Travel Stories

Urban Snowboarding: Jibbing in a Town Near You

Published in Whitelines Magazine Issue 95, February 2011

Jon Addison, Five-0, Aberdeen Photo: Sam Longmire

Jon Addison, Five-0, Aberdeen
The run-out for this beast goes right past the back gardens of the local residents. At about one in the morning, out comes one lassie who we thought was definitely gonna give us the boot for making a racket at her backdoor, but much to our surprise, she brings a few cups of tea and a packet of biscuits. A bit of small talk, all was well, but then the chat turned sour after she announced she was a SciFi nut and goes to all those conventions dressed as a Klingon, and was up watching a Babylon 5 marathon… Still, stoked on the free cuppa.

It’s funny to think that ‘jibbers’ were once openly mocked in films like Creatures of Habit as baggy-trousered wannabes. Back in the early days, ‘real’ snowboarders jumped cliffs and charged down powdery steeps; riding rails was little more than an amusing sideshow for the kids.

But as any brand can tell you, you ignore the kids at your peril. Ever since Tom Sims’ team of Californian shredders shaped the first halfpipes in Tahoe and dragged the sport out of its lycra race suit, snowboarding has drawn its influence from skateboarding. Sure enough, as skating moved from the confines of the park and onto the streets, so too guys like JP Walker and Jeremy Jones led snowboarding’s urban assault.

Aside from looking and feeling cool as f**k, this kind of riding has a couple of huge advantages: it’s cheap, and it’s accessible – at least if you’re fortunate enough to live in a snowy town or city. Over the past decade, North America’s frozen metropolises like Salt Lake City, Montreal, Denver and Calgary have seen jibbing evolve beyond all recognition. Wallrides, bomb drops, bungee-assisted ledge slides and now tow-in gap jumps of insane proportions have become par for the course, while (for the hardcore fashionistas!) the baggy pants of yore have given way to tight jeans.

At the same time, the UK scene has been moving from one based around dryslopes to one based around indoor snowdomes. While that might mean our younger riders aren’t hitting decent-sized kickers every week, it’s also helped us produce a new generation of rail destroyers that are arguably a match for the world’s best. Don’t believe me? Just pop down your local slope and check out some of the mind-bending combos that are routinely thrown down. All they’ve been missing is the opportunity to step out of the domes and, as JP Walker might say, ‘take it to the streets’.

… Until now. Over the last two years, Britain’s traditional damp squib of a winter has been replaced by month long cold snaps and – yes! – widespread snow. For the authorities, it’s meant angry debates about road grit, airport snow ploughs and burst pipes; for snowboarders it’s meant only one thing: SHREDDING. Is it a sign of climate change? Can we expect weather like this every year from now on? Who knows, but as long there’s snow on the ground then Britain’s legion of rail riders will be making the most of it.
So far this winter, the best conditions were in the north of England and Scotland, which is how WL came to be sent two reports; the first from Ian ‘Thrashmore’ Ashmore – one half of the Leeds-based clothing brand Dalikfodda – and the second from Sam Longmire, a photographer in Aberdeen.

Two stories, but one clear message: Who the hell needs Salt Lake anyway?

John Weatherley

John Weatherley Backside 1, Switch 50-50, Cab 3 out, DFTF, LS6
This is shot from the back door of Dalik HQ. Weatherley did so many tricks down the rail I lost count, making it clear why the spot is called the Dalikfodda Training Facility. It’s a perfect first street rail (unless a bunch of skiers have been there the night before and turned the ramp into an ice quarter, in which case it’s not so good). Gotta love that background – LEEDS!

Words and Photos: Ian Ashmore

Leeds is renowned for many things, including shopping, hot girls, nightlife and students, but aside from the fridge at Cas, snowboarding is not one of them. Having moved here in 1999, it was nine years before I experienced snow on the ground. Between my house and my local pub is a rail known as the Dalikfodda HQ training facility (DFTF) and I would walk past it after every booze session slurring, “if it snows I’m going to hit this”. Then, in December 2008, we had a dusting of snow, and along with my friend Mark Farrel I had to step up to my drunken claims. I can only assume that this was the first ever street rail session in Leeds.

“All of a sudden Leeds was endowed with the same shred possibilities as any other snowy city. Terrain-wise, it became apparent that what we have here is council estates on hills”

In 2009 the snow properly came – three weeks of it. That’s practically a season! All of a sudden Leeds was endowed with the same shred possibilities as any other snowy city. Terrain-wise, it became apparent that what we have here is council estates on hills. In my (extensive) experience, people from council estates like to complain about anything and everything. Coupled with today’s blame and claim culture, this has resulted in all the estates having handrails installed on almost every set of steps. Go dole team!

That Christmas saw myself, Jonny Russell (JR) and Si Foster sniff out a good few spots and do a bit of filming which culminated in ‘Project WetFart’, a video edit by Damian Doyle. With one proper snowfall in the bag, we knew that the possibility was there for a replay, and over the past summer we used Google maps (especially Street View) to ‘visit’ some of the estates, casing rails and other urban hotspots. We hooked up a bungee sponsor – big thanks to Anton at Banshee bungee – and, ever the optimists, built a drop-in ramp. On the 26th November 2010 our prayers were answered.

Jonny Russell, Frontside 5-0 – Armley, LS12

Taken at about 8am, with the rising sun obscured by the trees and Leeds city centre in the background, this was the best shot of a good bunch. You can still see the frost on the rail and yes, all the little balls of snow are in fact icy death cookies.

Damo’s edit had hyped riders from elsewhere to come visit, and over the next two weeks we enjoyed the company of some of the UK’s finest rail riders: Tom Guilmard (Nike 6.0 Stairset victor) and Neil Campbell from MK, Jon Weatherley, Oliver Waters and Pat Hobson from Tamworth, and Lynsey Ashdown from Manchester. We also had local lad Will Smith back from injury and keen to shred in the way that only a 16-year-old can be.

Riding street presents issues that you never get in a dome. For one thing, the rails are never perfect; they are often bent, broken, have gaps in them or worse. Speed is often an issue, with bungees and drop-in ramps being the order of the day. These add extra difficulty for the rider, and a bungee requires two extra people to load it. The ramps to get onto the rails are also lower – in the first couple of years this was purely due to a lack of snow, but more recently – even with plenty of fresh – the take-offs remained small to keep it legit. If a street rail is ride on, it’s not worth doing; ollieing hard into a rail makes the trick look better and adds an element of danger. When things do go wrong there are steps, bushes, posts, fences, cider bottles, dog shit and all manner of obstacles to contend with instead of just icy indoor snow. These things all run through your head on the run-in and focus is needed.

“When things do go wrong there are steps, bushes, posts, fences, cider bottles, dog shit and all manner of obstacles to contend with instead of just icy indoor snow”

Perhaps most notably, the spectators you get at street rails are different. With most spots located in shitty areas, riding Leeds involves meeting scallies who don’t understand what you are doing. They might mouth off a bit but more often than not are stoked, even to the point of sharing their spliffs on occasion. We did have a few instances of residents telling us to fuck off because we were making the top of their steps icy (despite the fact we’d cleared the actual staircase). Usually it was enough to say we would clear it away after, but on one occasion it was a passing cop who told the resident we were doing nothing illegal; the same guy said it made a change not to be chasing kids on the rob! Nice or not, passers-by always want to have a look, and this definitely adds some pressure to the rider.

Neil Campbell, 50-50 – ‘Beckhell’, LS7

It’s easy to see from this image how it takes skill and balance to keep the board on the rail through a whole triple kink (triple because there are three down sections) – especially after having to give it some serious pop just to get on there.

With the snow sticking about for almost two weeks we got plenty of stuff done this time around. We started on a down rail outside a big block of flats in Cottingley (LS11) where we got to try out the bungee. It was Will’s first ever street rail and he stepped up in style with a backside boardslide as the comments rained down from the flats and passers-by (some constructive, some not so much). The arrival of the MK guys saw us head to the triple kinked rail that was the final feature in WetFart. It sits on the wasteland left from a demolished school, and since it’s fenced off it is a nice quiet spot with no pedestrians and a bit of a hill to get some speed. We spent most of the rest of the day shaping the lip and run-in, squeezing in a few hits as the sun went down.

On the following day, more snow fell in four hours than in the previous decade! With car use out of the question, DFTF was the only option, and we shredded the hell out of it. At some points we had to stop for enforced tea breaks due to the amount of snow falling and our absolute refusal to wear goggles in Yorkshire. The shots of this rail, which were taken from outside my back door, work really well; with a legal graffiti wall and redbrick terraces in the background, it is immediately obvious that this is England.

Very early on Sunday morning I got a call from Jonny Russell. He had to work from 11 but was keen to go hit a rail outside Armley Prison. We arrived around 7.45, just as the sun was emerging into a cold, beautifully clear sky. It really is testimony to JR’s ability and attitude that he stepped up to an 11-stair handrail with a brutal flat section at that time of the morning. Done and dusted by 9.30, we returned to the warm for a cup of Yorkshire’s finest.

Jonny Russell, Frontside Boardslide – ‘Beckhell’, LS7

What would be a sick front board without the wall at the bottom to contend with is made all the more gnarly. These flats have been condemned so this may be the only chance ever to shred this rail. Note the thermos of Yorkshire tea and the griminess of the landing.

Jonny had spotted a rail near the triple kink that we returned to the following Tuesday. The thing was danger incarnate: 21 steps (in groups of three) with a down rail in the centre. The landing took you through a tunnel beneath a row of derelict houses, with less than six feet between the bottom of the rail and a wall. JR was the only man to take it on and he did so without a second thought. He made a 50-50 comparatively easily, but the front board threw up a few issues and some nasty slams as his board connected with the corner of the wall and his head with the floor. He made it in the end though and it was mustard.

“The landing took you through a tunnel beneath a row of derelict houses, with less than six feet between the bottom of the rail and a wall”

After the brutality of the morning, something a little mellower was in order to wind things down – the lovingly named ‘Dog Turd Plaza’. This consists of a steep run-in and a set of ten steps complete with mini-handrail, leading you down to a flat plaza area. Having cleared the snow and removed at least ten piles of dog shit from an area of no more than 40 square metres, we set about having a skate style session. All kinds of butter trickery went down, but man of the match was definitely Pat Hobson. I hadn’t met Pat before the Leeds sessions. He’s a humble guy, and his ollie to nose tap on the bottom of the handrail was one of my favourite shots, executed with ease and style.

A few powder turns through the estate on the way back to the car brought the epic 2010/11 Leeds session to a close… or did it? At the time of writing it’s still only January and there is every chance of another cold snap before the winter is out. I’ve treated myself to a new lens and some new knees, and our lass has been warned to expect a house full of sweaty snowboarders at the first sign of fresh snow, so watch this space. We all agree there’s nothing like jibbing your home town, and after seeing all the other videos Whitelines was tagged in on Facebook that week, we know we aren’t the only ones. Our own movie will be out at some point in the next few months, so look out for ‘WetFart 2: The Follow Through’.

Pat Hobson, Nosetap – Dog Turd Plaza, LS7

This is possibly my favourite image. Note the complete lack of shaped takeoff – pure skate style! Pat had to do this several times as the tiny delay on my camera meant that I kept missing it. Like a true pro he kept stepping up until: BOOM. We got a banger. Inspired by the shred flick ‘House of 1817’.

Words: Sam Longmire

Aberdeen is a cold and gritty place to live at the best of times. When winter kicks in up here, the temperature can drop down into the minus twenties. Schools, roads and businesses are forced to close, and it’s the snow that everyone’s moaning about. But for a select few, this is when the city really comes alive. The handrail you see every day on the way to work, that container at the building site or the huge bomb drop off that wall all look do-able now they’ve been blessed with a foot or so of the white stuff.

The last few winters have been crackers for the Scottish scene, with more snow than you can shake a stick at and more and more talented folk to ride it. True to form, the North Atlantic Oscillation delivered again, the first snowfall arriving in mid November and setting us up for a solid few weeks’ shredding.

Kevin Cowie, Indy – Aberdeen. Photo: Sam Longmire

This spot had tantalised me for years, but it wasn’t until the recent failings of the global economy that the opportunity to hit it came around. The car showroom which once displayed its prize possessions on this very spot closed down, leaving us with a flat-to-flat gap of sizeable proportions. Kevin Cowie makes a tricky one look all too easy.

My own winter started with a phone call one cold morning:

“Aye aye min, fit ye sayin’?”
“Man have you seen all the neige kickin’ aboot?”
“Aye I know man, it’s looking sick for the next week or two – you keen to get a shred on?”
“Super keen man, got so many things in mind. Let’s get on it.”
“Sick. I’ll be ready in about half an hour.”

… and that’s pretty much how it’s been running since.

“One bad boy 2800 watt generator, four industrial spot lights, one bungee, one filmer, one photographer, two spare decks, the mandatory crate of Tennents and a willing crew of grafters has become standard issue”

A mechanic, a carpet fitter, a roadie and a rope access technician: these are just some the guises of the local snowboard crew. With everyone beg, borrowing or stealing a day’s holiday where they could, we tried to make the most of our gift from the snow gods. Our chosen chariot was an Italian reg’d VW Polo which was on its last legs even before the winter, let alone after we pushed her to the limit carrying all the kit for each session – one bad boy 2800 watt geny, four industrial spot lights, one bungee, one filmer, one photographer, two spare decks, the mandatory crate of Tennents and a willing crew of grafters seems to have become standard issue.

Everyone brings their own skills to the sessions. Like most crews, you’ve got the grafters – who are never seen without a shovel in hand – the jokers, who keep the spirits up (and can rarely be seen with a shovel in hand) and then the straight-up gnarlers, who always put their hand in when it comes to guinea pigging time.

Mark Watson, Handplant – Banchory. Photo: Sam Longmire

DIY skatepark turned snowpark. Mark Watson gives the quarter the inversion treatment.

The spots are fairly plentiful up here, with countless oil and gas industrial estates littered with a multitude of rails, gaps, wallrides and bomb drops. You name it, it can pretty much all be found – if you’re willing to look for it. Unfortunately, thanks largely to the civic planners of yesteryear, most of these spots are hidden in the more deprived areas, which when sessioning at night can be interesting to say the least. Everything from teenage pregnancies to pilled out nutballs – it’s all part of the scenery when you’re hunting out rails up here.

Most recently we got a late session in on a long down rail, deep in the nether regions of the city. We crafted the perfect take off, prep’d the landing, set the lights and all was looking good. We got the usual note of interest from the local ned-lings, who are all fart and no poo at that age, too preoccupied with chasing girls and getting boozed. They are always pretty stoked when they actually see what you’re up to and they often disappear as quickly as they arrived.

“Out of nowhere, the ned just flipped and started to have a go at everyone in the crew. Before long he was karate kicking all of the lights out and getting seriously agro”

About halfway through the session, though, just as folk were putting their tricks down, out shot two boys pegging it up the stairs, closely followed by their assailant, who almost knocked the lens off my camera as he bolted past. The usual expletives changed hands, and we quickly realised that this guy was, as we say up here, ‘nae the full schilling’. Pissed off his nut, he proceeded to tell us about his night of knives, fights, booze and more fights. All the banter was pretty harmless until, out of nowhere, he just flipped and started to have a go at everyone in the crew. Before long he was karate kicking all of the lights out and getting seriously aggro, screaming something in the local dialect that roughly translates as “I am the boy, I am the boy, you’re all fannies, and you’re not welcome in my town.” He informed us that the local “team” were on their way and that if we wanted to walk away from this, then we should do so now. So, in an effort to keep the local neds as happy as we could – and the spot safe for future sessions – we reluctantly but hastily packed up the cars and went down the road for a swift après.

Sophie Addison, Rock Fakie – Bridge of Don. Photo: Sam Longmire

When not out killing it at the comps, or shredding in Mayrhofen, Sophie Addison can be found lurking round skateparks waiting for it to snow. Steeze Louise on this wee spine jib.

That probably sums it up, riding rails in the street up here. There’s something about the unpredictable nature of riding street on your snowboard that really sets it aside from riding anywhere else. Whether it’s friendly locals offering tea and biscuits at one in the morning or angry chavs trying to have a go, there’s always something to make each session different from the next. It takes commitment to round up your mates and get your shred on, but that group effort also adds to the stoke when you finally nail the trick that’s been on repeat in your head all year. Maybe it’s just a more social way of riding than bombing the mountain solo, or lapping the park with your headphones on max. At a street session everyone pitches in, everyone works hard for everyone else, and you get just as stoked for your mate landing his trick as you do for yourself.

If the snow gods keep up their end of the bargain, then the UK should be in for a few more snowfalls this year or next, meaning more time to get out of the dome or dryslope and out into the cities. All I can say is the winter is waiting, so grab your shovels, grab a beer and get your stoke on.

Neil Cruickshank, Wallride – Bucksburn. Photo: Sam Longmire

Straight from the highlands, Neil Cruickshank is a true Scottish legend. Here he is proving he can keep up with the young guns, getting his shaolin steeze on for the camera and the group of oversized, wine guzzling sledgers who had amassed to watch the spectacle.

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