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SNOWBOARDING FORCES - Jane Peel, Laax, Switzerland
Monday April 8, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

PlanetSKI meets up with some special people at the BRITS - the UK Armed Forces & Parasnowsport teams.

The annual national freestyle championships and festival, the British Snowboard & Freeski Championships (AKA The BRITS), attracts all sorts of competitors.

GB's elite skiers and snowboarders, very young kids, and whole families of parents and their children take part.

For the past 8 or so years, the UK Armed Forces Winter Sports Association has sent a team of snowboarders.

More recently they've been joined by members of the relatively new Armed Forces Parasnowsport Team.

It is made up of ex-servicemen and women who are wounded, injured or sick as a result of their service.

We thought it was about time that we found out more about the back stories of some of these military men and women who play a big part in The BRITS each year.

We caught up with them at the 2019 competition, which took place last week.

UK Armed Forces snowboarderOne of the team in practice


















There are 11 serving NCOs and officers competing in 2019,  from a Lance Corporal in the Army up to RAF Group Captain.

Seven are men and four are women, representing the Army, Navy and Air Force.

And there are nine members of the parasnowsport team, though only one is competing.

Darren Swifty SwiftSwifty in the Snowboard Cross - photo Motionstoppers
















He's Darren ‘Swifty' Swift, a double above-knee amputee.

He lost his legs in a grenade attack while serving in Northern Ireland in 1991.

There's also representation among the officials.

Kenny Craig, a Major in the Royal Marines who completed two back-to-back tours of Afghanistan, is technical director at The BRITS.

Major Kenny CraigMajor Kenny Craig at The BRITS - photo Motionstoppers


















Whatever their rank, they leave it behind at the office.

All are equal on the mountain.


Ben is with the parasnowsport team.

He is unable to compete here in Laax - or anywhere - because there is currently no event for blind snowboarders.

Ben, who is 36, is not just completely blind.

He has no eyes.

Ben ShawFormer Rifleman Ben Shaw



















In February 2007 Rifleman Shaw - an Army sniper - was driving a Snatch Land Rover in Basra in Iraq when it was blown up by an improvised explosive device.

He lost one eye in the blast; the other was too badly damaged by shrapnel to be saved.

Ben had been snowboarding since he was 10.

He had lived in Morzine with his parents for a couple of years from the age of 17 before deciding to join the Army.

When he was pensioned off after his injuries, he was determined to continue his sport.

"I tried in 2008," he tells me.

"I knew there were skiers that did it. But it was too soon after losing my sight.

"Your senses go haywire, you can't balance. I couldn't do it, so I dropped it."

Then he heard about the Armed Forces association and went along for another go.

Armed Forces Parasnowsport at The BRITSBen with other members of the Armed Forces Parasnowsport Team at The BRITS
















"It was just trial and error. When we first started, my coach had a bell to tell me where the fall-line was.

"Now the coach is behind me. We have radios in our helmet and he lets me know what the gradient is."

Ben is trailblazing to encourage more blind people to snowboard.

The International Paralympic Committee will establish an event only if there are at least 5 or 6 competititors in a category, ideally one from each continent.

"Hopefully I'll be in the GB team in future," Ben says.


The 32-year-old sergeant is in the Army Medical Corps based at Colchester in Essex.

She is an ‘operating department practitioner', working in anaesthetics and recovery after surgery.

Lisa QuinnSergeant Lisa Quinn
















Lisa has completed two tours of Afghanistan and is on permanent standby to be deployed abroad.

She learned to snowboard 7 years ago on an Army camp, being taught from scratch by British Association of Snowsports Instructors (BASI) coaches.

She is now the Army ladies' team captain.

She is a gold medallist at the Inter-Services championship, which is contested by Army, Navy & RAF teams.

"I'm addicted to it," she says.

"I love boardercross but I'll also do slopestyle."

It's Lisa's second time at The BRITS and she's come away with a silver medal, joining two services colleagues on the Masters (over-30s) podium for the slopestyle.

Women's Masters SB Slopestyle podium A full haul for the armed forces - Lisa Quinn (2nd), Claire Collis (1st), Kelly Richards (3rd)















"The pressures are a lot less here than in our own competitions. It's just fun," she tells me.

"It's good to get to compete altogether - the RAF, Navy, Army. We're all friends and it's one of the only times we see each other."


An officer in the RAF, Group Captain David Tozer is based at the RAF HQ Air Command at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

He is vice-chairman of UK Armed Forces Snowboarding.

Group Captain David TozerGroup Captain David Tozer
















David missed out on his own chance of glory in the Snowboard Cross at The BRITS.

He was busy assisting a teammate who had crashed out and dislocated and broken his shoulder.

It's what they do. They never leave a fallen comrade.

David tells me that their participation at The BRITS and their own services' competitions is made possible through the UK Armed Forces Winter Sports Association - a registered charity.

It's funded largely by benefactors, sponsors and donations, with a personal contribution from the athletes themselves who provide all their own kit.

The aim is to build team spirit through adventurous sports.

"In the armed forces we are asked potentially to give the ultimate sacrifice," David says.

"Competing helps us to prepare for our primary duties, to channel and overcome fear.

"There are lot of transferrable skills. Our team captain, Claire Collis, is getting experience of leading a team."

UK Armed Forces snowboard team at The BRITSThe UK Armed Forces Team at The BRITS
















David says it's great to be a part of the unique atmosphere at The BRITS.

"It's nice to have the families around and to be part of the broader snowboarding community," he says.

"Everybody is mingling.

"I'm sharing a lift and having a chat with Jamie Nicholls. I met him here when he was 17 and now he's 25 and an Olympian.

"Billy Morgan's here, Jenny Jones and Ed Leigh are here.

"It's a really nice way to cap the season and we are made to feel very welcome."

And they'll be welcomed back in 2020.

PlanetSKI hope to be there too.

In the meantime we send our congratulations to all who took part and best wishes to Dale Gallagher, who missed out on the team photo after heading home early to get his injured shoulder sorted out.

The armed forces team left The BRITS with six medals - one gold, two silver and three bronzes. Kelly Richards picked up two medals, winning bronze in both the Snowboard Cross and Snowboard Slopestyle.

Snowboard slopestyle Masters podiumArmed forces Masters slopestyle silver for Ross Taylor (l) and bronze for Ian Sanderson (r) with GB Park & Pipe coach Jack Shackleton taking gold

The BRITS festival is supported by: LAAX, Picture Organic Clothing, Swiss International Airlines, Swiss Travel System, Switzerland Tourism and GB Snowsport.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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