Shaping Up For Slopestyle
Ahead of the European Cup Slopestyle competition in the Tignes Park at the end of the month, we caught up with Park Shaper extraordinaire, Chris Bratt.
Do you come from a freestyle background?
Yeah, I’ve been snowboarding since I was a kid. Back in the day, I started out on the dry slope at Yeovil and there’s only so much you can do with two runs so I turned to freestyle. That’s where snowboarding inevitably leads anyway.
Yeah it seems like there’s been a big contingent of great freestyle skiers and boarders that have come from the UK’s dry slopes.
We are the best. When you learn on plastic, you’re bound to be good on snow.
So true. How did you end up in Tignes?
I got a job on the Glacier in the summer four years ago and then landed the winter shaper job through that. Before, I was in Andorra working in a Park there, and I’ve done seasons in Austria as well, so I’ve been around a fair bit. This is my 18th season but Tignes is my favourite resort.
Are there any days when you look out the window and think: this is going to be tough?
Only if it’s been a heavy night the evening before! To be honest, if the weather is looking pretty hectic, there’s not a lot we can do; just wait for the machine to clear the snow and then get back to shaping. But two winters ago when we just had months of storms, that was horrible. You need sun for this job to be enjoyable.
Does driving a pistebasher or skidoo ever get boring?
A skidoo? Nope, they’ve got 1000cc horse power and driving one never gets old. I don’t actually drive the pistebashers - I’ve got my license so technically I can and I would like to do more. Hopefully I’m going to start soon on some easy stuff, because it is very difficult to manoeuvre and shape kickers with the machine. Some of the run-ins are so steep that we need a winch for the basher to stop it toppling.
What’s the best trick you’ve seen on home-turf?
Probably double-corks. It’s silly these days though - the pros are just so good.
Do you have a pet peeve when people ride through the park?
Sidejumpers. When there’s a rail and they just miss it and jump off the side. They’re infuriating. And also people who ride through a closed line. Often we’ll still be shaping it and someone will just come through and ruin it. But it’s going to happen so there’s no point getting too angry about it.
What’s one thing that people might not realise about your job?
That we don’t just sit in the cabin smoking weed all day! We do actually work. We’re the first port-of call if someone gets injured. Last year someone broke their back and we had to sort out the helicopter. The snowpark is really a 24 hour operation and between the team of shapers and drivers, we work around the clock.
What gives you the most joy in your job?
Watching that, (as a boarder soars past us upside down in the air)! When the jumps work well and everyone’s happy. I get loads of satisfaction from the easy parks as well. Seeing people enjoying the work we’ve put in is great no matter what the level.
How did Tignes end up being the venue for the Coup d’Europe?
We won that last year. The FIS came and inspected the park and decided it would work well on the circuit. It’s a good sized line.
How do you go about making a Slopestyle course?
The summer before last, the entire park was completely altered. Some earthworks were carried out, which is when the ground is shaped to encourage the snow to fall a certain way. We make a plan for the line as a team and then send the FIS the plan. And then the XL jumps that opened this week (where the Slopestyle course will be) have taken a month of pushing snow around. There’s really not that much snow up here which makes it much harder- we’re hitting rocks at the bottom now. We’ve also got the canons, which are used during the building phase but we try not to run them once the line is open because it changes the run in.
The kicker we’re standing in front of has a 17m gap between take off and landing and we do the fine tuning by hand. It’s mostly with a chainsaw and cutting tools to make the lines really clean and then the digger removes the excess snow. The plan is, after the comp, we might make it a bit easier at the top and put some more rails in.
What’s new this year with the Park?
The biggest change is we’re now sponsored by DC and that has allowed us to make the Park even better. This winter we have 6 new rails for the big park and 3 new dancefloor boxes for the easy park. Those are the super wide boxes which probably cost more than I make in a season! Also, we have 2 new machines which are DC sponsored alongside a team of 5 shapers and 3 machine drivers. There’s plenty to get involved with- keep your eyes peeled on social media as we’ll have details of competition we run, plus the Womens’ Park day in March. Find us underneath the Grattalu chairlift or the Palet draglift.
The European FIS Slopestyle Cup is the 28th - 30th January, when some of Europe’s top freestyle skiers will descend on Tignes to try and qualify for the World Cup circuit. For the uninitiated, Slopestyle is an Olympic freestyle discipline (as of 2014), that involves skiing/boarding through a series of rails and kickers. In competitions, athletes are judged by a panel and given points for amplitude, originality and quality of tricks. Definitely one not to miss!