We Interview James 'Woodsy' Woods

Woodsy, currently ranked number 2 slopestyle skiier in the world, is a living legend and one of the soundest guys you could ever meet. We caught up with him in Tignes after his X Games Big Air win, whilst he was touring the Planks stores.
STORY BY:
Caitlin Kennedy

First of all congratulations, and what a win! You absolutely stomped the last run. Well all of them actually.

Thank you, I was pretty pleased to land that. And at X games, which is the biggest and best competition for me. Winning there has always been the dream.

 

Big Air isn’t usually your main event. The past five years you’ve only competed in Slopestyle at the X games. Why this year?

I do a lot of Big Air competitions too. They’re just a more niche version of slopestyle but at X games, the running order has always made it difficult to do both when my main focus is Slopestyle. This year, they changed it up so I mentioned to the organisers I’d be interested in competing, not expecting to necessarily be included but immediately got an invite.

 

And the rest is history! (Definitely watch him in action if you haven’t already). At Sochi, the first ever Winter Olympics where Slopestyle skiing was included, you were unfortunate to sustain an injury and just missed out on a medal, placing 5th. Is the next Olympics lurking in the back of your mind?

Oh for sure. But we were as shocked as everyone else that Slopestyle was going to be in the Olympics. I just got a call about a year before asking if I wanted to be in the Olympics. But because it was never really on the horizon, it’s not necessarily as big a deal for us as, say, for cyclists. The profile of the sport will have to be raised before that sort of funding comes our way. It’s quite strange competing for a particular country too, because in our world, where you’re from doesn’t make so much difference.


I read somewhere that they are recruiting gymnasts for future freestyle Olympics? Do you think that is good for the sport or not?

If it’s important to the country. If you end up loving skiing then it doesn’t really matter what background you come from. But for me the reason I do all of it is because I love the sport, if you can call it that. To be honest it feels more like playing. Me and the other guys would be doing this anyway, regardless of whether there were competitions. Yes I’m a competitive skier but first and foremost, I’m just grateful to be doing what I love every day.

 

In that vein, is there much rivalry? In other words, do you try and keep what tricks you’re practising for the big events secret or is it more of a supportive, camaraderie vibe?

A bit of both. Of course you always want to keep something up your sleeve to pull out when it matters but it’s quite hard when we’re all riding in the same places and we’re all friends - it’s a pretty small world. Plus, we know each others’ styles, our strengths and weaknesses so well, that it’s hard to maintain unpredictability.

 

What you’re all doing in the air is mad fast. Do judges watch it back in slow mo?

No, and for good reason. For the sake of fairness, they would have to watch every ride in playback and we’re not there yet. But the sport, including the judging aspects, are always changing, so who knows in the future. For the moment though, they are experts in what they’re watching. It’s the hardest job in the sport and like interpreting another language.

 

Made harder I guess by just how often totally new tricks are being thrown. That’s what makes the sport so different; you guys are making up the rules in a way.

Yeah, that’s true; the first skis designed to be ridden backwards only came out 20 years ago so it is such a new sport, which is exciting. It means we don’t know where It’s headed next. Everything that’s being done by the people at the top of their game is new.

 

That must make it quite difficult to coach?

Yes, in that it’s hard to teach something no one or very few people have done before. But that ignores the most important aspect of coaching, which is encouragement. It’s vital to have a second pair of eyes on the ground and someone that knows when to push you further and when to get you to take a step back. My coach is my best friend and has known me forever. He knows me back to front.


What do you do in the summer?

I spend quite a bit of time skiing in New Zealand and also do a lot of coaching in Switzerland, Canada and the UK. I really enjoy teaching and inspiring other people to push themselves. I’m now competing against guys I coached, which is pretty mad.

 

That’s awesome. For a long time, there were a lot less girls involved in the sport and definitely round here, there’s a huge disparity between guys and girls in the park. Is that changing?

Absolutely; at X games the women were doing tricks that the guys haven’t done before, because there’s a huge amount of creativity. We were all about to start, getting in the zone and within 10 mins, all the guys were crowded round the tv shouting and cheering at the the women. That was something quite special. I don’t think even two years ago it was that exciting. The best girls today would have won in a men’s competition 5 years ago. And that will trickle down. The vast improvement of parks in the uk will help too. Where I learnt in Sheffield was one of the first to feature features.

 

Yeah that sounds a damn sight more exciting than where I learned to ski in Bears Den, which just had one crummy slope.

Oh, that one’s amazing now. I went up for the opening about 10 years ago.

 

Ah what could have been! I could have been queen of slopestyle! Alaska seems to be where it’s at for the big names in free skiing. Does that kind of thing appeal to you?

Absolutely, I was lucky enough to head to Alaska a couple of years ago. It was the most terrified I’ve ever been. Just vertical drops on every side. You know literally there is no way down except to ski. That adrenaline rush. Nothing beats it. I definitely want to do more of that. My sponsors would probably be happier if I did more but I have unfinished business to attend to.

 


How did sponsorship with Planks come about?

I’ve known Jim for ages and he would send me huge boxes of planks beanies to sell back in England, when I was starting out as a pro skiier. I’m so happy to see it taking off. This tour was my idea. I’m under strict instruction to take it easy for a bit and I thought it would be fun to do some jam sessions where all the Planks stores are.

 

Most normal people would probably go chill on a beach for down time! The Planks tour is going to be a fair bit of travelling but you must be used to that. How do you find all the moving around and what’s your one travel essential item?

Not having a base is definitely one of the sacrifices to living the dream. I miss my family but I’m used to it and it lets me see the world. I have to pack pretty light but I always have a book of Sudoku!

 

Sudoku?

Sudoku. I can say with confidence that I’m the best person at them in this room.

 

It’s quite a small room and half the people are children.

Ok I’ll back myself: the best person in Tignes.

 

A man of many talents. Thank you so much for taking time out to speak to us and keep doing what you’re doing.