[Breck-bombing in 2013. Photo: Ed Blomfield]
The last time we polled the industry (riders, team managers, brand reps, photographers and the like) to find out who it regards as the Greatest British Snowboarder Of All Time, Jenny Jones took the #3 spot. Since then she's managed another significant third-place finish, one that no doubt contributed to her climb to the top of this list. However, as Chris Moran writes, there's more to our Jenny than a shiny Russian trinket...
I’m having breakfast with Jenny Jones – three-time X Games winner, Olympic medallist, multiple British champion – in the 5-star Ki Niseko hotel at the bottom of the Japanese ski resort of the same name. There’s a man playing the piano in the background as people come into hotel, ridding themselves of excess snow (of which there is plenty) using a compressed air cannon at the threshold.
Along with some of Jenn’s long-term friends from the Dragon Lodge in Tignes, we’ve spent the last six days riding some of the most amazing powder available on God’s white earth. As Jenny leaves this afternoon to go and film with BBC’s Ski Sunday, it was decided that last night we’d see her off with sake, espresso martinis and Japanese whisky.
It is, I’m sure you’ll agree, the perfect time to drop the news that Jenny has won the Whitelines poll that asked the UK snowboarding industry to determine the Greatest British Snowboarder of All Time.
“How does it feel to have won?" I ask.
“It feels good," she says, sipping on a herbal tea. “It feels good... to have won the poll."
This is Jenny trying to be earnest. Trying to put her interview face on and give some quotable soundbites. Then she bursts out laughing. “This is going to be a short interview if I carry on like that, isn’t it?" She gathers herself. “Sorry, I’m really really hungover. You’re going to have to bear with me."
This is gonna be fun.
THE LIST IN FULL
Ok, let’s go back to the beginning of this story. To the start of Jenny’s career, to see if we can understand how this ball of energy from Bristol has been picked by a huge group of (mostly) men to be hailed as the absolute most perfect embodiment of our beloved sport. And let’s make no mistake about this, the poll wasn’t to find the most winningest (though statistically she’d have been up there), or the best (ditto) or the most famous (ok she’d definitely have won that). No, the poll asked “who is the greatest". And there was never any doubt in my mind as to who the winner was going to be. It just had to be Jenny.
So the question is - why?
Instead of that, what I actually ask her is this: does it feel like her life is basically the film Chalet Girl, only now even more far-fetched?
“Ha ha - you know I’ve never seen it," says Jenny, to the incredulity of myself and Dragon Lodge’s Will Hughes. “I refuse to," she says. “Everyone says its basically my story, but no, they never approached me, never had anything to do with it. People say they must have known about my story, but I have no idea."
It does seem like a coincidence; a young, inquisitive girl gets a job in a chalet, looking for adventure, fun and to get as much snowboarding done as possible. In the Hollywood version, she wins a local comp and gets the guy. In Jenny’s real story, she does one year as a chalet girl, wins the British Championships, goes on to become one of the most famous snowboarders on the planet and wins an Olympic medal. So, like a total punter, I ask her what that first season was actually like.
“I guess I’ve told this story a million times," says Jenny. “Ok so tell us something we don’t know," I ask. “Who were the first proper snowboarders that you met?" It's memory lane time.
"I was there in my black ski salopettes and white flowery thermals looking like a right goober"
“On my first season, just after I’d got out to Tignes I remember people telling me ‘there’s this cool couple you should meet called Will [Hughes] and Jules [Juliet Elliot]. You should shred with Jules, she’s really cool.’ I specifically remember seeing a picture of her in one of the first snowboard magazines I ever read – she had red nail polish and was next to a horse [laughs]. Then I went to go and try and ride the Palafour halfpipe, and there was Sonia Shaw and Gilly Seagrave. I was there in my black ski salopettes and white flowery thermals looking like a right goober, and they were really lovely.
"I met one or two people at a time, and then I’d go back to my job in Les Brévières. I didn’t really go out much; I’d just work, do my job and go riding with two Mars bars in my pocket, getting as much snowboarding in as possible. My main boss Mark was into boardercross so I’d go riding with him, and I met the Green Room lads who are [like Jenny] from Bristol, and they were super cool because they could all do jumps. So they took me off-piste for the first time and showed me my first grabs.
"I guess I first met people in the British snowboard scene like that really - just one at a time, randomly. I met Marcus Chapman and Nelson Pratt too, just seeing them ride and crossing paths with them in the resort, rather than going and shredding with them. But I did shred with Josh Wolf and Ryan Davis and that was cool.
"And also on that first season, I got hold of a copy of Whitelines! I was quite dorky, I cut it up and put pictures all over my wall. I had Lesley McKenna on there, and Tara Dakides. And I hate to say this here, but I had a picture of James Stentiford on my wall too! (laughs). I should mention Stu Brass too - someone had seen me do a backflip in the park, and from that I got asked to go and do a photo shoot. It was basically what I got paid in a week, and I was going to get it in a day, so of course I was like ‘yeah, I want some of that’. That’s when I met Stu and he said, ‘at the end of the season you should go to the Brits.’ He said I’d do quite well, and I laughed."
"If Jenny turned up to a contest, it was then a case of who would come second"
From that point onwards, Jenny became a central figure on the UK scene. In person, she was still one of the funnest, most up-for-it riders out there; super approachable, totally down-to-earth, totally genuine. And on top of that, she was a solid competitor, and loved to bring her rad energy to the contest scene.
Great news for some, though not for the other riders on the UK circuit – there wasn’t anyone who could touch her. If she turned up to a contest, it was then a case of who would come second. And around 2007, after doing well on the European and international contest scenes, Jenn got an invitation to the X Games. Her snowboarding fame was about to explode.
“Do you remember the Global Open Series? Oh my God, I nearly won that whole series," she laughs. “I think it was 2008 and I’d won the Nippon Open, the prize for winning the whole thing was like $100,000. And then I got an X Games invite and got 4th. And then the next year I won it, and I think it was someone like Jeremy Sladen who wrote something along the lines that it was a first in UK snowboarding history. And I thought ‘oh yeah, I guess so’ [laughs]. So that was a big deal for me."
And this is when Jenny hit her purple patch. “I guess that was when I was doing a load of filming for the ChunkyKnit crew, maybe around 2008, and I had started getting some results in the Burton Opens and the Roxy Chicken Jam. Then I went to the Nippon Open and I won that, and I was like ‘I’m back in the game again.’ That’s when I got another X Games invite, so I knew I was getting somewhere. And it was definitely at the X Games that I guess I started getting known internationally."
“So then 2009 - I’d won my first X Games gold medal, won the following year, then I went to the first European X Games in Tignes and I was like, ‘this is where I did my first season, it’s home for me, it’s my scene’ – I secretly really, really wanted to win it. Local seasonnaires were rooting for me, which I thought was really cool, and I won that one. Then I went back to the Aspen X Games the following year to go for the hat-trick, but got silver. Enni [Rukajarvi] did a slightly more stylish run than me, so gotta give it to her!"
"It was amazing after a comp, to be able to come back and hang with my British mates"
What’s so lovely about Jenny is that throughout this period, so was still deeply embedded in the British scene.
“I did a season in Whistler and was hanging out with Elliot Neave, Scott McMorris, [Adam] Gendle and Tim [Warwood], and I was having such a rad time; we were out filming all the time. You know, we were going out for days to build stuff and learn about sledding. And I’d head to Morzine to hang with a group of girls, or go riding with Kenty [Mark Kent]. I’ve loved that about the British scene. We are so lucky."
At this point, Jenny was in a unique position: woven into the fabric of British snowboarding, but at the same time also part of the international circuit. “Yeah, but it didn’t feel like that to me," says Jenny. “I felt like it was just normal, because as well as being so comfortable with all these rad British people that were spread around the world, I was also hanging with my mates like Lisa Filzmoser and Sarah Wickham or Katie Brauer – Aussies or Americans or Austrians, they were mates as well. And it was amazing after a comp to be able to come back and hang with my British mates."
If we’re staying with the Hollywood version of Jenn’s story, it would probably have finished with the X Games wins. The girl who had Tara Dakides on her wall finally getting to compete with her idol, to share sponsors, and to win. But sometime after, the International Olympic Committee eyed up slopestyle for the 2014 Sochi games, providing a new focus. In classic ‘do it the hard way’ style, Jenny qualified for the games on points and then smashed herself up, suffering a major concussion months before the Olympics.
“I don’t think that many people know that I’d really hurt myself," says Jenny. “I played it down because I didn’t want it to be a thing. You get hurt – ankles, knees shoulders and whatnot – but I’d hit my head, and it was different. I don’t want to sound like a total whinger, but I found it tough."
"On contest day, a cold February morning in Russia, it just felt like it was Jenny’s time"
On top of that, and as she freely admits now, she was also having doubts about whether the Olympics shot was worth it. “All my mates knew that I was starting to wind down. It was a massive gamble. You know, did I need to go? I just thought that I couldn’t miss out on going to this, but I could do awful. And people outside of snowboarding would have thought ‘oh who’s this loser?’ when actually up until that point I’d had quite a good snowboarding career."
And then the magic happened. On contest day, a cold February morning in Russia, it just felt like it was Jenny’s time. Like pretty much everyone in the UK - certainly the entire UK snowboard scene - I watched it on TV with my family having just woken up. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was what literally millions of other people were doing, non-snowboarders who just loved her story, all totally rooting for our girl. “Everyone tells me - it was a Sunday, it was raining back home, it was super early in the morning, people were in their pyjamas!"
“I can kind of understand what that must have been like," says Jenny, though obviously her experience of the day was completely different. “I’ve felt what they’ve felt watching events so I totally get the feeling. I was completely oblivious to that at the time. There were so many things going on that I didn’t know about. Like my friends Emma, and Kathy G and Sian in New Zealand, they’d all arranged to get on Skype and watch it together."
If there are any snowboarders in the UK who didn’t cry that morning, I’ve yet to meet them. I’ve thought about that morning a lot, and why it was so emotional. Was it the fact that Jenny’s story is just authentic? Is it the fact that she deserved that win more than anyone I can think of? Is it because she’s just such a gracious winner and you could see how much it meant to her? Who knows, but the fact her mum and dad had snuck into the contest unawares was probably a factor too. It was so Hollywood, but super enhanced because it was real life. Stoked.
"It’s all the other people that have made this happen for me...I would not have stayed in snowboarding if it weren’t for all the cool people"
So here’s another reason Jenny is such an appropriate winner of this poll: her medal meant that funding poured into to the GB Park & Pipe programme. Jenny may have made her own way through most of her career, but the pathway to the Olympics was via the UK Sport and Lottery-funded GB Park & Pipe team, headed up by long time friend Lesley McKenna. Getting a medal meant that the team’s future was secured through to 2018 – in contrast, the alpine ski division’s funding was slashed.
With one run, Jenny Jones had changed the entire direction of British skiing and snowboarding. The emphasis was clearly now to be on freestyle, and for a generation of up-and-coming riders that funding means increased opportunities, including the imminent construction of several permanent air-bag jumps across the UK. Proper, tangible changes.
In classic Jenny fashion, she refuses to take credit. “It’s hard," she complains when I press her on the fact that she should accept that she’s changed everything for the better. "It’s all the other people that have made this happen for me. They are a massive reason as to why I’ve had a great time and it’s all been so rad. I would not have stayed in snowboarding if it weren’t for all the cool people.
"I’ve met so many different characters who have influenced me; people from a skate background who do not give out compliments easily - Mark Munson and that lot, which is totally different to the Chamonix lot like you and Johno [Verity] and Ewan Wallace. And they I watch the snowboarding career of people like Tim and Gendle – how amazing and creative and rad has their career path been? And there have been so many amazing, strong girls that you might not have seen so much in the foreground – apart from maybe Lesley – but they’ve influenced me so much. People like Josie Clyde and Sian Leigh, they’ve been making movies and doing their thing.
And then I’ve gone around the world, and we’re all of us snowboarders – we’re so lucky".
"It’s like this group of people just before me has done the pioneering and I’m just behind that, getting all the payoff"
Back to the poll. I’m interested in who Jenny voted for.
“Steve Bailey was my top choice; I felt like he could do anything and everything. Such an amazing rider. Danny Wheeler was in there too, because I’d seen him in photos going off these massive kickers. Nelson Pratt was on my list, because he was a total legend. Will Hughes was in there too - those guys were the most influential to me."
And as a last question, I wanted to know, what is she going to do with all this influence now? She laughs. “You know, I thought, maybe last year, ‘I’m not gonna get any better at freestyle.’ I’m really not, purely because my knees hurt, and the amount of training that’s required. And suddenly that realisation was like, “oh my God, I might stop snowboarding." and then all of a sudden I realised there was this whole other side to riding that I’ve always loved, and can now concentrate more and more on. And it’s like this group of people just before me has done the pioneering and I’m just behind that, getting all the payoff. Like with splitboarding, I don’t have to make the bindings – someone has already figured all that out. Now I can come and along and it’s like ‘oh, it works now, I’ll give it a go!’ [laughs]."
“And all these pow boards, which is the world I’m going into more and more now, and I love it.Riding powder, going through trees, I’m like, ‘I could get so much better at this’. So yeah, it’s time to move into a different type of snowboarding. And that path is there for everyone, so I’m gonna do it with everyone. I do love seeing what’s happening with the juniors - seeing the Performance Pathway crew, seeing how stoked they are and how talented they are. And the more people I meet, I can do more connecting - if I meet the odd girl here, the odd girl there, I can say ‘oh you should maybe meet up with this person or this crew in this resort' - just paying it forward a little. I think that’s the future."
What a legend.
What a total deserving winner of the Whitelines Greatest British Snowboarder Of All Time.