Roger Cox: The Dividing Line Invitational

Peter MacKenzie, organiser of the Dividing Line Invitational, dropping into Tower Gully on Ben Nevis. Picture: Al Todd
Peter MacKenzie, organiser of the Dividing Line Invitational, dropping into Tower Gully on Ben Nevis. Picture: Al Todd
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ACCORDING to conventional wisdom and people with leather elbow patches, no piece of journalism is properly complete without the five ws and a single h – who, what, where, when, why and how.

Answer all these questions in your copy, say the mighty meeja tablets of destiny, in whatever order you see fit, and you will have produced something that may not be perfect (in fact it almost certainly won’t be – for lo, that is why God created sub editors) but something that will at least communicate all the basic facts of a given story. All thy bases, in other words, shalt be covered.

Well, at the risk of being struck down by a thunderbolt, fired from the righteous right hand of whichever of the The Scotsman’s founding editors happens to have been sent out to procure a copy of today’s paper from the great newsagent in the sky, this story, by necessity, ain’t gonna have a where. In fact, the only reason I’ve been permitted to write it at all is because I promised faithfully not to give away the where. The reasons for this will become apparent in due course (so Messrs Ritchie and Maclaren, please haud yer thunderbolts until you’ve heard me out); in the meantime, here are the other four ws and that alliteration-killing h.

On Saturday 24 January this year, weather permitting, there will be a backcountry slopestyle skiing contest called the Dividing Line Invitational (working title), in which skiers from the east of Scotland and the west of Scotland will compete to see who can ride a gnarly, rocky bit of mountain with the most panache, and in particular who can land the most dazzling aerial manoeuvres along the way. The man behind the competition is Inverness-based skier Peter MacKenzie, an ambassador for Whitedot Skis and winner of the inaugural Coe Cup freeride event at Glencoe in 2012. The inspiration, he explains, came from the format of the glitzy Swatch Skiers’ Cup – a sort of Ryder Cup of extreme skiing which launched in 2011.

“They basically have an Americas vs Europe skiers’ cup every year where they come in teams and have a random draw that puts them head to head – one skier from Europe and one skier from America,” he says. “The judges watch the two lines and give a point to whoever’s line they thought was better, and the team with the most points wins.

“The benefit of that format is that people don’t have so much pressure on their individual lines – so they can go big – and I really liked the idea of bringing it to Scotland. Our idea is to have it east v west – so roughly [riders from] Fort William, Glencoe, Glasgow, Nevis Range vs Aviemore, Edinburgh, CairnGorm, Lecht, Glenshee.“

The 2015 edition of the Swatch Skiers’ Cup will be held in Zermatt, Switzerland in February, but as already mentioned the contest site for the Dividing Line Invitational is a closely guarded secret. This is partly to keep the event at a manageable size, but also to make it easier to get permission from the people who own the land to operate snowmobiles and a snowcat to ferry people around the hill.

The fact that it’s not open to the public, MacKenzie says, “makes it very easy for the landowner to say ‘sure, you can bring a snowcat and a couple of snowmobiles’ because there’s nothing really going on, other than a few people and a few bits of machinery having a bit of fun.”

Although he can’t give away the location of the contest site, MacKenzie is happy to let on that the area they hope to ski is “peppered with lateral moraine, so there are lots of places where you could set things up [ie jumps].”

The teams are yet to be finalised, but the goal is to make it eight-a-side, and some of the best-known names in the Scottish backcountry scene appear to be in the mix. “We’ve got Blair Aitken coming, Dave Biggin sounds very keen, Gavin Carruthers is keen and we’ve got Mike Findlater as well, who’s a veteran. We’ve got George Paton judging too – one of the original steep skiing legends,” says MacKenzie

And what kind of moves will the judges be looking for? “Some of the guys have a freestyle background so some of them will be looking at 360s and 720s, backflips and corks. A lot of that stuff is beyond me, but I’ll be hoping to pull out something.”

• For (limited) information on the Dividing Line Invitational, see www.thephmack.com

To watch footage from last year’s Swatch Skiers’ Cup, visit www.youtube.com/user/skierscup