Jenny Jones - Interview with a British Snowboard Legend
As the UK’s most successful professional snowboarder, dryrobe® Ambassador Jenny Jones is truly an inspiration to a whole generation of British winter sports athletes.
Throughout her incredible career, she won gold medals at the Winter X Games and in 2014 took home the bronze in the first-ever women’s slopestyle event at the Winter Olympics, winning Britain’s first Winter Olympic medal on the snow!
Now retired from competitive snowboarding, Jenny is a regular presenter on BBC Ski Sunday and hosts her own snowboard workshops. Jenny is also a keen surfer and when she’s not carving up the slopes, she can often be found riding waves around the globe.
We caught up with Jenny to find out how she got into snowboarding, her experience at this year’s winter Olympics and her advice for anyone looking to get into snowboarding…
Growing up in the South West there aren’t a lot of opportunities to hit the slopes! How did you first get into snowboarding?
I first started snowboarding on my local dry slope, Churchill (now known as Mendip Snow Centre), not too far from my hometown Bristol. My brothers and I had a free half-hour lesson and then I convinced my college to organise a week's holiday in the alps and that’s where I really enjoyed snowboarding and knew I wanted to spend more time on the snow.
Professional snowboarder isn't a career path that most people would consider in the UK. At what point did it stop being a hobby and become a full-time career?
I never considered it a career and even once I was gaining some support from sponsorship I still didn’t think it was a sport I could make a profession from - I simply loved riding down the mountain on my snowboard.
I worked as a chalet maid in Tignes for my first winter season, a friend suggested I enter the British snowboard championships held in Laax, Switzerland. So at the end of my first season, that’s when I gained my first sponsors as I ended up winning the Big Air event. This gave me a bit of a confidence boost which then pushed me on to defer university another year and keep snowboarding.
The following couple of years I worked the summers and travelled to Canada and USA in the winter to ride the winter season. I’d spent all my time in the park improving my skills and entering local and regional contests. Eventually, a few years on I was landing podium spots and gaining financial support from sponsors.
Who were your sporting inspirations growing up?
Honestly… my brothers, I didn’t look much further than this. I just wanted to do whatever my brothers were doing and my parents didn’t bat an eyelid and encouraged me in all sports.
You’ve had an incredible career, picking up slopestyle titles and gold medals at the X Games. You’re most well known in the UK for bringing home bronze at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. What did it feel like to win an Olympic Medal?
It was such a proud moment, I had never competed for my country in anything, only ever as an individual and so the feeling of doing something as a Team GB athlete, as well as for myself, was incredible. It took a long time to sink in.
The impact of you winning Britain’s first Winter Olympic medal on the snow was huge in this country. How did your life change after the games?
I visited a lot of primary and secondary schools to share the moment and memory with students, which was ace. It was also awesome to see heaps more folk try snowboarding in the snowdomes and dry slopes throughout the UK.
Other changes to my life included getting some great opportunities to visit different places and gain new experiences. From surviving on a jungle island with a comedian for four days, riding mini motorbikes with Johnny Vegas, featuring on various TV shows to longer-term ventures like spending weekends working with snow camp charity who are still progressing now. They support thousands of young people from difficult backgrounds, giving them the chance to experience the snow, skiing, snowboarding as part of a life and work skills program.
Winning a bronze medal and having a successful career in the sport has also given me the opportunity to set up my own snowboard workshops for intermediate and advanced riders, which I run throughout the winter in Europe and Japan. These courses vary from hiking in the backcountry, or mindset and technical progression, to freestyle in Switzerland or powder in Japan. It’s been amazing to share these with so many snowboard enthusiasts.
You’ve just returned from Beijing, covering the Winter Olympics for the BBC. How was the atmosphere there compared to previous games and what was your personal highlight of the event?
It was quite different to previous games as it was such a closed loop, so there was no interaction with people outside of our Olympic bubble. However, at the events there was still a great atmosphere - it was incredible to watch world-class snowboarding and skiing. Seeing the emotional rollercoaster the athletes and support teams go through, the high and lows of an Olympic final, then for myself being ready to react and respond to the action unfolding live.
A standout moment for me was watching the women's Slopestyle final. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott from New Zealand, with all the pressure on her to put a spotless last run down if she wanted the Gold and then just putting down such a progressive last run and landing a huge last jump at the bottom - it was ridiculous! I still can’t believe she landed it.
As well as a snowboarder, you’re a passionate surfer and we often see you out on the waves here in North Devon! Did snowboarding or surfing come first for you?
Actually surfing, but only the once a year camping trip to Woolacombe with the family. My brothers were trying it so I wanted in too.
It wasn’t until around 21 years old though that I actually gave it a proper go. I had picked up an injury from snowboarding so I wasn’t riding, but the physios gave me the all-clear to head off surfing. So I flew to Sri Lanka and took a tuk-tuk over to Arugum Bay and spent two weeks surfing friendly point break waves. This is when I finally learnt to drop in and surf unbroken waves, I absolutely loved it.
I headed straight to Australia to meet up with friends and travel up the coast surfing, mostly getting my ass kicked by much more powerful waves compared to UK! I loved it though and every after summer I would try to get two weeks surfing in.
How does surfing compare with snowboarding to you?
I just love the ocean. I feel I’m still progressing with surfing and there's heaps to learn, which makes me really motivated to keep getting in the water, be it cold surfs at Croyde or managing a boat trip in the Maldives. It’s also nice to have no expectations and at my level, it’s not as painful on the body as snowboard slams!
What have you got lined up for 2022?
I am running my workshops throughout March. We’ve already had snowboard and backcountry, and now doing a snowboarding, mindset with yoga workshop. It is great and I’m based out in the beautiful Sainte Foy resort in the French alps for the month.
Then I’m hoping to get back in the water and surf the Devon and Cornwall coast through April and May. This summer I’ll be working with The Wave again in Bristol to host some surf workshops. I’ve also just signed up as a team captain for the Wave Wahines women's surf contest in June. It’s a friendly all women's team event for youngsters, so really looking forward to that one!
And finally, what advice would you give to anyone looking to get into snowboarding or winter sports?
Head to your local Snowdome or snow centre and get a few lessons first then take a leap of faith and head to the Alps to experience the beautiful mountains. April times is actually a good time to go if you’re a first-timer or intermediate. Spring snow and not too chilly!
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