The UK is famous for a lot of things: James Bond, drinking tea, the Beatles, the Queen… It would be a long list before you thought of skiing, that was until James ‘Woodsy’ Woods burst onto the scene.
He won five consecutive British national championships in slopestyle between 2007 and 2011. Since that first title, he’s added X Games and World Cup golds. So how did Sheffield (a town in the north of England with no mountains and no regular snowfall) produce a truly world-class skier?
“I had never skied or snowboarded, I didn’t really know what it was.”
No-one in the Woods family skied, James may never have even discovered his talent if it wasn’t for another of his hobbies:
“In Sheffield, I would always go to the same skatepark, it was just down the road. It just so happened that above that park there was a (dry) ski slope. I got into skating and the scene there, it was those guys that first took me up to the dry-slope. All of a sudden we were sliding around on the plastic instead of sliding around on the wood floor, it was pretty cool.”
That ski slope was the Sheffield Ski Village, a dry ski slope that ran from 1988 until it was destroyed in a fire in 2012. So why did a young skateboarder choose skiing over snowboarding?
“It all seemed like the same gig to me and it was cheaper to rent skis so I just did that.”
Then, when he was 15, James jumped in a caravan with some friends, to get a taste of real snow. The gang set off to Austria and carried on all over Europe. It was the start of something beautiful for Woodsy and he still hasn’t really left the mountains.
Skiing still is his everything. This one is a classic... that style!
“I found being British was a disadvantage, when I was starting out. You could never get any recognition.”
Not being from a traditional skiing nation, he found that sponsors: “didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Events would never want you, you were always the last pick... if you were picked at all. Just because you are from the UK. It was really difficult to get any sort of recognition and that was always a bit of a chip on my shoulder. As I progressed through my career and life, it was what made me unique. I was always fighting the stigma of, only being there because I was another nation. They’ll want me there because I bring a whole new nation to the event. I was always trying to prove myself on two levels.
“Now I have my own career, and my own image —internationally—but also I’m hanging onto the British thing. I feel like I might have finally proved myself as an individual enough, to sit back and say ‘yeah and I’m British.”
“I get a lot of attention in the UK around the Olympics, but everyone gets it in their home nation around the Olympics.”
Whether you like it or not, no one can deny that at least comp skiing has forever with its addition to the Winter Olympic program. Woodsy is trying to take advantage of every opportunity: “I don’t have to fight for a spot as competitively as guys from some of the big skiing nations, so that’s a positive. I get to the Olympics pretty easily but once I’m there, I’m fighting to win just like everybody else. Arguably when I’m there, there’s not really the same Winter Olympics support there is with the sponsors and TV stuff that are interested. It’s an advantage on one side and disadvantage on the other."
It’s already raised the profile of freeskiing in Britain. People know ‘that skier-guy with long hair’ and people know Billy Morgan now (GB snowboarder). As far as the Olympics go, none of us ever asked to be in it but we’re in it now and we’re getting as much as we possibly could from it. I don’t see any negativity around it at all... But he doesn’t think the ‘mainstream’ has ever really been on his, or anyone else’s radar:
“If a big out of industry sponsor comes in and says: ‘Hey, why don’t I give you some money to juggle some fruit?’ then that's a win. I did that for ALDI, they give you a sh*t-ton of money to come in for half a day and juggle some fruit. That just goes into my skiing bank and takes me on the next trip to New Zealand.”
“I was on a dry slope in Sheffield. I was in a tracksuit, using rear-entry boots and using rental skis from god-knows-when.”
Skiing has a reputation for being an expensive pastime only done by certain people. Woodsy says it doesn’t have to be like that and he is proud of his route into skiing:
“That’s just how I skied for years, I was exposed to some pretty rich people coming through, Sheffield’s a pretty diverse city. So I was always used to those cultural differences with the different classes.
“I left home, I just ran away to go skiing. Sleeping in the street half the time, just to go skiing. I never really faced any stigma but if anyone ever said anything I’d never listen to them. I’ve never had my ears open to any of the people I’ve been trying to get away from.”
His first video blog from Kimbosessions. Woodsy will be putting out videos full time this coming season, so we'll be seeing a lot more of one of the most stoked guys in skiing.
“OK that’s where I want to be, I’ll watch this one and I’ll see you there next year.”
“X Games was my lifeline, I said that same thing every year.”
Back in the day (16 years ago) there wasn’t as much skiing on social media for the young Brit to keep up with:
“There were the X Games and every October there would be the new movies released to tease him with a glimpse of the world which seemed so far from Sheffield:
The X Games may be a long way from Sheffield, but that didn’t stop Sheffield’s finest from grabbing a Big Air gold in Aspen in 2017, to go alongside two X Games bronzes and two X Games Europe bronzes.
“Candide Thovex still owes me a signed poster!”
In terms of favorite skiers, there’s only ever been one for Woodsy. Boxing has Muhammad Ali, basketball has Michael Jordan and skiing has Candide Thovex. Woodsy was like any other skier when he met the legendary Frenchman:
“Meeting him was an amazing thing. We both ended up riding for Quicksilver back in the day, so we did a lot of things together. I never got over it and I still haven’t got over it. The first time I was doing an autograph signing with Candide I was like: ‘I know this is a bit weird because I’m sat right next to you, on this side of the booth, but would you mind signing one of these for me?’
He thought I was joking and wouldn’t do it, he’s such a humble guy. He couldn’t believe that I looked up to him as a skier, so I never got my signed poster, even though I asked him about 100 times. Now it’s turned into a running joke."
Now Woodsy has a found a fitting home at the UK's own Planks Clothing, where he's helping out with designing his own collection, watch this space for that. He's achieved his dream of winning an X Games Gold, his heroes are now peers and he travels the world skiing in the most incredible locations. The kid from Sheffield has come a very long way since rear-entry boots on the dry slope, that's for sure.
Trip: Wherever my friends are, my ideal trip would be to have the whole crew together and it doesn’t matter where.
Trick: 360 Mute, there’s just nothing else.
Track: Wildest Dreams, Taylor Swift