X-treme; Airs and graces

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The Independent Culture
Skiing evolved from a basic human need to hunt and travel in harsh conditions; snowboarding evolved from a basic desire to have fun.

At this week's Board-X Festival, in Battersea Park, a 4,000m2 hall will house the UK's leading snowboard distributors and retailers. In addition to all the new technical gear and street fashion, there will be snowboard seminars and a centre offering technical advice and a free board-care service.

Additional attractions will include a PlayStation Games Room, DJs from Ninja Tunes and Second Skin Records, among others, and an interactive Scratch Tent hosted by Radio 1.

But most people will be converging on SW11 to see the awesome aerial skills of some of the world's best skate- and snowboarders.

At the Quicksilver Vert Skate Ramp, skateboarders Rune Glifberg, Omar Hassan, Andy Macdonald and Kris Markovich will be performing manoeuvres that helped create freestyle snowboarding.

Snow is guaranteed to fall on at least a small section of the park courtesy of a large snow machine, creating perfect conditions for the festival's major event, the 60m real-snow jump.

Another star snowboard attraction is the Big Air freestyle jump, twice the distance of last year's run, which carries a prize of pounds 8,000. Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Gian Simmen, and Rob Morrow, founder of Morrow Snowboards, will be joined by David Vincent, Max Plotzender, Iker Fernandez and Tommy Johanson.

Johanson rides for Sims Snowboards, and won last year's freestyle Valentine Urban High competition, which included events in Moscow, Valencia and Paris.

The 24-year-old Norwegian switched from skiing nine years ago.

"I wanted to try something new," he explains. "For me, once you try snowboarding and experience the whole lifestyle, you want to keep on doing it."

Few top athletes from other sports would consider their job a hobby, but many of the world's top snowboarders live, ride and play together.

"When you're competing, rivalry is always there - especially when the prize is up to $100,000. But it is on a friendly basis. Everyone knows each other, and we're all like one happy family.

"Every day you ride you're training unconsciously, because you want to be happy with your riding, but it's not like you work out a training schedule."

For some, snowboarding is about aerial manoeuvres; for others, it's about riding virgin powder. Snowboarding is all about personal expression - there is no right or wrong way to ride.

Banned from most ski resorts 10 years ago, it's now an accepted part of alpine culture, with a popularity that shows no sign of waning; in an average year, practitioners return to the slopes three times as often as skiers.

Behind the hype, fashions and jargon, snowboarding remains an addictive pastime for the simple reason that it is so much fun. One attempt will have you hooked for life.

Novices can test their resistance to the sport on the 25m snow slope at the Board-X Festival.

"It gives you that unique feeling of being on snow without going up a mountain," says Andrew Mattle from Board-X.

"Snowboarding is not a cheap sport, but equipment prices are coming down. A couple of years ago, many boards were priced at around pounds 500, but now you can get an entire set-up [board and bindings] from around pounds 200, so more people are taking it up.

"Many wear the fashions but don't know about snowboarding. We're trying to promote its culture and, hopefully, put some money back into UK snowboarding."

For more information, see below, or call the British Snowboard Association on 01492 872540.

Alister Morgan

THREE PLACES TO TRY SNOWBOARDING

Board-X Festival '98

Battersea Park, London SW11 (0171-490 4707) Fri-15 Nov Fri 12noon-8pm, Sat & Sun 10am-8pm; pounds 7 per day in advance, pounds 9 on the gate.

Tamworth Snowdome

Leisure Island, River Drive, Tamworth, Staffs (0990-000 011) open all year. Exclusive snowboarding: Mon, Wed & Fri 9.30am-12.30pm, pounds 16.50; Tues 8pm-11pm, pounds 20; Sat 10pm-1.30am, pounds 20.

The Mountain Ski School

Avimore Mountain Resort, Highlands, Scotland (01479 811 707) open Dec-April A dry slope is available in the event of poor snowfall. Phone for further details.

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