By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – With only one Olympic medal on snow in nearly a century of trying, Britain has rarely troubled the skiing superpowers but James ‘Woodsy’ Woods can see a shake-up coming in Pyeongchang next year.
British Ski and Snowboard this week set an eye-catching target of becoming a top five-ranked nation by 2030, given the right amount of funding, and the aim is not as unrealistic as it might sound.
Freestyle skier Woods is beating the best already.
The 25-year-old says the Brits, runners-up in the overall medal table at the Rio Summer Games last year, are already ‘busting out of the woodwork’ on slopes around the world and ready to rock.
Woods last month won ‘Big Air’ ski gold at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, and is second in the ski slopestyle World Cup standings.
Fifth in ski slopestyle at the 2014 Sochi Games while carrying a hip injury, he is set to be among the favorites in South Korea.
If athletes from historic powers like Austria, Switzerland and North America grow up on skis, with a pyramid structure from beginner to elite, British skiers are excelling in disciplines that do not demand a mountain on the doorstep.
“We’re not exactly rocking a pyramid but we certainly do have that icing on the cake, the cream-of-the-cream competitors that are that good,” said Woods.
“We have people in each discipline that are ready to rock and they are rocking. “It would be a matter of just everybody putting it down, but there’s nothing to stop GB cleaning up really.
“It doesn’t really matter where you start on the ladder, it’s where you get to,” added the Briton, who also finished second in a ski slopestyle World Cup event in Quebec this month.
Woods started out as a skateboarder in his native Sheffield, a once heavily-industrial city far from any ski resort. Skiing was not something he ever thought much about until curiosity got the better of him.
“I skated all the time and the skate park was right next to the dry slope… the simple and honest truth about skiing over snowboarding was that at the time it was cheaper to ski and money was a big deal,” he said.
“Renting gear, it was just cheaper to grab skis.”
The path is a well-worn one. Skier Dave Ryding, who finished second in the prestigious Kitzbuehel World Cup slalom in January for Britain’s first Alpine podium in 35 years, honed his technique on a dry slope at Pendle in the north of England.
“With slopestyle, jumping around and hitting rails, you don’t need anything magical or spectacular,” said Woods.
“It’s great to be a well-rounded skier and understand everything but… we’ve got some fantastic facilities going on in the UK. As far as some things are concerned, don’t tell the Canadians what we’ve got going.”
There have been other British successes since snowboarder Jenny Jones took her breakthrough slopestyle bronze in Sochi.
Katie Ormerod became the first British snowboarder to win a Big Air World Cup event in Moscow last December, and took a slopestyle bronze at the X Games, while snowboarders Billy Morgan and Jamie Nicholls have both had recent World Cup podiums in Big Air and Slopestyle.
Big Air snowboarding is making its debut as an Olympic event in PyeongChang.
The annual X Games are organized by U.S. broadcaster ESPN and Woods said winning gold there had been a childhood dream come true.
“The main thing about the X-Games is that it is by far the most difficult because there is no country, nation thing in there,” he said.
“If the top 10 in the world all come from America or Switzerland, they are all going to be there. So to hit the top spot, where you know everybody is gunning as hard as they can and everybody is there, that feels really good.
“Going into the Olympics, that’s a lot of confidence I can take forward.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)