While this story of Jukka Erätuli and Frederik Evensen travelling to get the sideslide on the UK’s dryslopes has nothing to do with the subject matter of the film from which it takes its name, it has everything to do with the roots of English snowboarding, and it therefore in some ways shares a similar theme. Because for the majority of riders coming through the ranks from this small, mountainless country, This is England. Some will argue that the recent mushrooming of indoor snowdomes has played a part in the development of the new wave of the Queen’s troop of shreddertrons, and this is certainly true. But you show me one top-level UK rider who’s learnt their trade indoors, and I’ll show you ten who’ve got the scars to prove their roots are in dryslope, plus the slopes’ locations are hella more photogenic than what amounts to a big fridge. This improbable creation to allow snowboarding where there is no snow has played a pivotal part in the history and evolution of Britain’s snowboarding talent and it was high time Onboard paid its dues on the plastic fantastic.
There’s another reasons for the allusion. On our summertime voyage to England, we were blessed with the kind of torrential rain that anywhere else would be called an Extreme Weather Event but here it is known simply as British summertime. “How can it have been raining for three days straight in summer?" asked Jukka. This is England. Wimbledon was in full swing… “but why can they only wear white?" “You really eat that fried shit for breakfast?" This, I repeated like a broken record, is England. The Scandies’ laissez-faire attitude to locking the car with thousands of pounds of electronic equipment shining like a beacon to a car park stuffed with scallys had me groaning. “You can’t do that," I’d harrumph. This is England. And this is England, and this is England. It was as finer time as any to introduce a trio of Scandinavians to my homeland.
But what the hell were a couple of Scandie shreds and Onboard senior photographer Peter Lundström doing traipsing round northern plastic of a summer? While all present in some way tried to lay claim, it was in fact the call of 21-year-old Norwegian Frederik Evensen. “It was something I wanted to do with Isenseven, maybe for an intro theme or something like that. I told Jukka about it and he really liked the idea. So what he did was to steal my idea, get Onboard to do a story and invite me. Very nice of him! I’d just heard a lot about dryslope and wanted to try it. Glad I did… it was awesome."
In planning the trip we’d considered various different options, but with the 5-day aggressive timeframe, we settled on a mini-tour of some of northern England’s fake snow hotspots. After all, these places – Sheffield, Halifax and Rossendale – have arguably churned out more of Britain’s talent over the years than anywhere else and have famous, or infamous, entries in the annals of UK snowboarding. Plus, as a friend of mine opined, “dryslope is like rugby league – they only do it properly up north". Not knowing much about rugby, or the north of England for that matter, we said OK, loaded up a rental car at Heathrow airport (the plan of hippy tripping in a camper van had to be ditched as Glastonbury was on) and headed north.
First on the list was Sheffied – scene of the infamous riot in 1995 (allegedly kicked off by someone who will remain nameless shouting “Free bar!" This is… you get the picture), and one of the first dryslope centres to adopt Snowflex back in the day. Snowflex is a dryslope surface like a plastic carpet with a degree of padding beneath, unlike the hexagonal horror of Dendix. It took full advantage of the potential of the surface, boldly creating a park, halfpipe, quarter and even a cornice drop in the late 90s. The halfpipe alone was something I had to show to Freddie and Jukka. In its heyday, Sheffield produced versatile shreds such as Dom Harington, Stu Edwards and Charlie Clark but of late it’s fair to say the park has become in need of a little TLC. That’s not to say that the crew who session the place on a weekly basis aren’t as shred-stoked as ever, just that the Snowflex is wearing thin in spots. With Castleford’s snowdome a short drive away, the lure of fake snow over plastic has had its effect on finances, but there was word from the locals that a new owner was about to buy the place and give it a cash injection. Time will tell.
As we pulled into the car park, the Scandis’ faces were a mixture of disbelief and anticipation. “No way!" exclaimed Jukka. “This looks epic." He certainly sounded sincere. Neither of these guys had ever experienced riding on plastic, but after a short period of adjustment they took to it pretty well. Unless they had to put the board on an edge, that is. For those who’ve never tried, dryslope riding can be best described as like on slow ice with no edges. While they got to grips with turning, it was clear that everything worked better if they didn’t have to. Many times, as soon as they were in the air everything was fine. Land a little off and try to compensate by using an edge – as you would on snow – and ass and Snowflex would be necking like horny teenagers.
After sessioning the park, pipe and quarter, we spied some Dendix moguls off in the Sheffield backcountry and Jukka hiked over to check it out. Some time later he came back. “That was the worst run I’ve ever had on a snowboard!" he laughed, a big bemused grin breaking out on his face. ‘Dendix’ and ‘moguls’ are two words that really should not be in the same sentence. But the spot looked pretty cool and Peter started cracking the artfag photo dude whip.
While waiting for the crew to finish shooting some arty mogul ollies, I loitered in the car park and had a chat with one young kid who’d been corking backside rodeos earlier. He was waiting for his mum. “How often do you come up here then?" I asked. “Oh, usually at least 2–3 times a week," he replied. He told me that the scene was still pretty strong up here; tight, but strong. The kid had never snowboarded on real snow in the mountains, but his eyes sparkled with anticipation at the prospect. And this set the scene for what we’d find at the other spots we were to visit – a tight-knit crew of locals all dedicated to the shred, just stoked to ride and progress as much as possible; hanging out, a-hooting and a-hollering.
With it raining cats, dogs and, seemingly, elephants, we just got out of Sheffield in time before the whole centre of the city got flooded and there was the prospect of even more severe flooding if a certain barrier broke. But get out we did – though we had to drive through puddles above the car’s rims – and headed for Halifax. Now you may have heard of young Jamie Nicholls by now but I thought it would be fun to have this pint-sized prodigy show Freddie and Jukka the ropes at what is perhaps the best Snowflex kicker in the land. It is also perhaps the most picturesque of the UK dryslopes, nested atop a peak in the Pennines like some bird of shred’s eyrie, and with a photographer-friendly view of the town below.
Of the three slopes, Halifax was the one that Freddie and Jukka got on with best. A steep, elevated drop reminiscent of Hemsedal in Vivid (in everything but reality) and a proper jump, table and landing, this place was way more conducive to kicker riding, turning was not so necccessary, and with soft bumps at the side – as opposed to the near-lethal Dendix ones of Sheffield – got both the riders and Peter stoked. As did Jamie. While our Euros were backflipping, straight airing and pulling the odd spin, Nicholls was giving them a lesson in what you can do here with underflips, backside 7s and 9s and frontside 3s.
As with Sheffield, the rad thing about here was the stoked crew hanging out, riding and hooting on their bros. A real community vibe. This is England, but it could have been any crew in any park in the world. Or could it? As the area is so small, it has more the feel of a skatepark so the vibe is that much more discernable.
After a night in Halifax, we headed to Manchester. Freddie, from Norway, is a United fan (about right, that) and though my innards burnt at the thought, I decided they’d be stoked to tour Old Trafford. I didn’t go in, Dad. But the real reason for being in the area was Rossendale, a slope just north of Manchester.
In the early 90s this place nurtured British snowboarding’s crème de la crème, such as Danny Wheeler, Steve Bailey, the brothers Brass and Chris Moran, and again has its place in history as it was where Bailey put down perhaps the first backside 9 on plastic. Today, the slope is a mixture of the old Dendix and a Snowflex park that seemed to be running pretty slow. It didn’t stop the likes of locals Colum Mytton and Charlie Clark from spinning and corking, though, but it seemed the novelty of riding plastic kickers was wearing thin for the visitors.
Fortunately, the local crew had seen fit to construct Lancashire’s homage to the Arctic Challenge quarterpipe – a Dendix run-in turned to snowflex, and then rose to a big white wall of a transition that saw some nice handplants from Freddie and straight airs from Jukka. Deciding that he couldn’t get the height to make a shot work, Jukka decided to just bomb drop from the platform to some hastily arranged padding. Being for the fact that this Finn’s knees are held together with duct tape, elastic bands and a bit of super glue, I’ll go on record now and say Jukka Erätuli is the consummate pro snowboarder.
With the three spots done, it was time for reflection. It was clear the boys had enjoyed the dryslope experience, but when pressed on the prospect of having to ride it week in, week out, their response was less enthusiastic. Don’t mock it, a friend of mine said, but the truth is that for the uninitiated or fortunate in the Alpine department it is easy to do just that. For riders blessed with the opportunity to ride snow all winter, or even year round, it’s understandable if they bag on dryslope, but take a kid from Big Bear to Talma and chances are you’d get the same “what, you just ride this all day?" look.
As anyone who calls themselves a snowboarder knows, there’s more to this sport than bluebird days and perfectly groomed parks anyhow. Getting your shred on – however, wherever – is the most important thing. This is England, but even if it was Talma, Australia or a shitty winter with no snow in Europe, you make the best of what you got.