Words by Joel Plaja
I'll never forget my early days on a dryslope when I would be routinely dragged up the hill on my arse having not quite mastered the Poma yet. My pants would be ripped to shreds, carving was impossible and I would end up cold and soaking after five minutes under the sprinklers. It was great.
The UK snowboard scene has certainly changed since I rode at the Avon Ski Centre all those years ago. The average UK rider is now no more than a couple of hours away from an indoor snowdome with some, in the case of Milton Keynes and Hemel, barely half an hour apart. Of course this has its massive benefits, with kids today having real (ish) snow on their doorstep with a consistently shaped park all year round. All seems great doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. While UK snowdomes have been amazing in bringing more people into snowboarding and fostering some of the hottest young talent, the decline of the dryslope is leading to our riders being typecast as expert jibbers but not much more. In order to produce complete snowboarders who will progress beyond our green and pleasant land then the dryslope scene needs to be nurtured rather than forgotten.
The size of a snowdome makes it impossible to consistently build bigger features (the majority of indoor parks would barely be graded a red in resort) and Hemel is the only slope that regularly builds a decent sized kicker these days due to various logistical issues. When the only features young shredders are exposed to are rails then how are they going to compete on an international level? If the aim is to have an enclosed scene then fine, but if we want to push our riders forward and make them really competitive on the world stage then something needs to be done. UK riders may well be turning into some of the most consistent rail riders on the planet, but it is on the kickers of slopestyle courses and big air comps that pro snowboarders really earn the big bucks.
There is a reason David Benedek was so impressed when he visited Halifax in 2007 to film a section of his ‘In Short’ movie. The Halifax dryslope is where Jamie Nicholls cut his teeth as a grom. At the time Benedek predicted that he would “one day be the best snowboarder in the world." Those are not empty words coming from the great man and the reason is simple: dryslopes are bloody difficult to ride and anyone who can handle a kicker on one is going to find the transition to snow a lot easier. It is no coincidence that two of the best British riders at the moment, Jamie and Billy Morgan, honed their skills on the slopes of Halifax and Warmwell respectively - both home to a big snowflex kickers. Some of the sickest riding progressions have taken place on dryslopes; who could forget Steve Bailey’s 900 in 1995 at Rossendale, the first ever landed on dendix, or Danny McCormick stomping the first dryslope double cork at Bearsden last summer? It takes a lot of balls to throw something like that on snow, let alone when there is the danger of snapping your fingers on the landing - and that is an element of UK snowboarding that would be disastrous to lose.
It is going to be a difficult turnaround, make no mistake. Snowdomes offer the quickest and cheapest way to get a real snow fix and there are plans for even more to pop up around the country. Our dryslopes, once thriving, are now being left to rot, with former shred Meccas such as Rossendale struggling to remain open. I am not pretending to have the solution, but for the best interests of the progression of our future stars we must find a way of resuscitating a dryslope scene that has largely retreated to a couple of strongholds in Scotland. A big snowflex kicker is far more beneficial than a line of rails in an indoor fridge and the more we realise this the healthier our future will be because of it.
Have your say on the dryslope scene in the comments below.