Broken into 6 chapters for your attention-span dwindled web-surfing brain, it’s time to grab yourself a cup of tea and spend some remolicious special-time™ reading all about the snowboard crossover and how the UK’s recent snowfall affected mountainboard riders. Thinking caps on.
Part One: Snowboarding in the UK?
In general, mountainboarding is marketed as being akin to snowboarding. NoSno, Dirt doesn’t Melt, Who needs Snow? etc etc. It’s true it’s closest family is surfing, skateboarding and probably mountainbiking, but when you meet non-atbers, one of the best ways to help them get their head round it is to say “y’know, think snowboarding but with 4 mini-BMX wheels attached”.
Looking at our own snow-free countryside ‘thinking hmmm there’s some potential shreddage in them there hills’ is probably the reason why most of us picked up a mountainboard, and indeed what gave the Tatham’s and Jason Lee et al the motivation to start inventing in the first place. Mountainboarding sure has real comparisons to these other sports too, yet snowboarding holds the closest crossover title.
If you live in the UK, snowboarding is an expensive hobby/pastime/holiday, albeit an awesome one. The kit itself is costly, and travel to a destination where you can ride (whether that be a dry-slope, indoor ‘real-snow’ centre or heading to some mountains in Scotland or Europe) can cost serious wedge. Once on the slopes, the ride can be very similar- gravity powered downhill. Carving, jibbing and freestyle. The crossover is perfect. The weather in the UK is not usually associated with heavy snow, and although Aviemore and the like in Scotland are open in the winter, there is nowhere near the potential of it as a general public pastime.
In Belgium, where the snow is heavier for a couple of months over winter, there are seasonal ski slopes. When there is snow, they open up and are inundated with skiers & boarders using the lifts and enjoying the ride for the precious time that the white stuff is there.
During the other times of year, some of these slopes & lifts have been commandeered by mountainboarders, notably Maarten & the mountainboard.be crew who have taken two such slopes and created the superb Wanyi Park (and Le Monty: left), extending the purpose of these hills with lifts. Very commendable, a great blueprint for others and fantastic for us mountainboarders. And they still get to use the skis… (right: Rudi @ Wanyi ;)
Many ski resorts open up to hikers, walkers, mountainbikers and indeed boarders in the spring & summer months, like Courchevel and Winterberg. It make sense to keep them open and to keep their use non-exclusive. Economically they may make more in winter months, yet by diversifying and appealing to the crossover they remain stunningly beautiful and keep the ride vibe alive.
Why is it that people think of mountains as winter-only destinations??!
Part Two: Bad weather in the West Midlands
In January this year, the whole of the UK saw ‘proper’ snow. It’s pretty rare, although the news people (if you were listening to them, and you probably were) would have you believing it was as bad as ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ (and that was pretty bad, full of plot holes). The infrastructure in the UK is not designed to cope with big freezes, and the country ground to a halt. Well, what was bad news and hardship for some was also fun & games for others; kids got to spend their time sledging and throwing snowballs instead of going to school, parents got to spend a few more days off work, and anyone with any kind of snowboarding habit got to indulge themselves. Without having to jump on a plane or spending 20 notes for a couple of hours in a big fridge/riding a Perma-Snow carpet on a man made hill, it made for a refreshing change. Suddenly all those places where we mountainboard became ski-slopes.
Plenty of mountainboarders were out on the hills, seeing if the “all-terrainness” of their boards stretched to riding snow. Many took their regular mountainboards out, trying to roll down snow-covered slopes & tracks with varying degrees of success, some took the wheels & trucks off their mountainboards and tried that, while those lucky enough to own snowboards hauled them out quick sharp.
The UK’s Mountain Board Centres took advantage too and opened up to all comers, such as Ride the Hill’s XBP: Check out some fun vids of their recent snowboard action here. Bugs Boarding, host to the World Freestyle Championships also got dumped on: Here’s a few words from AJ @ Bugs:
“It was so unreal that i had just come back from the Alps and not even put my snowboard away before we got this dump on the UK, I immediately got the Caddy ready and loaded up to drive the snow covered roads to Bugs. When i got there it was sweet as you like – all the mountainboard jumps and rails were just sat there begging to be used with no wheels. The snow, once packed in lasted a good 4 days and we sure did make the most of it. We had about 30 riders show up and even busted the floodlights n’ tunes out for a night snow jam”.
Check out AJ’s photos of Bugs here, looking beautiful & surreal- like some mountains in the background have been ‘shopped out and some English CountrysideTM dropped in instead…
UK rider Phil pd2h had such fun snowboarding in his usual mountainboard spots he had to drop us a line: ” Having been snowboarding in the mecca that was the Malvern hills last weekend and being able to ride from the top all the way to the pub, unstrap and have a beer in hand within 30 seconds, I thought I would share one of the better shots we got off the little kicker built up there. Hope you like it”. We do! (Steezy grab and 10 more people next time please ;)
Part Three: Smilie
The Rem regulars are all crossover board riders too so here’s what we got up to during the UK’s biggest snow-dump since the ’70′s…
For me, having thought about and experienced how well an 8″ wheel does in slightly long grass or mud (and for that matter frosted grass), the chances of mountainboarding in fresh snow being much fun were pretty low. Mind you, if the snow’s compacted it’s lots of drift-ey fun and a probably a good excuse to go and introduce my mountainboard to the snow. Luckily, in the way FRANK tells it – soft drugs lead to hard drugs- getting into Mountainboarding has lead me to a love of snowboarding. That’s not to say I have crossed over to the white side, I’m very much a rider of the Earth, but there is nothing better than spending a week or so sliding down foreign snowy mountains. Of course the other great thing is you know as long there is snow on a surface then you can ride on it. Which, no matter what we think as mountainboarders, we can’t ride on everything…
The thing about snowboarding is if you have fly to the mountains at the height of the tourist season. As well as buying lift passes and tech’ clothing on top of sorting yourself a board, bindings and boots, it all adds up and turns out to be pretty expensive for what really will only be 2 weeks a year if you want to keep down a ‘proper’ job. I don’t have that experience with my mountainboard: just wake up in the morning, peer outside to see what the weather is doing, throw out some texts to see who’s about and head out and ride.
Now if there is snow on the ground there is only one thing to do and that’s a quick binding swap and head out with me snowboard instead, right tools for the job and all that. Because at the end of the day it’s hard to beat the floaty, flowing feeling you get from carving about the powdery goodness of fresh snow.
So there it was, a combination of recent unemployment and Britain being exposed to a proper winter for about a week. My days worked out like this: every afternoon to refresh my brain from filling in job applications, I would head to a hill just up the road from my house to what felt what my own private snowdome for some fresh tracks.
After a week it was just beginning to looked tracked out. There is a certain amount of pride in spending a week working along the slope to look back and think ‘cool, look at all those tracks and a fresh line every time’. To top it off the next week started off with a fresh dump of snow and another evening was spent carving fresh lines into Johnny’s Stash, Sweet, then it rained and the snow melted over for another year (possibly).
Still at least I have got the trusty NoSno (for that’s exactly what it says on the board) for the other 50 weeks of the year ;)
Part Four: Daz & John Dirt-Monkeys
Having been born with closet geek tendencies, we thought nearly 2ft of snow was the perfect chance to end the age old question ‘…so is it like snowboarding?’. Plus if i hadn’t found something else to quench my buzz thirst, my old Peugeot was gonna need new driveshafts… We’d always dreamed of having enough snowfall to be able to ride the local beacon hill but we had enough here to ride some of our sweetest mountainboard spots. I had to work in the morning and it was still snowing. I was going mental with excitement.
When we finally arrived the snow was perfect. Acres and acres of virgin snow covering the whole area. Some of the gradients there are pretty steep and even though I haven’t ridden snow in 2 years and hadn’t padded up, we headed to some of the steeper parts, usually where you’d end the day (one way or another) when out on wheels. I guess Snow gives you that security and as holding an edge is easier on a gradient, you’ve also got more control. We found a nice cornered run and sessioned it for a bit but it was pretty short. Snowboarding suits longer runs as it’s smooth and flowy.
By using one snowboard to pile snow against another board we built a ridable 1ft jump in about 2 mins and hit that a few times for a giggle, if only it was that easy with dirt!
Getting air is also a bit weird if you come from a mountainboard background. There are no trucks on a snowboard and therefore, any pop has to come form the tail or nose of the board. A snowboard can slide in any orientation, sideways, backwards, it doesn’t care as long as its going downhill, the wheels roll in every direction so to speak, it’s all controlled by making slight changes in your centre of gravity, the heavy end of the package wants to lead. This also means you can’t push off the wheels when getting rotations, it all has to come from the upper body. Once you get the hang of this and then go back to wheels, your riding will be on a whole different level.
We moved further on to hit some longer trails, there was so much to choose from. If you couldn’t find a path that went the way you wanted, you could just ride over the top of the low scrub and link up with paths further down. That’s another one up for the waxed-up tray! It just opened up so many possibilities. Walking was so much harder through the snow, and with the extra clothing layers, walking gets you pretty sweaty. Then as as soon as you stop it freezes and you’re cold. I’d much rather be mountainboarding in hot weather, it’s a lot nicer. The Maccy D’s drive-thru on the way home soon fixed the shivers ;)
Finally the snow bubble burst and we were back on dirt whether we liked it or not. We returned to the same spots with the mountainboards and the first thing I noticed was how much better I was, that short session had sharped me right up. As soon as we hit the first hill you were reminded just how smooth the ride is on snow and just how less squeeky: my mountainboard squeeks ;o).
Trying to get my head around the differences in the ride was hard. We didn’t start from so high on the runs this time. It was bumpier and the tracks seemed much narrower now the scrubby run offs would jam the wheels pretty quickly, and I also had less fine control. Even so, I felt more confident holding a line and we were finishing further down the runs than we had on snow, quite why I’m not sure. They’re very similar and very different too, the same can be said for the terrain, once it’s covered on snow, it might as well be another place.
Check out all the Dirt Monkey photos in the ‘before & after’ exhibition…
So now when I’m asked that question ‘so is it like snowboarding?’, I’ll just say ‘yeah s’pose’ just like I always did, ‘cos like I said, they’re closet tendencies and its all good to me.
Part Five: Wilz
When we last had snow in Feb 09 I’d taken my mountainboard out. It was fun in places, but the amount of effort was so much greater than normal. I’d jibbed about a slopey car park, falling over and sliding into a parked van and also gone into the woods where the mud n snow n ice scuppered any real joy. The longest run was slow and lumpy with no real control, turning like normal nigh on impossible.
It had felt great to be out trying, but it was wrong; frustrating slidey cold tiring weirdness. The next day I dug out my snowboard and went riding at my local (derelict) dry-ski slope instead, where other snowboarders had also decided to attend. It was great in comparison, snow over dendix is a good mix, and the carving/jibbing sublime, although I wished the lift had been working!
So to January 2010 and as the forecasters warned of the impending snowfall, i got my thermals, boots & snowboard ready to rock. There was no way I was gonna waste any time trying to mountainboard. What a delight when we actually got dumped on big style. It was so bad in Wycombe, loads of people had abandoned their cars and slept at the local John Lewis! Don’t know about ‘The Day after Tomorrow;, it was more like a snowy ’28 days later’, with zombies stumbling about all over the place.
That first day, I snowboarded on the roads next to my flat. All the car drivers had given up trying. They’re reasonable slopes and it was pretty slow going, but the freedom of it was awesome. You’d never be able to do it on a mountainboard, probable RTA/suicide, yet with the guarantee of no vehicles this was a very out-of-the-ordinary afternoon :)
The following day, I trudged for a while to some other quiet roads and a local allotment for some fresh lines but the funnest thang was sessioning this little drop next to a Scout’s hut.
The next day the main roads were a little more accessible so, with the Mrs, the kids & their sledges (and a blank skatedeck), we managed to drive to Tom Burt’s hill- usually a great yet mellow mountainboard spot, all grassy slope with jumps at the bottom. Covered in a blanket of snow, this spot was sooo cool. Many sledgers were out and indeed another dude with a snowboard, and we spent the next 4 hrs playing. Proper carving- linking loads of turns, jumping off this big snow kicker that’d been built, and jibbing about at the bottom.
It took a short while to adapt my riding style; being able to lean right out (especially heel-side) was a noticable difference, as was the buttering- being able to transfer weight immediately without having to lift up your wheels, effectively sliding round on the spot. The ride certainly felt effortless while the trudge back up was marginally harder than usual (probably just due to the snowboard boots).
This is the one thing i was really glad about: being a mountainboarder and hiking up hills all the time meant i was fully prepared to go back up again & again. The other snowboard dude there only did 4 runs as he was knackered-out getting back up the hill; i must have done it 20 times. Note- snowboarding spoils you.
That night we saw on the news the chaos that had been going on around the country, finishing with a shot of people snowboarding at XBP in Surrey. I was glad to know that other mountainboarders had swapped tools to make the most of the cold white shit!
The snow cleared a bit over the next couple of days before a fresh drop refreshed the coverage, so this time i took my snowboard into the woods. Well, what a grin. Of course their wasn’t a deep load of powder, more a mix of snow and leaves, but it ran real quick.
Many of the tracks are pretty thin so carving was not so much the order of the day, a more mountainboard-like ethic took over, pretty much straight-lining the tracks and pulling massive slides to stop. Staight-lining a snowboard is seriously wobbly and i missed the stability of my wheels. The traction.
I hit loads of stuff through the trees that I’ve done on my wheelie-board & bmx loads of times and enjoyed the similar feeling of exhilaration. In snowboarding, this is practcally ‘back-country’, yet i found it more like my regular, normal, mountainboard riding. The way you attack the slope, use banks, and the stops, as well as trudging back up was so familar i may as well have had wheels!
It was nice just to see the woods looking different for a change too. “Der Wald wurde mein Studierzimmer”.
The fact it wasn’t all that different for mountainboarders means the transition between board sports is a pretty narrow one.
Many mountainboard riders have plenty of snowboarding experience- not just the pioneers mentioned at the start. Many migrate to the snow for the whole season, such as The Project Doc boys (see their antics on the PD blog here), and Germany’s Alex Broumbas, who spends winter in the snow and summer in the surf (when there’s no waves or snow he rides mountainboards & longboards).
I (Wilz) got into snowboarding at 16 years old way back in 1990, and the first time I ever saw an ‘all terrain board’ (in ’02, my friend bought it for kiting fun) I said ‘let’s take that down some hills!’. We did. Evolution. It was just a natural thing. I suppose like getting into snowboarding by skating first…
Other more well known riders come from snowboard backgrounds too, like World Freestyle Champ ’07 Arno VdV (right); his pure flowy, playful awesomeness on a wheelieboard comes as a result of years shredding the white stuff (and asphalt before that).
However, many other mountainboarders have never snowboarded before, like Myles Hillier -no snow before ’08 (now into his second season on snow). Even Tom Kirkman was already a well-known sponsored ATB rider by the time he had his first real snow.
TK’s home turf in Devon was hit too by the recent dump over the UK, and his infamous backyard become a snowboard jib park for a while. Watch ‘Peanut Butter‘ with Tom & Mick & Tuai et al and see how a mountainboarder’s mind adapts to the conditions. You can also tell that sliding along is slightly odd at first for those used to rolling!
It’s awesome to think that these great mountainboard riders didn’t touch snow first. In fact, quite a few well-known snowboarders (like Wycombe’s Ryan Davis and Josh Wolf) started off on dryslopes before heading to Europe and the States to go snow and go pro. Even snowboarding legend Shaun White rode a mountainboard in his early days. And a skateboard. And a surfboard. There’s no doubt about crossover, all ways, through all boardsports.
Unless climate change means that the UK gets more of the addictive white powder in winters to come, we’ll still be riding trolley boards whenever we can. And if the financial climate means more British people can’t go to Europe for their annual week in the snow, then there will be more people to ride trolley boards, so it’s all good.
If you mountainboard you’ll pick up snowboarding easily and love it. If you snowboard, you’ll pick up mountainboarding easily and love it too.
It’s not exactly the same though; mountainboarding takes a bit more effort and is therefore more rewarding, and you can ride anywhere on land that there isn’t snow and so, ultimately, is way way way way way way way cooler. Fact. QED.
Check out the snow crossover photos from the Dirt-Monkeys in ‘Before & After’.
Words by Wilz, Smilie, Daz. Photos by same (+ Bazzla). Illustration by Decreate.
Thanks to AJ, ATC, PD2H, and to you for reading ;)
Peace. See you on the slopes ;)