Words: Ethan StonePhotos:  Tash Armitage-Green & Nate GallagherThis March I got the fantastic opportunity to travel to Laax to check out the Orange Brits, the UK’s freestyle national championships. I honestly wasn’t sure to expect—after all, the land of Spinal Tap and fish ‘n chips isn’t exactly known as a freestyle hot spot. But I learned better quick—the UK freestyle scene is underground, well rude, and thriving. They’ve got their own core magazine, their own film companies, and a corps of seasoned and up-and-coming athletes who will be breaking onto the international scene in the next few years if they keep it up. And even though the UK’s snow pack (with the exception of a few lifts in Scotland and the indoor slopes) is comprised of the thick, bristly nightmare called dryslope, the Alps are just a hop, skip and jump across the Channel away, and Her Majesty’s jibbers—like a Midwest kid moving to Utah—learn their skills the hard way before learning just now nice powder landings are.After a remarkably random journey to Switzerland involving a German businessman, a lost American college coed and a night in a Swiss girl’s house, I arrived in Laax on Monday, March 13th just in time for the first skiing event, the Big Air. In addition to a beautiful park with around 20 rails and boxes and probably the best halfpipe in Europe, Laax had constructed a nice big air jump and a solid slopestyle course, the same used in the Orage European Open. I took a few laps through the park, brushing up on my rails while keeping an eye on the big air jump during practice and qualis. A lot of the skiers were just kids out there having fun, enjoying the beautiful conditions and the vibe of the event, but a couple of downright nasty skiers were throwing down as well. Like the events for the rest of the week would be, the scene was totally laid-back and chill – dads and little brothers had entered the comp alongside the serious competitors and were having the time of their lives. In the final, top qualifier Joe Tyler edged out defending champion Andy Bennett for the title with a switch cork 9, while 14-year-old Scottish wunderkind Murray Buchan’s switch 9 was enough for third place. On the women’s side of things, Naomi Edmondson was the clear winner with a clean 540 over the big booter and one of the cleanest styles I’ve seen yet from a girl.

Day two was the slopestyle on an immaculate-looking course consisting of a down rail or flat-down mailbox option up top into two booters, a long box followed by an option of a trap box, a big, menacing trap rail or Laax’s rollercoaster box, and ending in a wallride. The random upstart of the day was Nathaniel Dudon, who sent it with a gigantic backflip to the bottom of the first booter, followed by a cork 9 breast grab and domination of the trap rail. After that backflip the other riders couldn’t help but step it up, and Joe Tyler stomped back to back switch 7s, Brad Scott was out all the way from Heavenly to put together a clean run even with two broken ribs, and my buddy Slavemonkey would have podiumed if his right cork 5 attempts weren’t so damn big. After a while the course began to slow down in the sun and so the finals were called off and the results from the qualifiers used to determine the winners, and we all took off to watch the snowboarding halfpipe finals. With a cork 7 into switch 5 and a money tail press on the long box, this comp was Andy Bennett’s, with Tyler in second and Murray Buchan netting his second bronze medal. Naomi Edmondson’s smooth riding cleaned up the women’s field.
The halfpipe competition on Thursday was one of the events I’d been waiting to see—I  figure if anyone has the balls to drop in on a dryslope halfpipe, then they’re going to have some skills, and I wasn’t disappointed. Line rider Paddy Graham, who’d been laying low most of the week styling his tricks out, finally got his rat out with a sick pipe run, giant 5 mute on the first hit followed by a cork 9 safety and the undeniable true nose grab on the last hit. Bennett took second with normal and alley-oop 5s, and Richard Martin took third. In the girls’ comp, Emma Londsdale (representing Movement Skis) went well big and sort of landed a 540 to defend her pipe title.
Once the pipe was over, Paddy hit the absinthe and the rest of us turned our eyes expectantly to the towering 9-meter quarterpipe that had been constructed at the base for the Air Time drop-in. I won’t lie, I was expecting the worse out of this thing, and from the sentiments of some of the riders it sounded like everybody was fairly dubious about how it would go down. The plan was to elevate a crane above the QP and, simple enough, let the invited riders huck their meat out of it. Stomp the landing clean, and you get to go back up and do it again from a meter higher. With a big cash purse on the line and the crane capable of extending up to 15 meters above the deck of the quarterpipe, I was fairly sure there’d be some serious carnage.However, the event went down without mishap and turned out to be one of the most impressive displays of skiing and snowboarding I’ve ever watched. It was scary as shit to watch from below, so I can’t even imagine what it was like for the riders to stare down from almost 20 meters up at the QP and the more than slightly drunken crowd urging them on, a crowd that was guaranteed to cheer a bail as heartily as a stomp. It also seemed a lot more difficult for the skiers to drop in than for the boarders, who had a relatively simple 90-degree hop to make, while the two-plankers sort of half-jumped, half slipped over the brink, hoping not to catch a tail. By the time the crane got to 9 meters above the deck there were two boarders and one skier, Rob Taylor, still standing—everyone else had fallen or been eliminated as the crane gained ever more impressive heights. Rob and snowboarder Nate Kern both went down on their jumps, leaving James Thorne to stomp it clean and claim the title as Air Time King. But James wasn’t finished yet—he wanted ten meters, and to the stokage of the crowd below, who by this time were cold and more than a little sauced, he stomped it clean his second try.
Damn, I always write too much, but for those of you who’ve made it this far, it was seriously dope to check out a scene that I didn’t know much about and to see that even kids from the Scottish highlands are out there throwing down and stoked on skiing. The event was also one of the better-organized productions I’ve ever seen, major props to everyone at Soulsports and Orange for putting it all together and keeping the axles greased. And everyone keep an eye out for Paddy Graham, Andy Collin and Murray Buchan, these kids are the future of British skiing and are sure to be turning heads in the European scene in the next couple of years.Big thanks to Joanne Brown at Soul Sports for hooking everything up for me (and reminding me to get the story up), Duncan from snowboardclub.co.uk for the Jack Daniel’s, and Nic from Run Jump Fly Productions (http://www.runjumpfly.net) for putting together the great video.Air Time Quarterpipe EditOrange Brits EditFinal ResultsBig Air Men1. Joe Tyler2. And Bennett3. Murray Buchan4. Brad Scott5. Paddy GrahamBig Air Women1. Naomi Edmondson2. Teri Spencer3. Nastasia Bach4. Emma Londsdale5. Faith DyerSlopestyle Men1. Andy Bennett2. Joe Tyler3. Murray Buchan4. Paddy Graham5. Andy CollinSlopestyle Women1. Naomi Edmondson2. Shelley Jones3. Beanie Milne-Home4. Faith Dyer5. Rebecca HammondHalfpipe Men1. Paddy Graham2. Andy Bennett 3. Richard MartinHalfpipe Women1. Emma Londsdale2. Shelley Jones3. Beanie Milne-Home