping something where failure carries with it some genuinely nasty consequences."
Like these examples, the inherent sketchiness of the flatbar is what makes it so special. It has been responsible for many a ’primal scream’ moment, where words fail you and there’s nothing to be done besides yelling at the top of your lungs in sheer admiration and disbelief at what you’ve just seen. Steve Cassie’s frontside lipslide-270 out at insane speed; Mark Watson’s 50-50 to frontflip; Jon Addison’s tailtap-backside 360 out; and Matt Gibson’s front 3 out, stomped first try - all truly memorable moments.
That was a while ago, though, and now a lot of the younger riders have shunned the flatbar in favour of less risky fare. This is partly because Garthdee has been lucky enough to take loan of Glenshee’s new progressive boxes for the summer, and they’ve made a massive difference. Attendance at freestyle nights is at its highest level in ages, injuries are at an all-time low, and the overall standard of rail and box riding improves week after week.
"A lot of the younger riders have shunned the flatbar in favour of less risky fare"
However, while tricks are getting techier, there’s very little balls-out risk-taking to be had, and that’s a shame. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of stomping something where failure carries with it some genuinely nasty consequences. We don’t all have to be Cale Zima or Dan Brisse, but every rider should take the time to test their ability - and nerve - that little bit extra every once in a while.
To be fair to the slope management, there’s a strong argument for replacing the flatbar with something more accessible and less intimidating, that’ll get used a whole lot more. Still, hopefully it’s not too late for more of the local riders to embrace the flatbar as an integral part of their progression, to be admired for its challenges, and its risks.
When your stomach turns just watching someone else take a feature on, let alone having a go yourself, you know it’s one to be treasured.