Professional rider Rowan Brandreth (23) is a two-time winner of the British student boardercross championships and recently joined the line-up of snowboarders representing Great Britain in the 2011 season.
He competes in Snowboard Cross (SBX) where groups of rival boarders race down a mountain, edging each other out of the way, to cross the finish line first. Onthesnow caught up with him during a miniscule break from training to find out how life has changed for the promising athlete.
OTS: How did you become a professional rider?
RB: Compared with most competitors, I came to the sport fairly late. I was 14 and in Stubai (Austria) on a school trip. It took me a while to pick it up and I was pretty bad even after a week. The next year I went back and something clicked and from then on I was hooked. I managed to get a week in every year after that and when I finished school I took a year out and did a season in Tignes (France).
I've been aiming for the British SBX Team for the last few seasons and last year I decided I was ready. I went to the British Championships at the end of last season, attended the try-outs, they went pretty well and I made the team.
OTS: What happens on a competition day?
RB: On a competition day I get up at 6.15 a.m.; unfortunately sleeping-in is a thing of the past. I'm straight into my snowboarding gear and down to the breakfast bar. Breakfast is whatever's on offer - typically it's Muesli and toast but every now and then we get lucky. In Cortina (Italy) we had continental breakfast every morning which we'd also stuff our pockets full of for lunch! It's often a struggle to eat enough to keep you going all day, but it's important that we're not low on fuel up on the mountain.
We're normally ready to go at around 7.00 a.m. Once we're up the mountain the first part of the competition is course inspection. This is where we get to look at the course and its features. It's important we're ready for this as it's vital we memorise as much as possible and look at the course in as much detail as we can. Once inspection finishes there is a set time for practice runs. The quicker you get to the front of the queue the more likely you are to get more practice runs. It can get a bit hectic as everyone is pushing to get to the front.
Next we have either one or two qualifying runs. Riders race in seeded order for a solo run against the clock. If I get into the top 32 I go into the finals - this consists of running four at a time down the course. The top two riders go through to the next heat and the last two get knocked out.
OTS: And when you're not competing, what's your day like?
RB: On average we have a competition every two weeks, sometimes more and when we're not competing, we're training. Training normally starts at around 9.30 a.m. and although we don't compete in halfpipe, we use it a lot as a training aid. It reciprocates many of the movements and techniques required for SBX.
After a morning in the pipe, we usually spend the afternoon freeriding or in the SBX track. This focuses more on the flow of snowboarding as opposed to specific technical aspects of our riding.
Lunch will consist of either a sandwich or a pocket full of cereal bars which I'll graze on throughout the day, and then we'll train until the early afternoon. I have a full-time job running the British University Snowsports Council (who are in charge of running all student snow sports events) on top of my training, as well as finishing my degree, so there isn't all that much time to chill!
OTS: Have you had many accidents on the slopes?
RB: I don't often collide with boarders, after more than 50 weeks on the snow I'm pretty good at avoiding them! My scariest experience has to back when I did a season in Tignes. A group of us hit some powder just above the lake for the last run of the day. On the way home we saw some helicopters out - it turned out a group did the exact same line straight after us, but they set off an avalanche which swept two of them into the lake and killed them. It was pretty chilling to think that could have been us and it definitely made us think a bit more about off-piste in the future.
OTS: How are the nerves on competition days?
RB: The worst part of a competition day is definitely waiting for my run, this is where the nerves normally kick in when I have too much time to think about the course and watch the other riders going down. I don't have any rituals or superstitions but I always check my kit before each run and make sure everything is done up! I don't want a binding coming loose or something like that halfway down the course!
OTS: What drives you?
RB: It's the constant desire to improve my snowboarding which drives me to compete. It's an addiction to what I love doing. I enjoy all aspects of snowboarding, but I would always choose freeriding and off-piste riding. In my season we'd do loads of hiking to find the best powder and would always be picking out new lines. I think this is what has helped my racing the most. There are a lot of transferable skills between freeriding and snowboard-cross I benefitted from.
OTS: What advice can you give people wanting to become a pro skier or boarder?
RB: If you're at university the easiest way to get involved is by joining the snow sports club. I joined the snowboard club and started competing in dryslope competitions. We'd train most weeks and have a competition every month or so. It was all pretty relaxed and no one took it too seriously, but it was what gave me the competition bug! I competed in all the student competitions and year on year I kept improving my result until I was regularly hitting the podium and winning events.
My advice to anyone wanting to get into snowboard-cross is to ride everything. You need to be as comfortable carving icy pistes as you do hitting at 30ft kicker. Rails, powder, halfpipe - the list goes on, but they all improve your all-round ability and that's exactly what you need to be a good snowboard-cross racer. My dream ski day would be waist deep powder, blue skies and a load of mates to shred with!
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