Coe Cup 2019: A battle of different skiing styles

It’s been a patchy year, to put it mildly, for the Scottish Freedom Series, Scotland’s competitive backcountry skiing and snowboarding circuit. The first two events of the season, at the Ben Lawers Range in February and at Nevis Range at the start of March, had to be cancelled due to lack of snow, and for a while it seemed as if the third and final stop on the tour, the Coe Cup at Glencoe, might go the same way. In the end, though, Mother Nature offered a miraculous little weather window on Saturday, sandwiched in between a whiteout on Friday afternoon and gale force winds on Sunday.

Skiers at the start gate of the 2019 Coe Cup, including the eventual winner of the male ski category, Rob Kingsland (yellow jacket)

“I’m just chuffed to bits that after such a shocking start to the season we actually managed to pull this off,” says series organiser Iain Ramsay-Clapham of Snowsport Scotland. “We had fresh snow, we had sunshine – we had all the ingredients. The only slight shame of it was that we couldn’t use the Flypaper, on account of the fact that the top was just a sheet of ice.”

In previous years, the Coe Cup has been held on and around Glencoe’s signature black run, which, in addition to a humbling incline in the region of 45 degrees offers a number of large natural features which competitors can use to launch high-scoring aerial manoeuvres. However, early morning recces showed beyond all reasonable doubt that this wasn’t a day to try anything clever here. At the start of a practice run, Conall Strickland, the skier who landed the move of last year’s contest with an enormous backflip off Buttress Rock, took a tumble on the ice at the top of the slope and promptly slid out of control all the way to the bottom. “That, for us, was just confirmation that – nah, wrong place to hold the comp,” says Ramsay-Clapham.

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With the Flypaper out of the picture, the contest was moved to the Spring Run, the red run occupying the gully next door. Most skiers and boarders will have experienced the “Springy” as a steep-ish but otherwise relatively straightforward proposition; however, because this has been a well below average year for snowfall, what usually just look like mounds of snow piled up on either side of the piste were showing their true colours at the weekend as a series of rocky ledges.

Rocky ledges at the side of the Spring Run gave competitors something to launch airs off

“We were all quite surprised at how good it was for a freeride venue,” says Ramsay-Clapham. “If you’d looked at the webcam you’d have really just seen what looked like a strip of snow with rocks on either side, but what the riders were doing was going out to the edge of the patch of snow and getting drops off the big exposed rocks at the sides. There were a few doubles [double drops] and there was one that was maybe a six-metre drop, so pretty hefty.”

In the end, the Spring Run set-up seemed to favour more experienced riders over acrobatic young guns. In the male ski category, Freedom Series and Freeride World Tour Qualifying Series veteran Rob Kingsland took the win by 86 points to 84 from Jimmy Fitzpatrick, while in the female ski category three-times Freedom Series winner Katie Small, interviewed in this slot a few weeks ago, pipped Lyndsay Waterson by 64 points to 61.

In the snowboard categories (much depleted in numbers compared to years gone by) the riders of Team Yorkshire cleaned up, with Steven Fletcher and Emma Whitlow winning the male and female snowboard respectively.

If you’d asked them at the start of the season, nobody involved in the Freedom Series would have said they wanted to see the Coe Cup held on the Spring Run, but one interesting side effect of this unexpected change of contest face was the way it put a spotlight on the different styles of riding the mountain.

Rob Kingsland, planning his line

“What’s interesting,” says Ramsay-Clapham, “is you can either come down a line and do a few big moves, and notch up big points for those big moves, or you can come down and do lots of small stuff and still notch up lots of points. If you look at how Rob’s score was made up and how, say, Jimmy Fitzpatrick’s score was made up, they were made up of significantly different volumes of scores and of different sizes as well. So Jimmy had lots of low-level scores because he had lots of little bits of interesting stuff, whereas Rob got a few major scores for big moves – so it makes for a really interesting contest when you’ve got those different approaches from different people.”

“Overall, I was quite pleased that Rob, with his pedigree and his results abroad, came back and took the crown, because it just shows that consistency and long-term commitment does pay off. His experience absolutely shone through.”

Competitors in the female ski category including eventual winner Katie Small, far right