This interview originally appeared in Whitelines issue 116
I’m on an escalator at London Euston, surrounded by Jenny Joneses.
There’s only one Jenny, of course: the one who’s been blazing a trail for British freestyle snowboarding for the best part of fifteen years; the one whose efforts at Sochi’s Rosa Khutor Extreme Park bagged her a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics; the one who’s now standing beside me as we ascend from the underground to the main station. At this moment, however, she’s also all over the electronic advertising boards that flank us on both sides, sessioning Verbier’s park and powder in a recently released Nissan advert. “Oh God, look!" she says when she clocks them. “Amazing!"
We’ve just travelled from the home-cum-studio of Whitelines' senior photographer, Dan Medhurst. Unfortunately the shoot had run on a bit, and Jenny’s got to be at Hemel Hempstead soon to coach at the Salomon Grom Camp, so we look for a quiet corner of the station in which to chat before her train leaves. The bustle of London commuting offers her a relative degree of anonymity, but there are plenty of double-takes in our direction along the way. It’s hardly surprising, given that her face has appeared on the front page of just about every major newspaper in the land. The post-Sochi media blitz covered everything from local radio to chat show couches, where she’d brandish the UK’s first Olympic medal won on snow and summarise her career for the benefit of those who, prior to 9th February 2014, had no idea who she was. So how many times has she had to tell the tale? “Oh my God, I reckon at least fifty times! I’ve lost track. It’s got to be more than that, actually."
To spare her another go-round – and because we covered it in her last Whitelines interview back in Issue 88 – here’s a quick crib sheet: after getting a taster lesson at Churchill dryslope in 1997, Jenny headed to Tignes for the 1998/99 season to work in a chalet. Thanks in part to her experiences as a gymnast, she took to snowboarding like the proverbial duck to water. On a friend’s advice she headed over to Laax for the British Championships in the spring, where she duly won the Big Air title. It was at this point that the ‘year out’ turned into a career, as she picked up her first sponsors in Salomon and Oakley (who have both been backing her ever since). Within a couple of seasons she was topping slopestyle podiums across the globe. While still making time for video parts and magazine shoots, it was in competition that she found the most success. Once her preferred discipline was finally confirmed as an Olympic sport in July 2011, it went without saying that Jenny would be in with a shout of turning out for Team GB. She recalls where she was when she heard the news: “I’d been hearing the rumours for about a year, so I was like ‘I’m just going to wait until I get the phone call from Paddy [Mortimer – British Ski & Snowboard’s Sporting Director] telling me if it’s in or not". I remember it was the day after my birthday and I was in the mountains. Paddy phoned and said “slopestyle is in the Olympics." I said, ‘definitely?’ and he said ‘definitely.’ ‘Definitely?’ ’Definitely.’ There were a lot of definitelys involved!"
“If Sina hadn’t put her hand down on her 1080 and scored higher than me, for the rest of my life I would have been thinking ‘I should have gone for the 900.’ Imagine that!"
At this stage, however, her involvement in the biggest slopestyle comp to date was far from a given; she immediately began having thoughts like, “should I go, and can I hang in there for that long?" Had this been the previous Olympic cycle, of course, there would have been no question. At the time of the Vancouver Games In 2010, Jenny had just won her second consecutive X Games slopestyle gold medal in Aspen, and would add a third (from the European equivalent in Tignes) the following month. She wouldn’t just have gone; she would have been the heavy favourite. Four years is a long time in competitive snowboarding, though, and by the time Sochi rolled around she’d arguably be past her competitive peak. In the end, the decision was easy: “The underlying feeling was excitement that it actually was in, if I’m honest. At least the opportunity was there. If they’d said it’s not in and I didn’t even have a choice to do it during my career…. it was nice to know that I could make the decision."
Thus began the long and arduous qualification process for the Games, which would dominate the calendars of all those looking to make it to Russia. After a bumpy start, the turning point came in August 2013 when she finished 2nd (behind eventual Olympic champion Jamie Anderson) at a World Cup event in New Zealand. While this all but booked her place at Sochi, it didn’t rank her among the favourites; at least not from her perspective: “It’s easy to say stuff now. Don’t forget though, I’m over 30 years old. No one had me in their sights! They might say they did now, but they didn’t. And people weren’t thinking about me as someone who would do that well, out of all the British riders and things like that.“
While it’s easy to see where she’s coming from – a lot of the pre-Games focus in the UK was on young bucks Jamie Nicholls and Aimee Fuller, plus recent X Games invitee Billy Morgan – what she’s saying isn’t strictly true. Commentator Ed Leigh told us prior to the games that, more than anything else, he wanted to see Jenny get a result that reflected her years of hard graft. In separate conversations, photographers Dan Milner and Nick Atkins said the same. Their feelings were reflected across much of the snowboarding world, particularly among those who’d been following her career closely; for them, even if she’d butt-checked every kicker she’d still be remembered as a legend. “Hearing that is really nice!" she exclaims as we cover some of the pre-games support that hadn’t made it on to her radar, a slight mist creeping into her eyes. At the same time, she highlights that signing up for the five-ring circus would mean a whole new level of exposure – and not necessarily in a good way: “I was thinking that I’d had what I would consider a really positive career. I’d had highs and lows but I’d achieved the goals that I set out to achieve. Whether it’s the X Games, the travelling, the photoshoots, all of it really. The people who know me in snowboarding know that. But The Olympics might be the only thing those outside of snowboarding would ever see of me, and I might be awful. I’d be known as that girl who didn’t do very well at the Olympics. ‘She’s a has-been, why is she even at this, someone else should have gone...’ That’d be kind of a shit feeling, knowing you’d done all these things over ten or fifteen years, and it all crumbles after this one moment that you don’t do well in. That’s what I started to think. But then I thought, ‘What the fuck am I on about? I’ve got to just accept that that could happen, but I don’t care.’"
“The Olympics might be the only thing those outside of snowboarding would ever see of me, and I might be awful... That’d be kind of a shit feeling"
Fortunately, that wasn’t how it played out, and Jenny found her way on to the podium’s third step despite being the oldest finalist by a six-year margin. Such is the nature of the two-run format that any number of variables could have changed the outcome. However, her experience came to the fore as she examined how the judges were reacting to bigger, sloppier spins. The frontside 900 she’d put down in practice wasn’t as clean as she’d have liked, and while it might have worked when it needed to, her gut feeling was that the 720 would be the better choice. Still, as she approached the final jump of her final run, having stomed every previous trick perfectly for the first time, wasn’t there part of her that felt like hucking the 9? “Completely the opposite," as it happens. “If there had been a blip before that then I would have 100% gone for the 9, because it would have been the only thing that would have made my score go up. But the fact that I’d done everything cleaner than the run before made it even more important that I did a good 720." Before she could fully commit to the plan, though, she consulted Team GB coach Hamish McKnight, hoping that he’d reached the same conclusion. “I said it to him, ‘this is what I’m gonna do’ and he said ‘I agree’. And I thought ‘Thank God for that.’"
It’s not the only thing they would see eye to eye on. Speaking to Whitelines just before the Games, Hamish said it was important to acknowledge “how much it’s going to come down to whose day it is on the day. These comps are never a measure of who the best rider is, really. Anything could happen. You could fall twice and come dead last, you wouldn’t be any worse a snowboarder." Likewise, Jenny acknowledges that what looks like the right decision in hindsight could easily have been the wrong one. “I could be sat here now thinking ‘If I’d landed a 9, I’d be on the podium’. If Sina [Candrian, who finished 4th] hadn’t put her hand down on her 1080 and scored higher than me, for the rest of my life I would have been thinking ‘I should have gone for the 900.’ Imagine that!"
Thankfully we don’t need to, but it’s an interesting thought nonetheless. Had it just been ‘Jenny’s day (and, by extension, Jamie Anderson’s and Enni Rukajarvi’s too?) We’re not so sure. It’s a testament to the health of women’s slopestyle that so many contenders could have pipped Jenny to the bottom step, but it speaks volumes for her talent and experience that she was able to put down her run when it mattered. Under the kind of pressure that would have been unimaginable back at the ’99 Brits, Jenny ensured that no one would ever refer to her as ‘that girl who didn’t do very well at the Olympics.’
“When I got into snowboarding, what I liked was that there are all these various aspects to it. I made a conscious effort to keep all the different things going"
Despite the various media obligations that followed, it wasn’t long before she was back on her board and competing at the highest level, turning out for the Nine Queens event in Livigno, Italy at the end of March. This was the first time that snowboarders had competed at the traditionally ski-only comp in Livigno, Italy, where invitees session a monstrous castle-themed kicker for the best part of a week. While the standard was just as high as at Sochi, it was an altogether different beast. “It was awesome!" remembers Jenny, who ended up in joint 3rd place. “It felt like one of those old school days, in the park, when you’ve met up with your mates and you just session a jump. It was so fun. People got into it, you know? It really felt like a Euro seasonaire session – but on quite a big jump! I didn’t know what to expect; at some comps it’s not a well-made kicker and you have to make do, and that doesn’t make for a fun session. But this one was built well, so you could relax and just enjoy it."
With no Sochi to qualify for, Jenny can afford to be a lot more selective this season. At present she’s aiming to do “just the odd contest, I’ll pick and choose," but remains focused on the top tier. “I’d love to go the X Games and the Dew Tour but you have to be invited to those. Then there’s the new tour [still disadvantaged by its lack of involvement with the Olympics, The World Snowboard Tour is undergoing a major re-vamp] and I don’t know what’s happening with that yet." It follows that there ought to be some slightly larger gaps in the calendar than before; as someone who appears to want to keep busy, what does the rest of the year hold? A clue was offered back at the shoot, when we’d been discussing Dan’s jaunt to New York (p.40) and he’d asked Jenny why she wasn’t on a magazine trip last year. She hit back at him with mock anger: “Because I was trying to get to the fucking Olympics!" While it had been said in jest, there was some truth in it: making the grade for Sochi had meant having to say no to just about everything else. “Last year was the first year that I didn’t do a proper trip, and I really missed it. I’m looking forward to doing something this year." With her stock at an all-time high, she’s never been better placed to make things happen, and as we discuss a few possibilities her excitement is palpable. For her, it all comes back to why she rides in the first place: “When I got into snowboarding, what I liked was that there are all these various aspects to it. I made a conscious effort to keep all the different things going, because I liked the diversity. Although I was getting better at the comps, I still always wanted to do all the other stuff. It’s different experiences, and a chance to meet different people. It’s that mixture that keeps me interested."
There’s not much she’s ruling out at the moment; while she’s “not filming a part or anything", she may end up in front of cameras at some stage. Perhaps she’s got the backcountry bug that so many seem to catch once they’ve started to wind down their competitive career? While she’s adamant that she’s not going to go full Boulanger just yet, she does have plans to do more in the powder. “I’ve done splitboarding once, and I’d really like to go again," she says. “I was in New Zealand, and I’d just come 2nd in that World Cup event. It was a huge relief to know I’d got those points, so that night I went out and got leathered. The next morning I was going splitboarding with Ed Leigh and Ski Sunday but it was fine; we were going to heli most of the way in, then splitboard for two hours max and stay in a hut. I woke up in the morning and they said ‘the weather’s too bad for the heli, so we’re going to splitboard all the way in.’ I went from never having tried it in my life to doing it for six hours – with a hangover, and the shakes! I was nearly crying. Then I get to the hut and they have to film me, and I look like shit! I’m knackered and I’ve got to try to look happy and be all smiley for the TV…" That would probably have the average rider running back to the chairlifts before you can say Xavier De Le Rue, and yet she’s keen for more. So it didn’t it put her off at all then? “No, not at all! But I maybe wouldn’t have started with a six-hour jaunt…"
Looking further ahead, she’s open to applying her invaluable experience through further involvement with Team GB (“If people wanted my help of advice, I’d definitely be into it. Whether that need is there at the moment, I don’t know"). She’s also enjoyed her taste of the media life, which included a successful stint commentating on the gymnastics at the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, so perhaps there are options on that front. Whatever she chooses to do next, it’s undeniable that there’s no going back to how things were. Not that it really matters; by all accounts she’s still the amiable, determined and passionate rider that she was before everyone knew her name. It does beg the question, though: for her, has the Olympic divided her career into two ‘chapters’? “Yeah," she nods. “Or maybe there’s more than two. I feel like there was a chapter before the X Games which was a lovely experience, just simply being a seasonaire and really enjoying things like travelling with friends to check out other places, not necessarily for anything – just to snowboard! All of us working in cafés, cleaning, going out on the weekends in Whistler, all of that. That was the first chapter. Then there was the build-up to the X Games and the following three years. And then that slight lull, and then the Olympics. I wonder how many chapters I’ve got left!"
The smart money says quite a few, and this latest one could prove to be the most interesting yet – and not just for her. As we wrap things up and dash for the train, those Nissan ads are one again playing all around us. She’s right – it is amazing to see a snowboarder getting this kind of attention. What’s even better, though, are the stories of kids flocking to their local dryslopes and snowdomes, inspired by what she’s done. In the years to come, those riders will be the living proof of what her many incredible achievements – including, but by no means limited to, the events of that day in Sochi – have meant for the sport she loves so much. And from the sounds of things, she’ll still be riding right alongside them.