All photos by Ed Blomfield
We're not sure what pact with the devil Vans made in recent years to ensure their spring event in Scotland was always bathed in sunshine (from 2010's Dawn Of The Shred to last year's Hi Standard), but this weekend it looked like it had finally expired. It was with some bemusement that we rocked up at Cairngorm Mountain to find a big fat cloud sitting over the park, and a forecast suggesting it may get worse.
While we'd clearly been spoiled in the past few seasons, we were still up for it - as was the assembled field of riders that included some of the finest in the land. Among those joining us on the mountain railway were Gaz Andrews, Will Smith, Sparrow Knox, Jonny Russell, Angus Malloch and, fresh from dominating the recent British Championships, local hero Jamie Trinder.
For those unfamiliar with the Vans Hi Standard Series, it isn't your average comp. No spin over a 720 is allowed, so riders have to use style to stand out. There are overall prizes, but most of the cash is given away £20 at a time for any trick that stokes the judges out. The greatest thing about this format is that it attracts riders of all ages and abilities. Lined up alongside pre-teens like Will Gilmore and Abbie Dorward were veterans Frazer Rennie, Neil Cruickshank, Steve Cass and Ian Ashmore. Tyler Chorlton had also made the trip and, despite arriving in Scotland sans boardbag, did a good job of rustling up some temporary gear.
With the clouds refusing to budge and the kickers still shut, the rail jam was moved forward. The dome-forged skills of Will Smith stood out straight away, with frontside 180 to nosepress to switch back 1 out on the main Vans rail. Gaz, Sparrow, Jonny and the rest were giving him a run for his money though, and soon it seemed like every other hit was cash-worthy. Edward Castle-Henry was charging all morning, and was the first to attempt a ballsy transfer between the rails. There was a small jump in play too, on which Scott Penman took what was easily the slam of the day with a double frontflip attempt.
Just as it looked like the Hi Standard might suffer the same fate as the recent Scottish Championships, the clouds cleared and the kickers were on. Not knowing how long the weather window might last, the riders got straight to work, a hefty tailwind compensating for the soft snow. Last year's overall champion Danny McCormick was back from injury and riding like a man possessed, with tweaked-as-hell methods and super smooth spins. Sparrow and Will wowed the crowds just as much in the air as they did on the rails, with an inch-perfect backside rodeo and boned out frontside 3 respectively. Angus Trinder pinged a beautiful frontside 540 off the toes, while Fin Bremner went all out with a backside 720 shifty.
Having rolled in and out all afternoon, the clouds eventually put an end to the big air. Things did clear up again briefly after the comp, though, allowing some riders to continue sessioning the course while others went for a few hikes of the halfpipe. Meanwhile MC Henry Jackson kept the crowd busy with free giveaways, handstand competitions and the like.
After gingerly picking their way down the last of the snow on the heather-strewn home run, the riders and spectators headed to the Doo Below for beers, burgers and prizegiving. The coveted best backside 180 award - which lands the winner £180 from Dragon - went to Matt McCormick for his back 1 Japan, while Scott Penman's slam earned him a hundred sheets. Alex Rooney won the Ride&Slide holiday for Best Unsponsored Rider, and Jake Binnee was crowned best rider under 16. The overall prize this year went to Jamie Trinder, topping off a pretty lucrative week.
Of course, Hi Standard isn't really about who won what. The big cheques soon disappeared and attention turned to the bar, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Vans and Cairngorm had smashed it yet again - we'll definitely be back in 2015, whatever the weather.