Get the cowbells ready: ski and snowboard contests are back

From freeride to freestyle, skiers and snowboarders have a packed competitive calendar to look forward to over the next few weeks, writes Roger Cox

Marion Haerty of France competing in the Freeride World Tour event at Verbier in 2021 PIC: J Bernard / Freeride World Tour

This Monday, as fans of baseless pseudo-science will already be aware, is “Blue Monday” – supposedly the most depressing day of the year for those living in the Northern Hemisphere. The concept was first cooked up in 2005 by a PR agency and a travel company, for reasons we couldn’t possibly guess at (but which it has been alleged might have had something to do with flogging holidays). The day in question is said to be the third Monday in January, based on factors such as the awfulness of the weather and sky-high levels of post-Christmas debt, although the “equation” underlying all this has long-since been debunked.

Of course, even if there was such a thing as Blue Monday, skiers and snowboarders would be immune to it anyway as the cold, dark days of the Northern Hemi winter bring the highest probability of snow. While the rest of the population shudders at the prospect of icy pavements and gridlocked roads, the snow-sliding community starts rubbing its hands and checking ski resort webcams.

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Mid-January is also the time of year when armchair skiers and boarders can settle down to enjoy some of the biggest events in the calendar. Alpine skiing fans have an action-packed few weeks to look forward to, with this weekend’s downhill and slalom races in Wengen in Switzerland followed by further World Cup events in Kitzbühel (22-23 January) and Schladming (25 January) in Austria. Those who prefer to watch snowsports athletes spending more time above the snow than on it will be tuning in to the finals of the Laax Open slopestyle and halfpipe snowboarding events tomorrow, and then the 21st annual X-Games in Aspen, Colorado, which runs from 21-23 January. Meanwhile, those who would rather watch skiers and snowboarders pitting themselves against steep, cliffy mountainsides have the Freeride World Tour to look forward to, which kicks off at Baqueira Beret in the Spanish Pyrenees on 22 January. And after all that, of course, it’s not long to wait until the Winter Olympics kick off in and around Beijing on 4 February.

Here in Scotland, too, the contest calendar is starting to fill up. Thanks to covid restrictions, the last two years have been a write-off for Scottish snowsports competitions, but all being well the next few months should see something like a return to normality. The Scottish Schools Alpine Series events are now confirmed, with qualifying races taking place at Cairngorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, Nevis Range and the Lecht on 26 and 27 January, and the finals taking place at Glenshee on 9 and 10 March, while the Scottish Ski & Boarder Cross Championships are scheduled to run at Glenshee on 26 and 27 February.

For understandable reasons, the folks who run Scotland’s ski mountaineering series, SkiMo Scotland, are only risking one event this year – the Dynafit British Championships at Glenshee, on 12 and 13 March – and that with the proviso that more information about the race will be released "later in the winter season, when we are more confident it will take place."

The Scottish Freedom Series, however – Scotland’s answer to the Freeride World Tour – is hoping to return to a full programme of events, with contests in the calendar for February, March and April. First up, taking place somewhere in the Ben Lawers Range in Highland Perthshire on the weekend of 12 and 13 February, there’s the Lawers of Gravity – a true hike and ride event which could see competitors tackling any one of a number of feature-strewn mountains in the vicinity of the titular Munro. Then, on the weekend of 5 and 6 March there’s the Corrie Challenge at Nevis Range, held in the wonderful off-piste playground of the Back Cories, and the series concludes on 2 and 3 April with the Coe Cup at Glencoe, which is traditionally contested on and around the so-steep-you-really-don’t-want-to-drop-your-goggles face of the Flypaper.

Thanks to a new widget on the Scottish Freedom Series website, it’s now possible to see who’s signed up for this year’s events, and at time of going to press around half of the 195 available slots had been taken. Former men’s snowboard champ Robbie Paton will be one to watch at all three events, and it’s also good to see skier Euan Larter in the mix. Back in 2016 he suffered one of the most gut-wrenching wipeouts in the series’ history, after a huge air off a cornice at the Lawers of Gravity saw him lose a ski to the soft landing and rag-doll half-way down the contest face. If anyone’s due a bit of luck at the 2022 event, it’s probably him.

That’s assuming that any of these events go ahead, of course. Even in a non-covid year, ski and snowboard contests frequently fall victim to everything from monster storms to hairdryer thaws. Given what’s happened over the last couple of years, though, the ones that do run will feel very special indeed.

For details of this season’s Scottish snowsport competitions, see https://snowsportscotland.org/

To read the e-mag version of this year’s Scottish Ski & Board magazine, visit https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/outdoors/scottish-ski-board-202122-e-mag-3496383

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